Ten Dates in American Marching Arts

As a foundation for marching arts research, this historical “charter” gives us knowledge of who we are and where we came from.

1812 – Charles Stewart Ashworth publishes “A New Useful and Complete System of Drum Beating,” listing 28 beatings for duty or “rudiments,” a term first used by Ashworth (conductor of the U.S. Marine Corps Band, 1804 to1816). His book laid the foundation for publications by Bruce and Emmett (1862), Strube (1869) and Sousa (1886).

1862 – President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Land Grant Act into law on July 2. The Morrill Act was instrumental in the establishment of 70 of today’s colleges and universities. The act allotted 30,000 acres per member of Congress under the condition of providing instruction in agriculture, mechanical arts and military tactics. The availability of ROTC marching instruction that followed influenced both development of the marching band and military drill in physical education across the nation. Military drill and gymnastics jockeyed for position in school physical education (P.E.) programs until the acceptance of sport as education. In 1943, the increasingly strenuous demands of modern warfare prompted U.S. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson to withdraw his support of drill in P.E., which gradually fell into general disfavor among increasingly athletic physical educators. The modern dance/drill team is a descendant of P.E. drill.

1890 – “Drills and Marches,” by Emma Cecilia and Elizabeth Jane Rook (reprinted in 1929 and 1970) is published. This book is perhaps the first and most durable of about 20 children’s drill manuals published in Chicago, Ohio and New England between 1890 and 1933. Authors of these books (Marie Irish, the most prolific) taught two generations of Americans how to march, maneuver and entertain friends and family. The movement influenced 18 bills on physical education presented to Congress between 1898 and 1917, 15 of which involved military drill.

1907 – The University of Illinois “Marching Illini” performed the first halftime show. The same year, The Purdue University “All-American” Marching Band “Block P” became the “first formation, other than a military block, ever formed by a band” (www.purdue.edu/bands). Both universities had been established through the 1862 Morrill Land Grant Act.

1923 – The Schools Band Contest of America is held in Chicago, June 4 to 6. Organized by The Band Instrument Manufacturers’ Association, the “national” band tournament was attended by 30 bands, half from the Chicago area. Although the marching contest was cancelled, and the Michigan Avenue parade was moved to the sidewalk (a parade permit was not secured), this gathering initiated both regional and truly national annual band contests for hundreds of bands each year from 1926 to 1941 (except 1932). The contests galvanized organizations such as the Music Supervisor’s National Conference, later named the Music Educator’s National Conference (MENC), which administered the tournament starting in 1926. Contests resumed after the war, regulated by the National School Band and Orchestra Association.

1933 – The National Association of Rudimental Drummers (NARD) is formed during an American Legion National Convention by a group of prominent drummers. Its purpose was to review and standardize rudimental drumming in America. The group selected Thirteen Essential Rudiments on which all corps and drummers—as well as those seeking membership in NARD itself—would be judged. It disbanded in 1978 with nearly 10,000 members. The Percussive Arts Society, founded in 1961, has since assumed the duties of regulating the rudiments.

1947 – The use of pistons in drum and bugle corps competition is approved. Musical contributions to the bugle have long influenced the marching arts through the development of keys, pistons, rotors, slides (approved for drum corps use by Veterans of Foreign Wars in 1949) and even the introduction of cylindrical tubing itself (bugle tubing being originally conical). Perhaps the biggest contribution came from a 1947 decision of the American drum corps activity to allow movement of an existing horizontal bugle piston. Originally designed to merely change the key of the bugle, this piston was locked during competition. Its free use manifested the musical intentions of the drum corps activity, bringing unabashed acceptance of two vertical pistons (1976), three pistons (1989) and the adoption of nearly any bell-front brass (1999), regardless of conical/cylindrical tubing ratio and construction. American drum corps today prefer non-bugle instruments designed for indoor acoustical settings.

1971 – The formation of Drum Corps International (DCI). What Drum Corps Associates (DCA – formed in 1965) did for senior drum and bugle corps, DCI did for junior drum and bugle corps and then some. DCA was no less important in setting the formerly church- and military-sponsored drum corps movement on the path toward autonomy. However, DCI’s innovation and youth appeal had a farther-reaching influence on the drum corps movement at large. Presiding over a North American activity of 442 corps in 1972, DCI saw the nation’s interest in its World Championships peak in 1976 with a Nielsen Rating of 8 million television viewers. DCI has since pared its field of junior corps down to 53 elite units.

1975 – Marching Bands of America, now Bands of America (BOA) is founded by Larry McCormick, percussion author, instructor, adjudicator, band director, instructional video magnate and owner of McCormick’s Enterprises, Inc. Originally a subsidiary of McCormick’s, BOA became a not-for-profit educational organization in 1984. BOA merged with the Music for All Foundation in 2006 and today provides more than 20 events nationwide, including annual regional and national marching band championships, leadership clinics and concert band festivals. BOA has played a central role in serving and promoting school marching band throughout a challenging era.

1977 – Winter Guard International (WGI) is formed. WGI was founded to “draw together the growing winter guard activity, standardize rules, and provide leadership and guidance” (wgi.org). Its contributions include innovative equipment/techniques, instructional materials, autonomous judging administration, the development and proliferation of dance within color guard and indoor percussion competition since 1992. The success of WGI prompted the formation and involvement of school winter guard units, whose events it governs across America. WGI presently provides World Championship competition for more than 300 guards and 170 percussion ensembles.

About the Author

Stuart Rice is a veteran of 20 marching seasons, serving as a member, instructor and choreographer of marching in junior high, high school, college, drum corps, winter guard and professional settings. Rice’s marching research has been presented at the University of Rochester Visual and Cultural Studies Conference in 1994 and the American Sociological Association Collective Behavior and Social Movements Workshop at the University of California at Davis in 1998. His analysis of Drum Corps International World Championship Finalist drill is published extensively in Drum Corps World magazine. Rice holds a Bachelor of Music Degree from the University of Utah.

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A photo of Adam Wiencken

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