During the War of 1812, British military music displayed many national influences. Music from the British Isles, consisting of English, Irish and Scottish tunes was predominant. However, the experiences of the army during the Napoleonic wars, including contact with Britain’s many allies and the campaigns on the European continent resulted in a great deal of foreign music being copied. French, German and even Spanish military music may have been amongst repertoires of British military musicians serving in Canada between 1812 and 1815.
The foundation of The Drums’ music are the military fife and drum manuals published by Drum Major Samuel Potter of the Coldstream Guards shortly after the war. These manuals, consisting of both a tutorial and a variety of duty beatings and signals of fife and drum, became the official manuals for British military fifers and drummers in subsequent decades. There is some evidence to suggest that these manuals codified beatings and tunes in common usage throughout much of the British army prior to 1815, as they bear a strong resemblance to the American manual published by Drum Major Charles Stewart Ashworth of the United States Marines (who had served in the British army and emigrated to the United States) in 1812. To maintain historical accuracy, the Drums draw the remainder of their fife and drum music from published manuals and other sources available in Britain and North America during the period.
Sources for fife music include the personal manual of Drum Major Buttrey of the 34th Regiment, earlier works by Potter, and a number of civilian sources such as Aird, as well as popular operatic tunes transcribed from the works of composers such as Handel and Beethoven. Drum music is more problematic, as no standard musical notation for drum music existed, and few manuals were published prior to or during the Napoleonic period. Drum music is therefore taken from a range of contemporaneous sources which are approximate to the 1790 – 1820 period, such as the Clark manuscript and Ashworth’s manual, as well as post-war manuals such as Lovering and Rumrille & Holton.
During the Napoleonic period, drum beatings were used in the British army as a means to send various signals – i.e. to regulate the soldiers day in camp and garrison and to convey commands on the battlefield. The Drums play a rope-tension wooden 16” x 16” snare drum consistent with those most regularly played by the drummers in the British army in the late 18th and early 19th century.
A wood fife, sometimes referred to as a German Flute, was used in the British Army to accompany the drum. There were only two fifers in the Grenadier company of each regiment who were officially on each regiment’s establishment. However it appears to be the practice than many of the drummers also learned to play the fife. Indeed some regiments required that drummers learn both instruments.
By the late 18th century the use of light infantry tactics with extended formations required something more portable and capable to send signals a greater distance than a drum. Consequently many armies including the British began to incorporate the use of the bugle with light infantry. Specific sounds were set down by authorities to be used as signals in camp, garrison and battlefield.
By the middle of the 18th century Europe was under the sway of the Turkish music knows as janissary music, a name taken from the Sultans’s lifeguards. In this music the focus was on percussion, with the emphasis on the “beat”. According to the composer Schubart: “No other genre of music requires so firm, decide and overpoweringly predominant a beat. The first beat of each bar is so strongly marked with a new and manly accent that it is virtually impossible to get out of step.”