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Tour of Champions Drum Corps Show to feature heavy hitters

Seven of eight corps slated to perform Saturday at NIU rank among top 12 in nation

You can expect audible and visual explosions during the Tour of Champions Drum Corps Show on Saturday at Huskie Stadium.

Thrilling, soothing music and razor- sharp choreography are germane to any Drum Corps International event.

This one will be a little different, however.

Phantom Regiment, the celebrated corps from Rockford, will be playing hurt after one of its bus drivers, Donna M. Howard, of Kansas City, Missouri, was killed in a rollover caused by a flat tire July 3 on Interstate 10 in Quartzsite, Arizona.

The corps performed at an exhibition July 5 in Oklahoma, then hosted a show Friday in Rockford before performing Saturday in Minneapolis and Sunday in Madison, Wisconsin.

“It’s really therapy for us,” said Rich Valenzuela, the corps’ executive director. “Everybody’s part of the family. For the adults on the bus, it’s what we’re all here for: to get the performers on the field. The adults enjoy the performances as much as the performers do.”

Valenzuela’s wife, also the group’s office manager, was injured in the crash, too, although he said she’s recovering nicely.

“It’s moving forward and pushing forward,” he said. “We’re never going to forget this – it’s part of our experiences this year – but I hate to use the cliche: the show must go on.”

Saturday’s show will be a big one for many reasons. Huskie Stadium, 1245 Stadium Drive South, used to serve as the site for the Drum Corps Midwest Championship up until a couple of years before Valenzuela joined Phantom Regiment in 2006. After several years without enjoying a Drum Corps International event, Northern Illinois University has welcomed back some of the world’s best drum and bugle outfits in the world since the event returned to DeKalb in 2013.

Saturday will not be an exception. Seven of the eight corps slated to perform rank among the top 12 outfits in the nation.

The top-ranked group, Santa Clara Vanguard, edged the defending 2016 champion, the Blue Coats of Canton, Ohio, last weekend by one-tenth of a point.

“I wouldn’t want to judge,” Valenzuela said. “That’s not a job I’d want to have.”

The Vanguard now will run into premier corps such as The Cadets of Allentown, Pennsylvania, and The Cavaliers of Rosemont for the first time this season on Saturday.

Don’t count out Phantom Regiment, which is sitting around seventh or eighth, Valenzuela said.

“We’re a little behind right now, in terms of where we stand compared to those other guys,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of cleaning of the show, and we’re looking to make up some points this weekend.”

Expect emotion. Valenzuela said his corps’ show opens with a “really dark and angry” sound.

“It kind of gets you on the edge of your seat, and the music kind of hits you in the face,” he said.

The aggression gives way to beautiful arrangements, he said, and the set runs the emotional gamut.

Fans can expect marching band music at its best, with brass instruments, percussion, synthesizers and color guard.

Valenzuela said they should also plan to become part of the show.

“It’s all about senses, the visuals and the music, and when you add in the performers’ energy and the engagement with the audience, it’s not like any other show you’re going to pay 10 bucks to go see,” Valenzuela said.

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