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Bushwackers New Director Named

The Bushwackers are pleased and excited to announce that Jeff Phipps has been named the new Corps Director for the upcoming 2019 season. Jeff was first exposed to drum corps by his high school drum instructor Bill ” Woody ” Woodward in 1987 who invited him to a Bayonne Bridgemen camp. Woody, Bill Matus and Trevor Jones were all early influences as they always listened to drum corps in their cars on their way to any number of places, from indoor shows to picking prop materials or cymbal and drum supplies.

Jeff was admittedly a wimpy kid when it came to marching so didn’t continue with Bayonne. Two years later he earned a tenor spot with the Crossmen but his stepfather passed away suddenly that February, so he had to stay home and help his mother with the bills. All of this brought him to the Bushwackers in 1989. Woody and Jeff drove up together every weekend along with various friends from his high school. He continued in 1990, and for those who remember the show, he was the guy on the megaphone in what was certainly one of Bush’s most misunderstood, and yet influential shows of the time. Jeff was primarily in the pit with the Bushwackers and marched one of the eight bass drum spots in the drum feature. This corps captured the DCA World Championship in 1989 and 1990.

Jeff’s parents were musically inclined as they both could sing and enjoyed various types of music. His mother has always been a part of the church choir and was heavily involved in the activity as Jeff came up through marching band and drum corps. Jeff’s daughter Leah is really the only other family member loosely involved in drum corps. She was in the front ensemble with Hatboro-Horsham High School, and is presently with Imperial Dynasty. She hasn’t ventured into drum corps but Jeff remains optimistic.

When not doing drum corps, Jeff sells percussion gear for a living, teaches indoor percussion, teaches band, runs an indoor circuit, judges, etc. There isn’t a whole lot of time to do much else. He does enjoy fishing very much and cooking as well. He has actually fished competitively in bass tournaments and also worked in a restaurant kitchen for about five years. He also enjoys saltwater fishing at his favorite spot in Lewes, Delaware, and occasionally walleye fishing in Canada as well. He also enjoys spending time with his daughter Leah and gives great importance to being in church on Sundays as often as he can.

I asked Jeff how has drum corps changed since he first started back in 1989. “The level of proficiency and artistry at the DCI level is astounding.” Jeff is also enjoying the progression of DCA as well, “While I think the DCA option primarily here in the Northeast can be difficult on the indoor percussion activity at times, the option to learn and grow at DCA and then head off to a DCI corps is a welcome role reversal from DCA just being ‘ senior corps’. From a financial and time commitment, it is a great stepping stone for the performers, and in some cases staff members and designers as well. One of the most negative changes I see, and this might be an ‘old guy‘ statement, is that we often give folks opportunities to be teachers based solely on the merits of the organization they marched with. While some are fine educators, I think we need to be careful not to promote a world class performer to the ranks of a teacher, instructor or administrator, on the back of the success of the ensemble they marched with.” Jeff further stated, “Quality instruction and experience is the key to the longevity of our sport and to the level of quality that we produce. I do also embrace the electronic side of things in the activity, and I’m open for strings and things of this nature, but with some boundaries. I think we can’t change what drum corps today is completely. There has to remain a percentage of drums and bugles and live performance and marching excellence or it becomes something it’s not. I think in that aspect we need to not be afraid to veer out of our lane from time to time, but remember the road we are on really shouldn’t change.”

When asked has drum corps benefited him as a person to progress to becoming a director Jeff answered, “I think the answer to this question is probably a bit similar for most people in the activity. The organizational skills it teaches you, perseverance, self sufficiency, time management, working as a team, and self sacrifice are all huge life skills. When teaching high school band and indoor I would always say that the marching arts is a vehicle for developing good people. There are many other ‘vehicles’ of course, but performing has a whole lot more heart and soul in it so I think that really separates this thing that we do from the other options out there. For me personally, the people I’ve met who have been so willing to teach me all that I didn’t know has been the most rewarding. Those people guiding me and caring enough to teach me what they know has brought me to being the director of a drum corps. Now, as I get to partner with so many people that I respect on the Bush team, it’s a chance to add to that knowledge. Some have helped me before like Jim Dugan as an instructor and now we have a completely different relationship and I’m still learning from him. Then there are other more recent staff members who have been so successful in the activity on many levels that I look forward to soaking in even more and getting their help with making sure I stay current with the activity “.

The Bushwackers had a phenomenal run last year at DCA Championships placing fifth. Their goal for 2019 is not to duplicate that placing but exceeding it. I asked Jeff what his goals were for 2019 and he stated, “I believe the Director needs to create goals for so much more than what happens on the field. Don’t get me wrong, competitive success is certainly a goal and driving force for many things we do, but I have a talented and committed design team and staff who do the heavy lifting there. While my role requires some guidance there, what happens on the field is primarily their charge. I feel I need to support that, feed that, make it possible, and insure a great experience for everyone involved. I told the group at our last camp that the experience is what it’s all about in my opinion. Where will you make the best memories, get the best instruction, build the best friendships, and create a life experience you won’t forget? While that is made all the more sweeter by competitive success, I am living proof that the memories you have looking back are in the lot, at rehearsal, staying at someone’s house, rehearsing deep into the night, and only occasionally do I recall the retreat ceremony where they announced us as champions. I don’t wonder where the trophy is, but I wonder how the people are that were there with me. Plus, I don’t want to lose sight of the infrastructure that is needed to be successful. Building a healthy drum corps organization is a huge goal of mine. While winning and/or general competitive success can certainly help that, building a strong foundation can also enable it to happen as well.”

Their 2019 show is well on its way as their design team has made great strides with the concept, musical selections, visual components, and overall intent of the entire production. They have not released the title or any further details just yet, but the show will center around life’s choices and the road we choose to take.

Jeff’s message to all the drum corps fans is to keep supporting the Arts in any way possible, “The shows you enjoy begin with a supportive parent and a supported band director or lesson teacher or Arts program. They begin with volunteers, and instructors and administrators encouraging young people to do something they enjoy. Whether playing an instrument, drawing, painting, dancing or singing, make sure they are enjoying it. Don’t try to figure out if you can make a six figure living at it, don’t go to college for it because someone said you have to go to college to be successful. Please help our society to realize the intrinsic value of the ARTS and not to judge it by a finite set of criteria that focuses on societal gain versus personal joy. Keep coming to shows and cheering for all that participate. Some will make you cheer more than others, but they all deserve the support.”

Best of luck to Jeff and the Bushwacker organization in the upcoming DCA competitive season. For more information on Jeff, go to Drum Corps Planet, on page 3 of DCA discussions and news.

Bill Flaker
DCA Staff Writer