Military and Processional music

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French military band, 2007

Military and processional music was designed to fulfil necessary functions in a military environment, and accompanies pageants, parades, ceremonies, processions.

The Origins of Military And Processional Music[edit]

Landsknechte military band, 1530

Within a typical military band, are found various ensembles which perform separately as the occasion demands. These may include a brass ensemble, a brass band, a woodwind ensemble, a dance band, or even a big band, or a pop group. Until the end of the Second World War most bands could provide a small orchestra, if they had musicians who could also double on a stringed instrument. In the cases of the Royal Artillery's, and the Royal Engineer's bands, all musicians were required to be double-handers. Both the Royal Artillery, and the Royal Engineers always maintained a full symphony orchestra, but today, the only band capable of providing a full orchestra is the Royal Artillery Band. The Royal Marines, the Guards, and the Household Cavalry have salon orchestras, and are able to combine forces to make up an orchestra if required, although there is no requirement for their musicians to be double-handers. During the Second World War, the Royal Air Force Symphony Orchestra was founded, taking advantage of the civilian symphony orchestra musicians from across the nation, who were called up into service. The RAF Symphony Orchestra ceased to exist once the war was over, with the musicians returning to their civilian orchestras.

The trumpet has long since been associated with royalty, with the sound of the trumpet being very much the prerogative of the kings. In the Middle Ages, military musicians known as waits existed in fortified towns, who kept watch in towers, where they could communicate by horn or trumpet, the threat of danger, or the arrival of dignitries. Until the eleventh century, only horns and trumpets were used in western Europe by military musicians.

By the time of the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, instruments such as reedpipes, horns, drums, and shawms were used together. Woodwinds (especially double reed instruments) and brass instruments were quickly found to be most useful outdoors, while brass instruments (especially trombones) were particularly effective in churches and large halls. Prior to the nineteenth century concert halls did not exist, and music for entertainment was reserved for the spacious chambers of the large homes of noblemen, or in palaces, where early stringed instruments such as viols, and lutes were gradually replaced by the more powerful violins (including violas and violoncellos) and guitars.

By the sixteenth century woodcuts and other illustrations showed mounted fifers, and mounted bombard players and trombonists, especially in The Triumph of Miximilian (1512). In his eulogy Arte of Warre (1591) Garrard explains that "According to the stroke of the drum, shall they go, just and even, with a gallant and sumptuous pace..."

Until the rise of the New Model Army, military musicians were solely employed as servants by the nobility, who often maintained their own private armies of armed men, and their minstrels. At times of war, both groups were deployed in battle, dressed in uniforms. The role of the 'bandsmen' was to support the fighting troops by boosting their morales, typically advancing (walking, not marching) onto the battlefield ahead of the columns of troops, and acting as stretcher bearers. The role of stretcher bearer is found with musicians and bandsmen worldwide, however, in the British Army, they are properly trained medical assistants, able to serve in field hospitals, and performing minor surgery (as required), as well as first-aid, and administering injections and medicines.

The earliest formal military bands were the Ottoman, or Turkish Janissary bands (descended from the Saracen bands), which were quickly emulated by Hungarian regiments, and the modern military band in Britain, is a descendant of these, although the Americans had their official bands before Britain's were founded. In 1700 the Sultan of Turkey presented a Janissary band, from his personal guard, to the King of Poland. The Janissaries played primitive instruments such as fifes, shawms, serpents, drums, and cymbals, and an instrument that remained in army bands for a considerable time, the 'Jingling Johnny' (originally a brass crescent on a pole, with numerous small bells hanging from it). This developed into the precursor of the pole-mounted xylophone still seen in foreign military bands. Gradually, the Turkish bandsmen were replaced by black, or 'negro' bandsmen.[citation needed]

The Duke of Gloucester’s Band, 1811

The Industrial Revolution brought significant wealth to entrepreneurs, who set up rapidly expanding companies and factories all over the North of England, and later elsewhere. Business were run by men who often had military experience, in a way that reflected the Services, with its own system of rank. The wealthiest factories, and coal mines provided such comforts as living quarters, and entertainment for their workers, and small bands of musicians were employed, comprising only brass and percussion instruments. The brass instruments were all related, having a conical bore, and the musical notation was written in treble clef for all instruments, except the tuba. Brass instruments are robust, and because of their conical bore (cornets, rather than trumpets, with their straight bore) this meant that the musicians could easily switch instruments, should a shortage arise of a particular instrument. There was no requirement for them to learn to read the bass clef, so the transition was all the more simple. The effectiveness of such bands in all weathers conditions, both indoors and out, was noted by military musicians, and brass instruments were quickly adopted by them, to augment the fifes, and oboes, and such instruments such as the shawm and the serpent were gradually dispensed with, for more powerful brass. The flute, and its smaller relative the piccolo, soon replaced the weaker, and limited fife.[citation needed]

