Monday 29th June
The Corps of Drums Society
The Corps of Drums Society was formed in 1977 with the main aim of promoting and preserving the concept and traditions of the drum, flute and bugle Corps of Drums.
In the British Army a Corps of Drums is actually a drum and flute band directly descended from the drums and fifes of the 18th century. Commanding Officers of infantry battalions are allowed to form a Corps of Drums at their discretion and on the understanding that its activities are in addition to its primary operational role. Although members of the Corps of Drums carry the appointment of Drummer, they may play either drum or flute, but they should also be proficient as buglers. Corps of Drums have always been part of the infantry establishment and entirely separate from military Bands.
It is surprising that Corps of Drums have survived into the 21st century as they could easily have been abandoned in the 19th century, when the bugle became the principle means of signalling. One reason may have been that much of the history and traditions of regiments are carried on their drums in the form of badges and battle-honours. It is often the case that Bands and Corps of Drums parade together but it is not usually realised that they are two separate entities. When combined, the Drum Major gives commands and marches in front, but the Bandmaster or Director of Music remains in command of the Band.
By the 1970’s flutes were disappearing and it was predicted that their use would cease within 10 years. This was mainly because in the past it had been possible to make a career in the ‘Drums and the musical skills of playing drums and flutes had been taught to new recruits at regimental depots and continued within battalions. Today the problem has been addressed by the establishment of a Drums and Bugle Wing of the Army School of Ceremonial, but the future still depends on Commanding Officers being willing and able to send soldiers for training. The Army Cadet Force also does good work in training cadets, who will hopefully keep the tradition alive in the future.
A substantial archive of drum and flute music still exists, much of which was written by serving Drum Majors over the last 150 years. In the 1860’s the simple fife was replaced by a family of flutes in different keys, which made it possible to play more complicated marches with harmonising parts for the various flutes. Most of these were printed, published and sold by the firms which supplied drum, flutes, bugles and ancillary equipment to the Army. Much of this music was bought by the once numerous civilian flute bands, which followed the Army instrumentation and traditions. The mystery is how these Drum Majors, who must have come from working or middle class backgrounds, acquired the musical knowledge and skill to compose quite complicated pieces of music.
Much of this music is now sadly not played but some of the best marches are still played by most Corps of Drums and the names of their composers are well known to enthusiasts.
To find out more about the society, head over to their website by clicking on their drum below