Drum and bugle corps

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Several members of The Marine Drum and bugle Corps, both brass and percussion. The brass musician is playing a mellophone

A drum and bugle corps is similar to a marching band but it only has brass instruments, percussion instruments, and color guards. Armies used signal drums and bugles as signals for centuries. The modern drum and bugle corps came from military drum and bugle units coming back from World War I and the wars after it. Early drum and bugle corps was a year-round activity, where musicians performed at shows all the time. Now, most drum and bugle corps schedule tours during the summer, where they travel around the country, performing a new show every year, with different music and movements.

Drum Corps International[change | change source]

Formation[change | change source]

Before 1971, most American drum and bugle corps, or "corps," performed in shows run by the American Legion or VFW. In 1971, 5 important corps founded a new group, called the "Midwest Combine."[source?] Other eastern and western corps did the same thing with their respective regions. These corps formed these organizations because they did not like the rules of the American Legion, which many believed prevented creativity. The corps also believed that they did not give enough of the money from ticket sales to the corps who performed. The different groups decided that they would all perform as a "package." That is, show organizers had to pay and schedule to have all the corps perform, even if they only wanted one of them. This strategy went very well for the corps, and in 1972, all the groups, plus a few other corps formed a big organization called "Drum Corps International," or DCI. This group gave the corps a lot of money from shows and artistic freedom.

DCI Classes[change | change source]

DCI has two classes of competitive corps. The higher one is "World Class." These corps must have exactly 150 members,[source?] although how those members are divided is up to the corps staff. The corps in world class also get more money from DCI, and are allowed to vote on big decisions in DCI, like show times, rules, and money. They also spend a lot of time touring the country, and go to a lot of places. The second, and lesser class is "Open Class." These corps can have any number of members between 1 and 150.[source?] They do not get as much money as world class corps, nor as much say in decision making. They also spend less time on tour, and they also stay closer to where there headquarters is. Sometimes, corps can move from open class to world class if they performed very well the previous year. New corps always start out in open class.

In the past, classes in DCI were different. There were 3 classes called divisions. There also used to be an Open class, "A" class, and "A60" class, and Open class was surprisingly the best one. There was also an All-Girls class, for corps that were all girls. Before 1983, most corps were almost all male.

Instruments[change | change source]

A marching baritone horn. Note that the bell faces forward, the mouthpiece points back, and the buttons are pushed up and down. Compare this to a normal, or "concert" baritone, where the bell faces up, the buttons are pushed forward and back, and is meant to lie in the musician's lap.

Brass Instruments[change | change source]

Before 2000, most drum corps played brass instruments with two buttons. These play a "G"note when no buttons are pressed. These "bugles" give drum and bugle corps its name. Bugles are very similar to play compared with other brass instruments, but bugles are not usually well made and can be very difficult to play well when you want them to.

Now, most drum corps play instruments that sound a bit higher; they play a B-flat or F when no buttons are pressed. These are called marching instruments, and sound and play very similar to the instruments played indoors. They are arranged differently, so that the big "bell" points towards the audience so it is as loud as possible for them.

The four most common brass instruments in corps are the trumpet, mellophone (like a french horn), baritone, and contrabass (like a tuba). For a long time, DCI rules banned all other brass instruments besides the ones listed above. Now, DCI have changed the rules and have allowed more brass instruments, like the trombone and euphonium.[source?]

Drums[change | change source]

All drum corps use three different types of drums. These are the snare, tenors, and basses. together, with the cymbals, make up the "drumline."

A musician playing the tenors. Note the four distinct drums

The snare drum is the smallest of the three. It has a short, loud, crunchy sound when hit. Corps can have between 6-10 people playing these. the Tenor drums, or "tenors" are actually a set of 4 or 5 drums attached together, designed to be played all by one person. The different drums have different pitches that can be played in sequences to produce crude melodies. These drums have a wide, fat sound with a distinct pitch, but the sound can change depending on the type of stick used to hit it. Corps can have between 3-5 musicians playing these. The bass drum is a large drum held sideways against player's body. It has the lowest sound of the drumline, and they have a low, round, closed sound when hit, with a less defined pitch. Corps have about 5 basses of different sizes played by 5 people, so, like the tenors, they can also play crude melodies.

Modern drum corps not only have marching drummers, but also have 'front ensembles," who play instruments that cannot be marched with. These include timpani sets, or kettle drums, vibraphones, marimbas, tubular bells, xylophones, and various auxiliary percussion that would be inconvenient to march with. Front ensembles can also have suspended cymbals, especially if the corps has no marching cymbals.

Drumlines can also have cymbals, who hold two identical crafted metal solid cymbals in both hands in front of their bodies, and slam them together to get a sustained crash sound. Many modern drum corps have opted to eliminate cymbals from their drumlines, as they can be expensive to maintain. Cymbal lines need at least one additional staff member to teach, as they are very different from the other drums. In addition, a corps may have limited members, and consider a musician more valuable in the front ensemble, where they can play other instruments as well.