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JANNISARY INSTRUMENTS

It was both extremely fashionable and common for regimental bands of the period to contain a percussion section comprising of instruments of Middle Eastern origins.  This practice had spread through Europe from the Ottoman Empire during the eighteenth century, though it developed into a craze in Britain after the campaign in Egypt in 1801, following which anything deemed ‘Janissary’ (a famous Turkish military unit) or ‘Mameluke’ (the ruling caste of Turkish-controlled Egypt) became the rage in military fashion.  Janissary percussion sections typically consisted of a bass drum, cymbals, a triangle, a tambourine, small kettledrums, and often a form of bell tree known as a ‘Jingling Johnny’ or ‘Chapeau Chinois.’ Originally these instruments had been played by Arabs hired for the purpose, though from an early period British bands appear to have employed men of African descent (perhaps more readily available in Britain?), and it became a considerable mark of status for a regiment to have a Black bass drummer or cymbalist.  These musicians were also clothed in a fusion of British military and outlandish ‘Arab’ garments, approximating the parochial view of the Middle East held by most Europeans.  Janissary musicians were prized by their regiments, and renowned for their spectacular dress and showmanship.  However, it must be remembered that the practice was essentially exploitative, and the use of Blacks as musicians in the army was ultimately banned by Queen Victoria in 1844.  Though these fantastical musicians would seem unsuited to service in largely rural Canada, Janissary percussionists were certainly employed by the British army in North America.  The 49th Regiment is recorded as having lost its band instruments, including triangles and a kettledrum, when Fort George fell to the Americans in May 1813.  Similarly, Lt. John Le Couteur of the 104th Regiment recalled that during the regiment’s famous march from New Brunswick to Upper Canada during the winter of 1813, the regiment’s Black bass drummer used his bass drum as a seat on a toboggan.

The Drums demonstrate the use of these instruments in a number of ways.  A constant feature of the group’s performances is the bass drummer, who beats the time on the march (sometimes referred to as the "time beater") and who accompanies the beatings of the snare drummers. Though contemporary orders exist which forbid the band percussionists from playing directly with the regiment’s corps of drums, most units appear to have ignored the directives.  However, the Drums’ bass drummer is clothed in a band percussionist uniform with Janissary features such as baggy Arab trousers and a turban-wrapped shako, befitting

his unique role and indicating his separate status as a member of the regimental band.  Likewise, the bass drum is painted in a colour scheme different to that of the snare drums, reflecting the fact that it is a band instrument.  For some Turkish-style pieces the Drums utilise other janissary instruments such as the cymbals.  The Drums have also reconstructed a ‘Jingling Johnny’, which is used for special performances.