Thursday, December 10, 2015

There's some very hip stuff in those old traditions

I've never been involved in any sort of military drumming ... just not my thing. But I've studied enough rudiments and drum theory to know what it's about. And while I may not want to play in this style, I get a real kick out of listening to it and especially from watching how it’s done. I think some of the greatest drum technicians and entertainers around are to be found in the military tradition.

Two main features of drum corps playing are incredible chops and an extreme team approach to the job at hand (all while maximizing showmanship). Note also that these bands play long orchestrations, and they do it flawlessly -- and from memory. Not a bad policy for any sort of activity.

Another feature of corps drumming is that each style of marching band has a tradition that ranges from fairly modern to downright ancient. Go see a military tattoo these days and you'll see rudimental bands playing tunes by Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin or Daft Punk. Originally an attempt to attract a new audience by trying to appear more hip, this has evolved into a tradition of its own alongside the rudimental displays.

Many rudimental orchestras seem to concentrate on being nothing short of astounding. If you've not done so already, check out the Top Secret Drum Corps (topsecretdrumcorps.com) or the Blue Devils (bluedevils.org). If you’re a fan of excellence in any form, you’re bound to love this stuff.

One of my favourites is Basel drumming (Basel Switzerland is home of Top Secret Drum Corps). At least 500 years old, this style is unlike anything you've heard before. While they play many of the standard rudiments, they frequently throw in things that seem to have come from another planet. And always while wearing a traditional Fasnacht Festival mask (tinyurl.com/jk3xehs).

Last but certainly not least, these players have incredible technique, usually achieved through years of intensive study and training. And a lot of that training is on view any time on YouTube and elsewhere. I especially like Scott Johnson’s hand development clips (check out scojopercussion.com).

So even if it's not your thing, spend some time checking out drums corps. At the very least, you'll be impressed.