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Music, despite being a direct product of human intellectual activity, is an unalienable and natural part of human life. In particular, humans managed to apply its basic component, rhythm, in many aspects. People sing while working, armies marched along with the band, and sports venues are supported by orchestras and cheerleaders. The latter two uses of music and rhythm are still relevant today and serve as a method of communication or moral support. Such music bands are directed by the drum major who oversees that all musicians follow music correctly and appropriately. In this regard, drum majors play an essential role in military communication as well as the moral support to this day.
History, Purpose, and Training of Drum Majors
Although music has been a well-known communication tool and was even used for military purposes, the tradition of drum majors has first appeared only in 17th century. In his research, G. Debridge provides that the first mentions of marching bands in the army appeared in 1622 in England. The military started providing some management for such bands, drum majors, between 1650 and 1700 (Debridge 50-53). Hence, the concept of drum major is relatively young, and it is safe to assume that it is still relevant until the present day.
To understand the purpose of drum majors, it is noteworthy to point out the main tasks or purposes the military bands had throughout the history as well as today. Historically, marching bands served a very practical purpose and would even participate in the battles. One of the major purposes of military bands in their earliest incarnations was communication. As such, whenever a military commander would issue an order or command, the band’s task was to play a certain rhythm or melody that would pass that command along the troops (Herbert 20-21). Since the 17th century, however, the role of marching bands would become more formal through the time.
Although the role of military bands and their drum majors was steadily becoming formal over time, that did not cancel their importance, nonetheless. In his research on the history of marching bands, Trevor Herbert (2020) provided that the bands would serve numerous purposes of an army’s identity and representation, provide the rhythm and moral support for the troops, signalize the changes in and maintain social order, and demonstrate the social class of the soldiers. The task of the drum major, thus, has relied on managing the band’s repertoire, set the rhythm and tempo, and conduct the band members either on the battlefield or during the diplomatic march (21-23). The historical purpose of military bands and drum majors, thus, has remained important for nearly two centuries.
The modern marching bands are used even more formally and usually take part only in parades and similar military festivities. This, however, does not compromise the training the band members and drum majors must undertake. In such bands, drum majors serve primarily as conductors. Historically, however, the scope of the drum majors’ work has been somewhat broader and included the military training of the band, managing the military corps of drums and pipes, overseeing the band members’ military look, and even protecting the band (Herbert 24-26). Essentially, drum majors served as military managers of the marching bands of sorts.
The training of drum majors and the equipment they used remained similar across the armies of the world over time. From the educational perspective, drum majoring lies between military leadership training and band direction. To undergo training, drum majors must usually attend special drum majoring classes, regardless of their experience, in order to connect and integrate the two skills mentioned earlier. As for the uniform and equipment of drum majors, they would usually be dressed in the regular military band uniform and carrying a diagonal sash, directing the band in half-time using a specially designed mace (Debridge 54-55). Drum majoring is a serious educational course that requires devotion and persistence, even though drum majors might not always have higher rank than their band members.
Although marching bands and drum majors serve a rather formal role, they still remain an important part of the military tradition across the globe. Drum majors lead and conduct the military bands that demonstrate the power of the army as well as its historical significance to the country. Historically, drum majors were even more important in this regard as they would select different repertoire for different occasions, forward military commands through the band to the troops, and even protect the band members.
Derbidge, G. “A History of the Drums and Fifes 1650-1700.” Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, vol. 44, no. 177, 1966, pp. 50–55, http://www.jstor.org/stable/44229065. Accessed 24 Apr. 2022.
Herbert, Trevor. “The band is the instrument: military bands, the martial paradigm, the crowd and the legacy of the long nineteenth century” in do Rosário Pestana, Maria et al. Our Music/Our World: Wind Bands And Local Social Life. Edições Colibri, 2020, pp. 17-27.
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