A drum major is the leader of a marching band, drum and bugle corps, or pipe band, usually positioned at the head of the band or corps. The drum major, who is often dressed in more ornate clothing than the rest of the band or corps, is responsible for providing commands to the ensemble regarding where to march, what to play, and what time to keep. The commands may be given either verbally, through hand gestures, using a whistle or a baton, or with a mace in the military. In modern day high school and college marching bands, drum majors are responsible for leading the practices and performances of the band.
The position of drum major originated in the British Army with Corps of Drums in 1650. Military groups performed mostly duty calls and battle signals during that period, and a fife and drum corps, directed by the drum major, would use short pieces to communicate to field units. With the arrival of military concert bands and pipe bands around the 18th century, the position of the drum major was adapted to those ensembles.
Traditionally, a military drum major was responsible for:
- Defending the drummers and bandsmen (The drums and bugles were communication devices)
- Military discipline of all Corps of Drums members
- The Corps of Drums' overall standards of dress and deportment
- Corps of Drums administrative work
- Maintain the Corps of Drums' standard of military drill and choreograph marching movements
The drum major was also given duties in the battalion at several points in history, which included the administering of military justice (flogging), to any member of the battalion and collecting the battalion's post.
In addition to the duties above, the British Army also included a royal appointment of Drum Major General, whose duties included inspecting all other Field Music as well as (per The Drummer's Handbook) granting drummers licenses without which, one would not be recognized as a drummer. This position faded in the 18th century.
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Drum majors are responsible for knowing the music of the ensemble and conducting it appropriately.
- Controlling tempo
What is "appropriate" conducting has evolved over the decades. During the 1970s and prior it was not uncommon for a stationary drum major to do a high-lift mark time on the podium for an audible and visual tempo; with the arrival of increasingly higher drum major platforms and thus greater visibility this has become both dangerous and unnecessary. Current drum majors use a variety of conducting patterns and styles that suit the needs of their respective marching bands and/or drum corps.
- Assisting musicality
In addition to memorizing the music (between six and nine minutes of music is typical for high school marching bands, college bands and drum corps may have that much or more, up to more than eleven minutes of music) a drum major must memorize dynamics as well as tempo in order to provide proper direction and cues, particularly in area where the drum major has some discretion, such as a ritardando or fermata.
Drum majors have slightly different roles within the world of traditional show bands. Many college bands have drum majors who are very much part of the visual element of a field show. Rather than conduct as a corps-style drum major would, traditional drum majors often march on the field with the band, using a mace or baton to keep time and flourish their own movements. Drum majors in the Big Ten and HBCUs have a particularly prominent role. While most of them do not conduct at all, they lead the band onto the field, often after having several seconds for a short performance by themselves (a backbend is traditional in many schools). During dance routines, they often move along with the bands. As traditional drum majors have much more of a visual role than corps drum majors, there are often many more of them, sometimes up to ten drum majors to a single band.
The drum major position is one of leadership, instruction, and group representation, but usually not administrative duties. A band director or corps director assumes administrative responsibility. In the absence of the Band Director, the Drum Major carries the authority of the director or instructor and assumes complete leadership over the band.
There are a number of specialized pieces of equipment that drum majors use to more effectively execute their duties. These include a whistle, a mace or baton, their uniform, and podium(s).
Drum majors often wear a uniform different than the rest of the band (which may either be a show-specific uniform, or a custom uniform based on the school's uniform or colors) and is a slight modification of the standard uniform. It can be as simple as extra shoulder decorations, a cape, different-colored plumes, or a chain on the helmet, or as complicated as a specialized chest section, and is designed to both help the drum major stand out when coming onto the field and to give distinction to the leader of the band. Some high school drum majors do not wear a different uniform, however, and are recognized by their field or parade position. It is mostly a director's discretion, and is more common only on the high school level.
