Drum and Bugle Corps have changed a lot since the traditional Corps of the 1950 and ‘60s. Before DCI and WGI, the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and the American Legion sponsored Drum and Bugle Corps. Current DCI performers will be jealous to know that, in those days, there was a Veterans “Post” in every town and neighborhood so, instead of driving miles to corps rehearsal, back then, you might be literally able to walk to the Veterans Post rehearsal on your street corner! Many Posts had a Senior Corps, made up of World War II Veterans and often a Junior Corps for Sons (and Daughters) 21 and below. The first corps I ever marched with was literally called “the Sons of the Demons.” The Maumee (Ohio) Demons were the Post’s Seniors named from World War II exploits and the “Sons” eventually became the DCI Toledo Glassmen.
The Veterans would congregate every Friday night at the post to reminisce, listen to music, and socialize. Our Junior Corps would rehearse those nights and between drumming we would cook food for the veterans. My usual assignment was a Maumee delicacy: frogs’ legs. When I dropped the legs into the boiling pot of water they would wiggle and “swim” as if they didn’t know they had already been separated from the rest of the frog!
None of the young players (or even the instructors) knew how to read music, so the drum parts would be taught by first using “onomatopoeic” syllables to represent the rudiments and rhythms. The instructor would first rhythmically “say” the syllables and each youngster would repeat it until they got it right. Then the instructor would drum each phrase and each player would be expected to listen and repeat it. Everything had to be quickly memorized. On a Friday night this became a fun game when the young players would tease and gibe anyone who messed up memory or saying/playing the tongue-twisting syllables. For example, the rudiment “flamacue” was “mar-CHING down the street” (try saying it with the emphasis and you will “hear” a flamacue)! I remember a particular rhythm my corps used lots was “watermelon” because its rhythm came from the popular song “Watermelon Man.” Entire drum parts were endlessly “chanted” while riding the bus to competitions. Our young players rarely won first place in contests, but we loved sharing the comradery of drumming and representing our neighborhood “Post.”
My R!Solo is based on the rudimental drumming of those times. It contains the original 26 rudiments, which were the standard before the current PAS 40 rudiments, notated pretty much exactly as they would have been. Listen to how I say the first phrase on the video until you can repeat it exactly. Then say it while you are playing it to get the phrasing perfect. Try to identify each of the 26 rudiments (they are all there). Think about which rudiments have been added to make the current 40 and where they might come from.
After you have learned “Marching Down the Street,” you and your teacher should search and find out more about the many drum composers over the years who wrote pieces to showcase these original 26 rudiments, including Charley Wilcoxon, William Schinstine, Fred Hoey, and John S. Pratt. Explore their solos and see how they chose to combine traditional rudimental rhythms, and make sure to investigate what “NARD” is. I hope you enjoy!
videography by Jesus Martinez
Dr. Michael Varner recently retired after 36 years as Director of Percussion at the University of Texas at Arlington. Previously he was Director of Percussion at Western Michigan University. He holds a degree in Music Education from Bowling Green State University, a Master’s in Performance degree from the University of Michigan, and a Doctorate in Performance from the University of North Texas. With a long history as a performer, he presents new and time-honored repertoire to the highest standards, having presented percussion clinics in every state, Europe, and Japan. He has written for nationally recognized DCI and WGI marching groups including the Chicago Cavaliers and the Toledo Glassmen. Under his leadership the University of Texas at Arlington Drumline performed with consistently top rankings at many PAS events. His interest in world music led to research in Nigeria and Ghana. His article “Skin That Speaks” was published in Percussive Notes. His interest in composing has led to many commissions with over 20 published works, and he is a member of the PAS Composition Committee. For more information visit https://blog.uta.edu/mulberry/.