Drum Major
Taken from the 40th annual commemorative program.

John C. Moon, presently Musickmaster at Colonial Williamsburg, was formerly Drum Major of the 1st Batt. Scots Guards, Senior Drum Major of the Brigade of Guards, Senior Drum Major of the British Army and Drummer to the Royal Household.

It can be truthfully said, whilst mixing metaphors, that a Drum Major is jack of all trades and master of all he surveys, and yet it was probably the neglect and carelessness of drummer that encouraged Commanders to institute the office of Drum Major.

Chronologically, the earliest evidence appears to be that given by Farmer in his “History of Military Music in England” which states: “These officers first appeared in the reign of Edward VI, 1547-1553 when Benedict Browne was Sergeant Trumpeter and Robert Bruer was Master Drummer”. According to Sir John Smithe, “Master Drummer” became Drum Major in 1591.

In “The Principles of Art Militaire” by Henry Hexhan, 1637, appears: “Every Regiment ought to have a Drumme-majour, to whom when it is watch time, the other Drummes are to repair, there to beate a call, and to march with his company that is appointed for the guard. A Drumme-majour ought to be a grave man, able to instruct the other Drummes to beate a true march and other points of warre, to see the Drummes that beate upon a march to be duely relieved and also to speake divers tongues, and to be wise, and cautelous what he shall speake to an enemy.”

By the 18th century, the Drum Major’s exalted position has blossomed not only by his finery and exotic uniforms, but Thomas Simes tells (in 1778) his duties were “to have with you your apparatus for punishing... and it should be an established rule that a man who receives one hundred lashes, or more, should pay 2d.” “No cat to have more than nine tails.”

Grose’s Military Antiques tells us that “besides a Drum Major to each Regiment, there is now (1786), and has been for some time, a Drum Major General to the Army...” He appears to have enjoyed great powers as no one could be recognized as a drummer without license from him.

From the Guards Brigade General Orders: “You are to carry the letters to, and bring them from the Post Office”. “You are every morning to see that the drummers sweep and clean the officers’ and mens’ necessary houses.” The Drum Major was, and is, obviously a versatile man. He had not only to supervise all flogging of soldiers but had to instruct the drummers to flog with both hands, for practice purposes. It is also the duty of the Drum Major to remove the badges of rank of any soldier being drummed out of service.

To this cornucopia of talents can be added the responsibilities of drumming, drill, discipline and welfare of his Pipers and Drummers, the music and training of the drum section and the awe-inspiring task of acting as buffer between his Pipe Major and the rest of the world, en masse. On parade, his turn-out, drill and bearing must be immaculate. His knowledge of all aspects of Band work must exceed that of his charges and his confidence in himself and his trade must be flaunted in almost theatrical style to produce the required effect... competence and dignity.

Reprinted from Delaware Scottish Games Program, June 2, 1973

 

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