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In a marching band or drum corps, the front ensemble or pit is the stationary percussion ensemble. This ensemble is typically placed in front of the football field, though some groups will work the front ensemble into a tight pod onto the marching field. Some high school marching bands opt not to march any percussion instruments, but instead have a "full" front ensemble.
Originally, the front ensemble consisted of keyboard percussion and timpani, the marching versions of which are heavy and awkward. Groups began adding more and more traditional percussion instruments to the pit, and in its modern form, the ensemble may contain any type of percussion instrument from cymbals, gongs, and drum kits to Afro-Cuban percussion such as congas, bongos, claves, and cowbells, to African percussion such as djembes.
The main emphasis of the pit in drum corps style groups are the mallet instruments: marimba, vibraphone, bells and xylophone. Some marching band circuits also allow non-standard instruments (such as the violin) or electronic/electric instruments (such as synthesizers and bass guitars) in the pit. However, this is extremely controversial and divisive within the marching band community, and was prohibited outright by Drum Corps International until 2008, when it was passed in an 11-4 vote.
Logistically, the front ensemble is very complicated and very intricate. Pit members will sometimes operate auxiliary equipment such as props, either inside or outside of the pit area.
In indoor drumline, the front ensemble may not necessarily be placed at the front as the name suggests. The show designers place the pit where it would be most effective for the show.
Basically any instrument that is not being marched on the field is being played in the front ensemble.
There are several different types of mallet instruments that can make up the front ensemble, variety depends on the band and its intent of sound. Typically the standard mallet collection for a front ensemble will include: vibraphone, xylophone, and the marimba.
A front ensemble will have other stationary percussion instruments such as: suspended cymbals and also could have a set of crash cymbals. The suspended cymbal is played with a mallet to create a gradual build of sound. The crash cymbals are played by being crashed into one another to create a loud and abrupt sound.
Bass Drum and Gong
The bass drum that participates in the front ensemble is much larger than the bass drums that members of the marching band march on the field, this one can not be marched with. It is played with only one large mallet. Most front ensembles will contain a gong, this instrument is also hit with a large mallet.
If a marching band is using synthetic sounds or recordings for their field show then the members of the front ensemble are responsible for it. Synthetic sounds are usually created from an electronic keyboard and can range anywhere from creating the illusion of sounds from space or even simply using the keyboard to sound like a piano. When the field show entails a poem to be read aloud, or a voice to be played during the show, the recording is played from speakers that are placed near the front ensemble. When the recording is meant to be played, a member will handle the controls.