- Mace or baton
As marching bands have started to focus more directly on halftime shows and less on parades, the traditional use of the staff or "mace" has largely vanished from high school and college marching bands, in preference of hand movements, occasionally with the use of a conductor's baton or whistle. Military bands, however, retain the use of maces and batons for giving signals and commands.
Some drum majors have also become more elevated over the years, having moved off of the field over the course of the 1970s and 1980s and onto small podiums, which in recent years have often become eight feet in height or larger. There may be supplemental podiums for additional drum majors, usually smaller in stature.
United States marching bandsEdit
A marching band show (high school and college) usually begins with a salute from the drum major(s). Salutes range in complexity from a simple hand-gesture to complicated routines involving many members of the band. The salute is traditionally the beginning of judging in a competition, and also signals the end of a band's show. Most salutes involve the left elbow pointed out with the left hand formed into a fist held at the hips, while the right arm is held horizontal to the shoulder with the hand and fingers held straight and close to the forehead. The dropping of a salute usually involves making the right hand into a fist just above or in front of the face, and bringing the hand down by the side at the same time as the left arm. A drum major is also responsible for calling the band to attention, beginning, and conducting the show. For calling the band to attention a drum major may use a command such as "Band-Atten-HUT," thus bringing the band to the attention position. The command "Detail-Atten-HUT" is also used to call a specific group within a band to attention. The drum major may use a whistle, vocal, or hand commands to accomplish this. This practice goes back to the military origins of the marching or field band.
A marching band review (parade) begins like a field show. Because of the street setting, there are usually no change in formations. This, however, is not true in Midwestern states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan. In these states especially, many complex formations are formed on the street. Typically the band forms a parade block with the width and length of rows and columns varying based on how large a block is desired. Around the block is the color guard and in front of all of it is the drum major. Scoring is similar to a field show (musicality, visual/general affect, auxiliary, etc.), however there is an added section specifically on the drum major's performance. The drum major is scored based on the execution of the opening routine, salute routine, beating time, vocal/whistle/hand commands, and overall control of the band. The opening routine is the main area where the drum major displays his/her skill at spinning a mace/military baton and ends in what can be referred to as a 'pike' (the mace is still and pointing straight up) followed by a whistle or vocal count off. The salute is usually much less complex than the opening routine. The salute routine occurs half way down the competition line where the judge table is located on the drum major's right hand side. The general rule for a salute is that it begins 6 steps before the American flag (located in the middle of the judge table) and ends 6 steps after passing the flag (6 on 6 rule). After that, the last thing the drum major does is cut off the band after passing the competition line. This is done by either vocal, whistle or mace/baton command as with any other commands given while in a parade block.
To see one to three drum majors in most ensembles is typical. More usually indicates a group of prodigious size; conversely, no drum major may indicate a small band conducted by its director or a group led by a horn sergeant or drumline captain. In some ensembles, drum majors switch positions during the show to allow all individuals a chance to conduct from the central podium. Occasionally, they may also serve in other capacities such as performing a solo, in which case one or two band directors would conduct the band temporarily until the drum major(s) would finish their/his/her solo.
A marching band or drum corps drum major (field conductor) is in charge of holding the band/corps together, and directing the entire band/corps during shows and competitions. This drum major can come from any section of the performing unit: percussion, winds, or color guard. They are chosen on their musical abilities, leadership qualities, attitude, and passion for the sport. The Drum Major is the highest-ranked band participant, usually followed by the captain(s) of the drumline, then by guard captain(s), pit captain(s) horn sergeant(s), section leaders and band officers.
Based on how large the band is, high school marching bands have anywhere from one to four drum majors who are responsible for conducting and leading the band. Drum majors are often ranked, so that the head drum major occupies the center position during the entire show, or each drum major takes turns as the 'central' drum major by standing on a platform placed on the 50-yard line, while the other two are placed on the 30-yard lines. Any other majors are placed on yard lines closer to the end zone, or to the rear of the band for about-face maneuvers. A member of the on-field band may take a position as drum major temporarily if the band's movements require an additional drum major in the front or back or if the lead drum major performs. Some drum majors serve as leadership positions and can conduct, but prefer to march. These drum majors serve as replacements in case one or more of the permanent drum majors (usually older members of the band) can't make it to a performance, but still continue to practice their conducting abilities. Depending upon the region, field conducting may be done by the band director, allowing the drum major(s) to play a more important role in the performance by marching with the rest of the band.
