Western culture preferred marching bands

If you've ever wondered why Americans and Europeans don't have much of a drum culture - unlike many other peoples of the world - take a look back in history. About 800 years back.

According to Stuart Marrs, a professor of music at the University of Maine and director of the school's percussion program, the invasions of the Ottoman Empire into Europe in the 13th century had a lot to do with the role drums have played in Western culture over the last several hundred years.

Invading Ottoman armies were preceded by "janizary" bands - fearsomely loud groups of drummers and cymbal players sent ahead on camelback to frighten local villagers into fleeing or surrendering to the troops, which wreaked havoc wherever they went. "People knew what that sound meant," says Dr. Marrs. "It was like an alarm."

By the 18th century, however, long after the invasions had ended, he says, the Ottoman sultans began making gifts of janizary bands to the kings of Prussia and other royalty in Europe - complete with uniforms, instruments, and players. "It became a fad," Marrs says. "They'd forgotten about all the raping and looting stuff. Every court had to have one."

The fascination spread to England, according to Marrs, and from there to the United States, where today's descendants of janizary bands can be found at almost every football game in the country - marching down the field in full force at halftime.

On the other hand, he says, the kind of drumming that's popular in drum circles - celebratory, rhythmic, and usually played by hand - has moved into Western culture primarily through African, Latin American, and western Caribbean influences.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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