The world famous Phantom Regiment, the Rockford, Ill. based drum corps, presents the annual NIU Concert Band Festival, March 2-3 on the NIU campus at Boutell Memorial Concert Hall in the Music Building.

High school and middle school concert bands from all around the area will be performing at the two day event with more than 1,200 students participating in the festival.  Performances will take place in three morning sessions (9 am to noon, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.) on Friday, March 2 and two sessions on Saturday (9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.) Admission is free of charge.

As an added bonus, the NIU Wind Symphony will perform three times during the festival, 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Friday and 12:30 p.m. on Saturday.

The clinicians for the 2018 festival include:

  • Dr. Thomas Bough, Professor and Director of Huskie Bands, NIU
  • Dr. Timothy Shade, Director of Bands at Wichita State University
  • Lt. Col. Bryan Miller, Air National Guard of the Midwest
  • Dr. Greg Beyer, Professor and Head of Percussion Studies, NIU
  • James P. Stephens, Jr., Director of Advocacy and Educational Resources, Music For All, Inc.

Stephens’ organization, Music For All is a national non-profit organization committed to creating, providing and expanding positively life-changing experiences through music for all.  As Stephens says, “Our mission is our name and our name is our mission.”

James Stephens

James Stephens, Music For All

His role during the event will be to serve as one of four evaluators of the concert band performances, and he’s quick to point out that evaluator is the proper title and not judge.

“Tom Bough does a great job with this event and it is similar to a lot of our education programming,” Stephens said.  “It consists of being a non-competitive atmosphere, and a place of growth and cooperative encouragement among students, from band to band and among directors.”

Stephens explains the role of an evaluator as giving feedback and providing valuable insight into the “state of the union” of the band.

“I’m trying to give a quick dissection of how things are going with their program and the concert they are presenting, and offering up critiques,” he said.  “I’ll talk to the kids about some of the things that went really well, congratulate them on being prepared and willing to come and perform a concert at the university.  But also my role is to give them constructive feedback in the sense of ‘if you could work on one, two, or three things, this is what I would focus on.’  Many of these bands are preparing for another adjudicated event or a contest, or festival or a state competition. So this is a checkpoint on how their progress is going.  When I’m in front of the kids I like to make it a celebration about what they’re doing.”

Stephens said the beauty of an event like the NIU Concert Band Festival is something that benefits the students and the audiences alike.  “Competition is great,” he said.  “But this is about no ratings or rankings, so it provides the ensembles and their directors with an opportunity to really stretch themselves.  They can reach for new heights and maybe play a piece of music that would not have played if they were being literally judged.”

Stephens has an extensive background as a director of bands in New York, Ohio and Oklahoma.  He said that his decision to take on his current role at Music For All was a natural fit due to his personal experience with one of the three pillars of the organization.

“I’m a proud product of Bands of America,” he said.  “As a student my first experience with marching bands was through Bands of America, and being witness to some of the most outstanding bands, and some of the most talented and well-respected teachers in our country gave me the desire to want to major in music, be a music educator and be a band director. It’s part of my DNA, and when the opportunity presented itself to lead the charge for music education and advocacy for Music For all, how could I not say yes?”

The presenting sponsor, The Phantom Regiment, is an invaluable partner with NIU, not only for this event, but for others.

“The Phantom Regiment’s support in logistics and financially literally makes this event possible,”  Bough said.  “They make a tremendous investment of time and resources to organize this event.  They also partner with us for two other large events at NIU, the High School Marching Band Competition every fall which brings in more than 5,000 people, and the Drum Corps show in the summer.”