An Audio Visual History of Western Military and Orchestral Percussion Instruments

16 Apr

This audiovisual presentation examines the origins, uses and evolution of western military and orchestral percussion instruments from ancient far eastern cultures, to the beginning of the 20th century in North America.

Fascinating and provocative images of contemporary sculptures, paintings and photographs accompanied by copious recordings of relevant music. will be presented to reveal the ancestors of western percussion instruments and their development throughout western history.

They will also help bring to life the authors and composers, the performers, monarchs and military giants who helped create the modern world and the age of percussion in the West.


1. Seminal names in this history of percussion:
The contributions to percussion by King Henry VII, Henry VIII and Queen Mary of England, Machiavelli and Thoinot Arbeau, King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden, Henry Purcell, the Brothers Philidor, Ottoman Emperor Mahmet IV, George Frederick Handel, Thomas Arne, Christoph Gluck, Haydn, Mozart, Ashworth, Beethoven, Ladré, Napoleon Bonaparte, Suppé, Offenbach, George Bruce, Emil Boulanger, Takashima Shirodayü, August Helmecke, Harry A. Bower, and Carl E. Gardner are explained and made clear.

2. Influences from the East:
A pictorial survey and discussion of percussion instruments employed by the armies of ancient Greece, Persia, and India suggest a source of the camp duty, Field music and military bands of 18th and 19th c. armies.

3. Warfare:
As background to the age of percussion, the tactics and weapons of armies in the Ancient world, the Medieval world, the Renaissance, guerrilla warfare of the American War of Independence, and the Civil War in the United States show how our percussion instruments were used and finally developed into the modern instruments of today..

4. Timpani:
From their ancestors in Persia and India to the early 18th c., the compositions of Philidor, Purcell, Druschetzky and Berlioz will be played and the timpani guilds and military significance of timpani will be examined.

5. Cymbals:
A worrisome provenance. AD 1066, 1096, 1623 or 1680?

6. Military Snare drums, a study of pomp and circumstance, discipline and cohesion:
An analysis of weaponry development, Medieval Swiss and Renaissance European armies will explain how the snare drum was used and how its techniques and sizes evolved from the “Great Swiss Drums” of England’s Henry VII to the drums of today.

7. Drum Notation:
A survey which begins with the earliest extant commands to drummers, will include manuscripts, documents and drum manuals from 1589 to 1869, which show the variety and complexity of attempts to write what drummers played. Arcane rudiments, beatings and terms will be discussed and interpreted.

8. Drum Rudiments:
The origins, purposes and proliferation of field drum rudiments, before and after the word first appeared in print will be discussed along with definitions and opinions about them by modern drummers.

9. Military music for fifes:
Why the Fife? How and why certain genres of music were chosen by officers and common soldiers for military duty.  Music’s effect on the lives of infantrymen, the officer class, the public, the evolution of tunes, tempi, and examples of famous fife tunes with their drum beatings will be played and examined.

10. Janissary Era in Europe:
The second siege of Vienna, and the impact of 18th c. Britain’s Janissary craze on European art and popular music will be played and examined as well as the origins of the triangle, tambourine, tenor and bass drums their techniques and players in military bands.

11. Music inspired by the Janissary era:
A presentation and discussion of landmark songs and orchestral works inspired by and reliant upon military percussion instruments – Arne, “Alfred” (1746), and Gluck,”Iphigenie en Tauride” (1779), to Offenbach’s cello concerto, “Militaire” (1847) and Suppé’s, “Light Cavalry Overture” (1866).

12. The American War for Independence, the French Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War in the United States:
The epoch of popular patriotic music, the drum corps and drummers, the apex and end of an era.  An examination of the sacred and secular music of North America and the industrial age that ended the logistical need for field music.

13. The Great Divide:
The effect on drummers and percussionists of the field telegraph, Harry A. Bower’s “Imperial Method” (1898), Carl E. Gardner’s “Progressive Series”(1919) and the National Association of Rudimental Drummers (1933) will be discussed.

Presentation Options:

The Themes above can be offered as one presentation or arranged in a variety of formats to suit individual needs of teachers and students. The minimum presentation is 2 1/2 hours.

Suggested Themes for a Presentation:

A. Snare drum notation from 1589 to 1869.
B. The Janissary era and its legacy to Western art music.
C. Notation in drum books from 1777 to 1898.
D. The rediscovery of ancient texts during the Renaissance, the Art of War, and the rise of percussion and field music.
E. The American War for Independence, the French Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
F. Bruce and Emmett’s “Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide”, and the music, life and times of the Civil War in the United States of America.
G. Rudiments and The Great Divide.
H. How Japan became the only far eastern country to officially adopt Western music, and how fifes and drums influenced that decision.

Summary and Technical Requirements:

For teachers considering an in-depth presentation of the materials in this history, an interdepartmental approach involving students and teachers of music history, composition, musicology and ethnomusicology could well be beneficial. It is suggested that this in-depth presentation cover at least two sessions a day or more.

This presentation is in Keynote, a Mac program. Optimum sound and picture quality is desired. Besides a laptop which will be provided, the presentation requires a 10′ X 10′  screen (bigger will work, but 7 1/2 ‘X 10’ minimum), a projector, a wireless Lav (Lavalier) mike, and a sound system that runs off a laptop. (The presentation contains many music examples.)

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Posted by on April 16, 2010 in Clinics, Lectures


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