The History of Marching Bands – Part 2

Our blog on the history of marching bands continues with the growth of marching and military bands in America. In part one of this blog we look at the importance of the drum and fife in the Revolutionary War, but things had progressed by the time the Civil War arrived.

Each company now had its own drummers and fife players to provide daily information and commands to the soldiers, every company’s musicians gathered together to form larger bands. By now the Eagle became prominent in American culture and was adopted as a national symbol. It could be seen as a decoration on many military items in American history including drums. This brought the name the eagle drum, and by the 1840s this became a standard decoration on American military instruments.

The Bugle

During the 19th Century a third important instrument joined the drums and fife, it was the bugle and was introduced to America at the time of the 1812 war. The American cavalry adopted the bugle for their method of issuing signals in the field. And as time progressed, it took over from the drums and fife as the most important instrument in the military.

Military Bands

America also had a strong tradition with full military bands that are used to raise soldier morale and for ceremonial purposes. These first military bands were mostly made up of woodwind instruments, horns, bassoons and oboes.

Today most marching bands have a heavy brass instrument contingent, but this was not the case in the early military bands. The first brass instruments during this time had no valves and so were not as tuneful as the woodwind instruments. The change came with the invention of a keyed bugle in 1810, by somebody called John Halliday. This was a game changer in the evolution of marching brass bands as now these instruments could play the same chromatic notes as their wood carved cousins.

During the American Civil War brass bands were prominent and another instrument came to the fore. It was the over-the-shoulder horn and became synonymous with bands of this period. The peculiar design of the horn made it possible for the musician to march in front of the soldiers, and this led to an entire raft of instruments designed the same way.

The Evolution of Marching Bands

When the Civil War ended, all the veterans returned back home both in the North and the South. And former soldiers brought their instruments back home with them. Their love of military brass music fueled a desire of many to organize their own bands. All this activity was actually a movement that spread all over America, and at the turn of the 20th Century it culminated with the legendary bandleader John Philip Sousa. The marching band was now a part of the very establishment and culture of America.

Today in every state across America, at every fair and carnival a marching band is the main attraction. Imagine sporting events like the Super Bowl without the presence of a marching band! It is a tradition that America has almost adopted as its own and the marching band will continue to grace every major event held in the U.S.A.

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