In 1845, Bombardier Henry Lawson, one of the finest trumpeters in the country, and principal trumpet of both the Royal Artillery Band and the Royal Artillery Brass Band, was appointed as Trumpet-Major of the Royal Horse Artillery Band in 1845. Lawson, who joined the RA Band in 1823, was frequently compared with Koenig, the famous cornet player of Julien's band. The Band improved considerably under his direction. He was succeeded, after his retirement in 1852 by Trumpet-Major George Collins, the brother of William Collins, bandmaster of the Royal Artillery Band. Collins introduced to the band, an instrument that he had helped to develop many years earlier, the 'keyed bugle' [a link to a history of the keyed bugle may be found in §7 below see esp. P.21]. The first bandmaster of the RHA band was James Browne, who was formerly principal flautist, and a violinist in the RA Band at Woolwich, who succeeded Collins in January 1870. Meanwhile, by the year 1869, so many brass instruments had been added to the band of buglers, that the title was changed to the Royal Artillery Brass Band. The RA Brass Band entered the lists of the Crystal Palace Band Contest in 1871, where it won the first prize of £50.

In most cases prior to 1762 (except in the Royal Artillery), drummers, trumpeters, fifers, and buglers were enlisted soldiers, rather than trained musicians, and did not belong to the bands. Instead, they were trained soldiers. This tradition was still evident in such regimental bands of the line, such as those of the Foot Guards, and Fusiliers, by the distinct differences in the pattern of their uniforms. In 1994 the Corps of Army Music was founded, and from that period, all regimental bands (except those of the Guards and Household Cavalry) became staff bands. Staff bands always recruited professionally trained musicians, who were subsequently accorded, at basic rank level, the appointment 'Musician', and whose officer commanding is a commissioned officer known as 'Director of Music'. (= 'Private', 'Gunner', 'Sapper', etc.). Regimental bands comprised talented, though not always formally trained, musicians, known as 'Bandsmen' under the command of a warrant officer, known as 'Bandmaster'. The appointment 'Bandsman' no longer exists in the British Army, since the Corps of Army Music was formed, and it does not exist in either the Royal Marines, or the Royal Air Force. The appointment 'Bandmaster'has been retained by the Corps of Army Music; the Bandmaster's role being chiefly as a band training officer, performing musician, and assistant conductor.

The Royal Navy does not employ, as foreign navies do, professional musicians. Instead it depends on the services of the Corps of Royal Marines (originally an army detachment from the Honourable Artillery Company to provide an amphibious infantry service), who today, together with the Royal Fleet Auxhiliary form the Naval Service. As soldiers, they were the logical choice when it came to providing music.

All other ranks within bands follow the standard military designations, for example: Lance Corporal / Lance Bombardier; [Band] Sergeant; Colour Sergeant / Staff Sergeant, and Band Sergeant Major. Rank has its prerogatives, and applies as in any military situation. Music as an art form however, does not respect rank as such, but rather ability. Therefore, instrumental sections and ensembles are generally headed by the most accomplished musician on his instrument, and on certain occasions the conductor may not be as high in rank as some of the musicians within the band. It is quite common to see a section leader without a badge of rank, giving artistic commands to sergeants or warrant officers within his section, and leaders (principal first violinists) of the Royal Artillery, and Royal Engineers orchestras have more often been ordinary private soldiers, than otherwise.

Military Band[edit]

Kettle drums on display in the Trooping of the Colours, 2007

The term military band does not only describe a musical ensemble in today's armies, navies, and air forces, but is the correct description for a specific instrumentation in musical composition. Military bands are frequently categorized, at least in the United Kingdom, together with various brass bands.

Military bands comprise both woodwind, and brass instruments with percussion, compared to brass bands, which do not include woodwinds. The development of the brass band is vastly different from that of the military band. Owing to the enormous popularity of military bands since the days of Queen Victoria, especially outdoors, where the general public could experience free of charge, concert performances of music which they would likely never otherwise encounter, combined with the more popular melodies of the day, composers have continued to write for the military band instrumentation, which has long since become standardized. There is no requirement for the musicians who perform military band music to themselves be uniformed members of the armed forces. An important musical development which is also derived directly from the military band, is the 'symphonic wind ensemble' (also known in the United States, as the 'concert band') which includes wind instruments not associated with marching bands (such as bass clarinet, contrabassoon, harp, and double bass), and which is modelled on the standard symphony orchestra, but without conventional stringed instruments. Both 'military band' and 'symphonic wind band' describe current ensembles which may be found throughout the world. In some American high schools, both ensembles might exist, together with both the traditional symphony orchestra, and the big [dance] band.

