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Lithographed Field Drum


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Historical Background: Drums are among the most ancient and widespread of all musical instruments. They are found in all the primitive cultures known to man. A Sumerian vase from the third millennium B.C. depicts a man-sized drum. The oldest surviving drums are Egyptian and date back to 1800 B.C. In literature, Chinese poems from around 1135 B.C. mention the playing of drums.

Drums migrated from China to Europe via Greece, where use of the "tympanon" was restricted to the Cybele and Dionysus cults. The earliest evidence of playing a drum in Europe is a 12th-century miniature depicting a juggler dressed as a bear and striking his hands on a barrel drum hung around his neck. A 13th-century Spanish miniature shows a performer playing an hourglass drum. It is thought that such forms were probably imported to Europe from China during the Crusades.

Before 1300 A.D., Arabians developed small kettledrums that were used in pairs called the "nagarah" (or "naqqarah"). Such drums were called "nacaires" in France, "naccheroni" in Italy, and "nakers" in England. The cylindrical drum appeared about the same time under the name "tabor." Other names for tabor are "tambour" (French), and "tamburo" (Italian).

According to manuscripts and paintings, it was King Henry VII who brought what is called the "rope tension drum" to England in the late 15th century. If one wished to own such a drum, he had to first get a license from the king. And even if one was lucky enough to obtain a royal license, he could only play "approved" military beatings, such as the "English March."

Today's marching and orchestral drums are descendants of rope tension drums. The construction of a rope tension drum consists of a shell (body), two calfskin drumheads, two wooden hoops, leather ears, and a cotton rope. Tension on the head of the drum is achieved by lacing several yards of rope through the ears which are attached to the hoops (rims). When the rope is tightened, the ears and hoops are pulled to the center of the shell.

The rope tension drum is also known as a "side drum." This is because the player (drummer) carries the drum to his side to allow for walking and playing at the same time. The drum is attached to a sling which is slung over the player's shoulder. The traditional grip of the drumsticks came about due to the angle of the drum head when carried in this manner. (This is still the preferred grip used by today's drum corps.)

Another name given to the rope tension drum is "field drum." The word "field" comes from the use of the drum on fields of battle. Field drums were used to help soldiers keep cadence with beats. They are thought to also have been used to communicate commands to the troops with signals. There is some question as to the validity of this, however. Some suggest it would have been unwise to signal troops in any manner that would also tell the enemy what to expect. Nevertheless, drum calls were used to relay commands of officers by the types of beats played.

From the time of King Henry VII until the late-19th century, rope tension drums have been an important part of military life and logistics. In Europe, drums have since been closely associated with royal ceremonies. Elsewhere, drums have played a prominent role in military and political ceremonies.

Present-day use of the terms "drum" and "tabor" refer to how a drum is played and accompanied by a pipe (fife). The difference between "fife and drum" and "pipe and tabor" is the number of players. A pipe-and-tabor player is a single person playing both instruments. A fife and drum ensemble is when two or more performers play one of these instruments.

Fun Fact: Rope tension drums used free-floating technology centuries before today's popular free-floater snare drums.

For more information about the historical use of drums, please see our Plastic Fife in C (5104) and Brass Fife in B Flat (5201) for their historical backgrounds.

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Lithographed Field Drum
Lithographed Field Drum
Item Number 5401

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