Report: NIU Marching Band & Phantom Regiment

Mike Lawson • Archives • August 13, 2010

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After many discussions with Rick Valenzuela, the executive director of the Phantom Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps, The Northern Illinois University Huskie Marching Band and the Phantom Regiment have decided to join together to host a high school marching band competition called the “Red and Black Fall Classic” (in recognition of the color scheme shared by both organizations). Many elements of this partnership can be applied to school music programs across the country, including the benefits of having clear, specific goals, the value of planning ahead, and the potential gains that can be had through collaboration with organizations in your geographic area.

The Red and Black Fall Classic will take place on September 25, 2010 at Huskie Stadium, on the campus of Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Illinois. Both NIU and the Phantom Regiment bring equally significant contributions to the partnership. The university is able to offer academic credentials, skilled faculty, and a remarkable performance venue. Phantom Regiment brings their world-class instructors, expertise in hosting such events, and a strong base of alumni support. Valenzuela and I are equally committed to providing educational opportunities to the bands that attend, as well as an exciting event for the community. Thus, the marching band competition that will offer additional educational opportunities beyond the scope of most field shows: Bands will have the opportunity to rehearse in the performance venue before the show, to receive comments and suggestions from the judges in a clinic format before the competition, and to meet with the judges for face-to-face feedback with the students after their performance.

Since the goals for the show were determined over a year before the date of the event, there was plenty of time to determine the best way to meet those goals. For the NIU/Phantom Regiment show, the primary aim is to provide a meaningful educational event for the students. This central theme guides all other aspects of planning the show. Every detail from parking to concessions to planning the route from the warm-up area to the stadium was considered with the needs of the students in mind. Regardless of the size of the event being planned, a clear sense of the end result will guide the planning process and energize those involved in helping to make it a reality.
Resolving our goals this early also allowed us time to plan ahead. We were able to secure dates in Huskie Stadium, arrange to fly in some of the best judges from around the country, and to start distributing publicity materials 10 months in advance. Thanks to support from the NIU Convocation Center, we were able to distribute promotional flyers at the Midwest Clinic in December 2009, at the Northern Illinois University booth. Likewise, the Phantom Regiment promoted the event at their annual reception at Midwest to alumni and friends of the corps. NIU was able to follow up the Midwest announcement with more publicity at the Illinois Music Educators Convention in January of 2010. Both organizations continued to reach out to alumni and friends throughout the spring, resulting in 20 bands that had registered for the show by the end of May.

Long term planning is really one of the keys to putting together an event like this. It is much easier to resolve schedule conflicts and reserve facilities months ahead of time, rather than weeks or days ahead of time. Also, planning ahead allows time to refine and improve plans, to seek input from both participants and outside experts, and to make sure that the plans will match the predetermined goals. In our preparations, we sought input from a variety of local high school band directors, as well as the professionals from the NIU event staff. At each meeting, we made sure that our goal of providing a meaningful educational experience to the students who attend remained at the center of the discussion.

Thomas Bough is director of bands at Northern Illinois University, in Dekalb, Illinois. He can be reached at by e-mail at [email protected]. The Red and Black Fall Classic will take place on September 25th at Northern Illinois University’s Huskie Stadium. For more information, visit or


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