Music, Processional and Ceremonial[edit]

Russian national anthem being performed, 2010

Ceremonial music is by nature, occasional, and usually in honor of a dignified person such as a head of state, or a nobleman. The arrival of a king, for example, is normally heralded with a fanfare - a declamatory and often brief musical announcement, which is far more effective and audible than a vocal announcement. Such music has evolved to accompany the splendour of the personage for whom it was meant, in a suitably dignified style and tempo (majestic; stately, etc.). An anthem will extol the virtues of a nation, or a monarch, and originally was conceived as choral music, but in the case of the National Anthem, is more likely to be heard played by a military band, or an orchestra. The arrival of a monarch is processional.

Also processional, but for a different reason, is the march. Marches exist in various styles and tempi, and include the concert march, which is directly related to the military march, but is a military style symphonic piece to be listened to, rather than have any practical value. The standard 'Quick March' tempo varies from between 116 beats to 120 per minute, to accompany the disciplined way of moving men from one place to another. Marches may also be triumphant. Marches are written in four beats to the bar, two beats to the bar, and in 6/8 time, which is an elaborate or stylized version of two beats, or steps (and also used to accompany the 'Two Step' on the dance floor).

On more solemn occasions, the 'Slow March' accompanies troops with its distinct feeling of two beats to the bar, at around half the tempo of a quick march. It is the most stately of all marches. The Slow March is often used by the Cavalry and Artillery at a walk past by their horses, and on those occasions is referred to as a 'Walk March'.

See also[edit]

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]

[8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16]



  1. ^ "Corps of Army Music". British Army. Archived from the original on 20 October 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 
  2. ^ "Kneller Hall Museum". British Army. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 
  3. ^ "Home". Firepower - Royal Artillery Museum. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 
  4. ^ "The Band of The Life Guards". British Army. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 
  5. ^ "The Band of the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers". British Army. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 
  6. ^ "The Band of the Army Air Corps". British Army. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 
  7. ^ "The Band of the Royal Logistic Corps". British Army. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 
  8. ^ Farmer 1904, p. 00.[page needed]
  9. ^ Farmer 1950, p. 00.[page needed]
  10. ^ Farmer 1951, p. 00.[page needed]
  11. ^ Farmer 1954, p. 00.[page needed]
  12. ^ (A)Turner 1996, p. 00.[page needed]
  13. ^ (B)Turner 1996, p. 00.[page needed]
  14. ^ Slonimsky 1990, p. 00.[page needed]
  15. ^ Cassin-Scott, Fabb 1978, p. 00.[page needed]
  16. ^ Fox 1967, p. 00.[page needed]
  • The Rotunda Museum, Royal Artillery Barracks, Woolwich, London


  • Farmer, H.G. Memoirs of the Royal Artillery Band. London, UK: Boosey & Co., 1904.
  • Farmer, H.G. Military Music. Max Parrish & Co Limited., 1950.
  • Farmer, H.G. Cavaliere Zaverthal and the Royal Artillery Band. Hinrichsen Edition Limited, 1951. ASIN B0007IUBWM.
  • Farmer, H.G. History of the Royal Artillery Band. London S.E 18, UK: Royal Artillery Institution, 1954. ASIN:B000J2ZMY8
  • (A)Turner, G. The History of British Military Bands v2. Spellmount Publishers Ltd, 1996. ISBN 978-1873376089.
  • (B)Turner, G. The Trumpets Will Sound. Parapress, 1996. ISBN 978-1898594383.
  • Cassin-Scott, J, Fabb J. Military Bands and their Uniforms. Poole, Dorset, UK: Blandford Press, 1978. ISBN 978-0713708950.
  • Fox, L.M. Instruments of Processional Music. London, UK: Lutterworth Press, 1967. ISBN 978-0718804497.
  • Slonimsky, N. Lectionary of Music. Anchor Books, 1990. ISBN 978-0385414210.
  • "The Grove Dictionary of Music"
  • "The New Grove Dictionary of Music"
  • "The Oxford Companion to Music", edited by Percy Scholes
  • "The New Oxford Companion to Music", Edited by Denis Arnold
  • "The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music", Edited by Stanley Sadie

External links[edit]