Selection and auditionsEdit
The process of appointing high school drum majors varies based on the school, though it is recognizably up to the director's discretion as to who to select, which is done typically through an audition process where potential drum major candidates must display their conducting skills, their ability to successfully call and execute commands, and to answer questions that demonstrate what type of leader they are and what they can bring to the band. The director may, in such cases, ask one of the previous marching season's drum majors to join him or her for the auditions to help make a decision as to who to pick (though such an opportunity is usually brought upon the lead drum major). In addition, the opportunity to be a drum major may not be open to everyone in a band, as potential candidates may be required to first serve as a section leader/captain/officer, and/or that they are a junior or senior.
A drum major may be trained in a number of different ways depending on the resources of his or her home program and the drum major's own experience. The timing of the training can also differ from preparations that last months leading up to an audition to minimal training that takes place after the drum major has been chosen. A drum major may be trained by the director or by a special staff member or drum major instructor. Alternatively, the previous season's drum majors may be solely responsible for training new drum majors. In most cases, directors require their drum majors to attend specialized camps to assist in the development of their skills.
The George N. Parks Drum Major Academy (DMA) is a nationwide summer camp for high school drum majors and majorettes. It was founded in 1978 by George N. Parks. The Drum Major Academy is held at various locations around the United States, by 2010 the academy drew up to 3,000 students each year. DMA provides students with marching, conducting, and leadership training in preparation for their upcoming seasons. George N. Parks personally led many of these camps until his death in September 2010.
Smith Walbridge Clinics (SWC) has offered a Drum Major Clinic since 1952 and claim to be the nations first Drum Major Camp. The clinic teaches three styles of drum majoring including traditional, corps, and mace. Other training methods include three levels of conducting, three levels of showmanship, fundamentals of drill design, verbal commands, daily individual evaluations using video tapes, leadership training, score study, teaching and cleaning drill, multi-drum major help, salutes, and mace. The clinic is hosted yearly on the campus of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.
- Judging and adjudicating
During a field show the drum major is usually evaluated by a different judge than the rest of the band. How the drum major is judged depends on the region and style of the band and personal opinions of the judge themselves. Typical captions for judging a drum major include conducting, communication between drum majors, marching, style, showmanship, and leadership. Judge's comments will often be recorded by a hand held tape recorder and supplied to the drum majors along with the rest of the band's scores and feedback from the competition.
Examples of judge's evaluation sheets:
- Award ceremony
If there is an awards ceremony at a marching competition, the drum major(s) usually represent their band and accept any awards. The drum major(s) will usually prepare a separate, shorter salute in order to respectfully accept awards that their band has earned.
The position of Band Captain has been used in High School bands as a student leadership position overseeing multiple Ensembles. Band Captains are an alternative student leadership position to that of Drum Majors. The Band Captain usually is the student head of every ensemble in the program outranking Drum Major, individual program student leaders, and section leaders. The position itself is the student represented of the Director of Bands in all ensembles in a Band Program. Depending on the Director of Bands for the school the position duties can vary. Usually the Band Captains duties can range from conducting and warming up the marching band to overseeing the development of wind ensembles through a practice or performance. the abilities of the position and it versatility in bands is appealing to bands and their Directors around the country and are growing in notoriety as a preferred alternative to drum majors when needed.
- The Regimental Drum Major Association
- Doug Brassel's Drum Major Resource
- Smith Walbridge Clinics- Drum Major
- George N. Parks Drum Major Academy
- European Drum Major Website
- Deutsche Seite der Arbeitsgemeinschaft Drum Major Deutschland
- Tom Peacock's Drum Major Competitions
- World Drum Major Association