The Phantom Regiment, Rockford’s world-class drum and bugle corps, is hard at work once again, arranging another summer of sophisticated field maneuvers and brassy arrangements of classical music.

The Phantom Regiment, Rockford’s world-class drum and bugle corps, is hard at work once again, arranging another summer of sophisticated field maneuvers and brassy arrangements of classical music.

On two recent weekends, corps leaders auditioned nearly 500 young musicians who traveled from Japan, the Philippines, Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, Canada, and most of the 50 states. They came to the Forest City because “Phantom” is a name recognized and admired throughout the world of drum corps.

This year they’re competing for open slots in the 150-member ensemble that throughout the summer will travel 15,000 miles to perform in competitions on both coasts and in between, including its annual Show of Shows at Boylan. It’s great advertising for Rockford.

“In Japan and in Europe, marching music kids know exactly where Rockford, Ill., is,” says Tim Farrell, president of the Regiment’s board. The Regiment, founded in 1956, has placed among the top 12 corps in Drum Corps International competition every year since 1974 — Phantom won first place in 1996, came in second in 2006 and was fourth this year.

As you’d expect, it’s expensive to operate a traveling music machine with a cast of a three-ring circus. Corps members ride in three 55-seat charter buses. Support people, including music staff, cooks, seamstresses, nurses and sometimes a volunteer doctor, follow in two others. Then there are two tractor-trailer rigs, one of which is a mobile kitchen that dispenses four meals a day, a smaller truck and some vans.

Reminds me of C.W. McCall’s truck drivin’ song: “Looks like we’ve got ourselves a convoy.”

The annual cash operating budget is $1.2 million. Sponsorships and endorsements that provide uniforms and instruments are worth $250,000.

“King Instruments gives us new instruments every year,” Farrell says. “They had not been in marching music before and came to us. We worked with them to develop instruments.” The corps gets a commission from selling the previous year’s instruments.

Because of the corps’ international reputation, “We’re being courted by two other brass instrument makers.”

Another $200,000 is earned from souvenir sales and music downloads from the DCI Web site. The corps is paid to perform at contests, and it earns money from holding clinics and a marching band show at Harlem High School. About $200,000 comes from donations. And corps performers, aged 16 through 21, pay $2,000 per season.

Bottom line: The Phantom Regiment provides a $6,000 experience to high school and college kids, most planning to pursue careers in the music business. 

The corps meets its annual budget, Farrell says, but there’s a nagging problem: a long-term debt incurred in the 1990s by a past board. With accumulated interest, the debt reached $471,000. The corps was able to pay down some of it, but not all. Through a series of negotiations, UM Capital, which owns the debt, agreed to settle for $122,000.

“We’ve raised about $70,000 of that amount and we have to raise the remainder by the end of the year,” Farrell says.

This is where you come in, music armadillos. Oops, I meant aficionados. Help Phantom Regiment retire that debt. Send money. You can pay online by credit card or Pay Pal at Regiment.org, or mail a check to the corps’ office, 5050 E. State St., Rockford IL 61108.

It’s a fantastic show. It puts Rockford on the map — in a positive way. Help keep Phantom Regiment on the road.

Reach Political Editor Chuck Sweeny at 815-987-1372 or csweeny@rrstar.com.