By Jeff Griffith
Rachael C., a rising high school junior from Phoenix, Arizona, was invited by a friend to attend an audition camp for The Academy Drum and Bugle Corps.
By all measures, it was the drum corps experience at its peak — all-day practices, multi-hour rehearsal blocks, and an unprecedented level of demand.
“It was a bit too much for me at that point,” she said.
Enter Phenom, the perfect opportunity for young musicians from Arizona like Rachael to get their feet wet in the marching music activity.
Phenom is a SoundSport team run by the same parent organization as The Academy — the Arizona Academy for the Performing Arts — based out of the Phoenix metro.
“I feel like it’s a really good place to start if you’re not used to the full drum corps experience,” Rachael said. “Having Phenom as a kind of intermediate point is, I feel like, a great place to start for people who want to do drum corps but don’t feel like they’re ready yet.”
As Phenom program director Jordan Nelson attested, that’s pretty much the goal for the organization, which was started in 2013.
“We founded ourselves with the idea of providing an opportunity for all students,” he said. “We wanted to give every student in Arizona the opportunity to do something similar to the amazing drum corps experience we get. So we kind of founded with that idea, and we’ve gone from there.”
Like most SoundSport teams, Phenom allows members of all ages, skill levels and instrumentation to experience the marching activity without incurring major costs or committing to a lengthy season.
Members like Paige H., a rising senior in high school, are able to work part-time jobs throughout the summer, while still participating in Phenom’s four-day-per-week rehearsal schedule.
“During the school year, I worked three days a week,” she said. “But now I’m working two days, which are Sunday and Thursday.”
According to Nelson, a major point of pride for the Phenom organization is in where it finds its performers; the entirety of the ensemble comes from the general Phoenix area, which both Paige and Rachael call home.
Phenom’s local impact provides key opportunities to connect with the area’s music educators — a few of which are on staff — and high school programs.
Essentially, it’s a pretty symbiotic relationship held between Phenom and the high school band community in the Phoenix metro. Through Phenom, young marching musicians are given a local, inexpensive outlet to develop their schools, and return to their band programs having vastly improved throughout the summer months.
“We design our season to end right in time for their band camps to kick off,” Nelson said. “That’s by design just so that they’re at the top of their game right when they get in, so they can have the most positive impact on their program that they can.”
“One of the reasons why I [joined Phenom] was to help improve myself,” Paige added.
Entering a new season, which will feature a handful of performances in southern California and Arizona, Phenom has a high bar set for itself after its accomplishments in 2017.
Last year, Phenom competed in the SoundSport Virtual World Championships, an international event in which SoundSport teams submit videos to a program called “e-Adjudicate” to receive feedback on their performances. In 2017’s event, the Arizona ensemble was one of two groups to earn the highest gold rating.
“We love the e-adjudicate platform,” Nelson said. “It provides good feedback for us from a great panel of judges, so we’ll be there again this year.”
Ultimately, though, the best part of the opportunity offered by Phenom — at least in Paige’s eyes — is the community. By taking part in the Phenom experience, members are able to work alongside other growing musicians who share their passion for the marching arts.
“I love the people here,” Hawkinson said. “It’s cool meeting other people that are just as dedicated to band and that love marching band just as much as I do, because I don’t really experience that at my school all that much.”