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The History of Drum and Bugle Corps (Drum Corps)

Bugles can be traced back as far as the 1700s with the Grenadier Guard and other similar military units for signaling soldiers. The original bugle was a single tube instrument with a conical shape through-out as opposed to cylindrical tubing which is used in concert style instruments.  This instrument could be played louder without sounding strained.  During the mid 1800's keys, valves were added to increase their music range.  It was the early 1900's with the invention of the radio that bugles slowly became obsolete for the purpose of signaling soldiers. Military drum and bugle corps were organized to perform at military and public ceremonies.  Prior to 1920 these units often divided into four sections. The first three sections consisted of players utilizing soprano bugles while the third section used bass bugles (later known as Baritone bugles) pitched in an octave below the regular instruments.  Corps such as the 2nd Armoured Divisional Signals Regiment Band out of Toronto were formed in 1926 as a military band.  This band now known as Toronto Signals Band  is still in existence today however in 1959 left the Canadian Military. 

In the early 1900's many of the surplus military equipment was sold to veteran and civilian organizations.  Organizations such as Royal Canadian Legion, American Legion and Boy Scout Associations purchased this equipment and formed drum and bugle corps youth activities.  In 1937 the 1st Preston Boy Scout Troop organized the Preston Scout House Band as an activity to interest local boys.  This corps ceased operation in 1967 but was rejuvenated in 1999 to form the Preston Scout House Alumni Band.  The majority of the organizations consisted only of boys performing in community events and local celebrations. Over time, rivalries between corps emerged and the competitive Drum and Bugle Corps (Drum Corps) was born.  As time progress during the early 1950's girls were permitted to join some corps while all girls corps like the St John's All Girls Drum and Bugle Corps of Brantford, Ontario was formed in 1953.  St. John's continued as an all girls corps until 1985 when dwindling membership forced them to allow boys.  

With the rise of the Drum Corps movement in the early 1900's  the demand for the bugles also increased.  During the 1950's manufactures increased the range of current Soprano and Baritone by adding the Mellophone and French Horn bugles.  In addition a rotor was added to the already single valve to increase the range of the bugles. In 1959 the first Contrabass Bugle (lowest bass sound) was develop by a Canadian instrument manufacture Whaley Royce.  The Contrabass Bugle was the only member of the bugle family that had never been produced in a valve-less style, as it was developed when the Drum Corps rules allowed one piston valve and one rotary valve.  As time progressed the Drum Corps horn line converted to two vertical piston valves, then 3 and later 4 valves to make the instrument fully chromatic.  In the late 1990's, Drum Corps once again made a dramatic change to B Flat and F style bugles which are widely used by the current competitive Drum Corps.

 

Drum Corps is certainly not without tradition.  As in the former military corps, the drum and bugle signaling units were lead by the Drum Major. Today Drum and Bugle Corps continue to march in a similar military style and are directed by the Drum Major.   

Drum and Bugle Corps are divided into 3 age groups:

    Junior - Under the age of 21

    Senior - Over the age of 21

    All ages - Combined age groups

 

From the early 1950ís to the late 1980ís there were over 100 Drum and Bugle Corps across Ontario and Quebec with competitions taking place almost every weekend from mid June to late August.  The Ontario Drum Corps Association (ODCA) was the leading association in Ontario for drum corpsí to meet and compete for the top billing.  Corps ranged in class from A, being the best of the best to D and parade class.  Each corps consisted of up to 120 marching members performing for 20 minutes on a standard football field showing their best bugles, drums, marching, manoeuvring and special effects. Today only a handful of corps exist in Ontario with the majority of them being senior corps consisting of members attempting to relive their youth. 

 

 

In the United States Drum and Bugle Corps is still thriving.  Although not as strong as the mid 1900ís, organizations like Drum Corps International (DCI) and Drum Corps Associates (DCA) help to keep the drum and bugle corps movement alive.  Each year in early August DCI holds the World Junior Drum Corps Championships with well over 100 drum and bugle corps from around the world competing for the best junior drum corps.  As with DCI, DCA hosts the All Ages Drum and Bugle Corps World Championships in early September.   

Phantom Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps of Rockford Ill.

2008 - DCI World Champions

 

For more information on the history of the Bugle see:

www.middlehornleader.com

www.tapsbugler.com

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