Screamer (march)

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Henry Fillmore's Troopers Tribunal, a circus march for which Fillmore used a punning name – troupers, as in a circus troupe – in order to conceal whom he wrote the march for from his conservative father.[1]

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A screamer is a descriptive name for a circus march, in particular, an upbeat march intended to stir up the audience during the show.


Screamers were mostly composed in a 60-year period (1895–1955). Circuses were in need of music that would stir the audience into a frenzy, as four-footed animals galloped across the ring. Because march music was a prominent part of American music at that time, and because it carried such a quick tempo, it was this that ringleaders demanded.


Fillmore's "Rolling Thunder" performed by the Ceremonial Brass of the United States Air Force

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Circus marches are faster than a normal military march, often 130 to 150 beats/minute.

Although screamers tend to follow the march form, many times they are abbreviated, and additions, such as a quick cornet call introduction to a new melody, are included. A typical screamer lasts a minute to three and a half minutes.

Screamers are a very demanding type of music, due to their extremely fast and advanced rhythms, especially the low-brass parts. Double and even triple tonguing is often required in order to play these rhythms. The trio in "The Melody Shop" is a good example of this.

Many screamers have two prominent melodies playing at once. Although this is not unusual in a march, screamers tend to go further with this. The low-brass section can be playing a long, stately melody, while the woodwinds can be moving along with a phrase of 16th notes, or vice versa.

Due to the circumstances in which screamers are played, dynamics tend to stay at a level forte. Unlike some military marches, piano is rarely used.


The most prominent composer of circus marches is Karl L. King, most notably with his march "Barnum & Bailey's Favorite". Other screamer composers include Fred Jewell and Henry Fillmore. John Philip Sousa wrote "On Parade" and a few others, but his writing in the circus march style is not renowned.

Popular screamers[edit]

See also[edit]