Corps of drums return to band

corps of drums

The Naden Band five-person corps of drums took to the streets during the Victoria Day Parade.

In April, there was an unusual sound coming from the museum parade square; a steady drum beat that echoed throughout Naden.

Making the rhythmic noise was a five-person corps of drums training under the watchful eye of Naden Band Chief, CPO2 Pierre Cayer.

The distinct staccato of the side drums, along with the military precision of the professional musicians, was impressive, and reminisced of times gone by.

“Out of respect for our proud navy heritage and to remember the days when military bands had such a huge importance, I was inspired to facilitate a comeback of the corps of drums here at Naden,” said Lt(N) Matthew Clark, Commanding Officer of the Naden Band.

With origins dating back as far as the mid 17th century, drummers were used by the Royal Marines to transmit signals on the battlefield by beatings, but eventually were replaced by buglers.

In 1902 at the Coronation Review for King Edward VII in England, Lt George Miller put 30 side drummers in the front ranks of massed Royal Marine bands. Since then, side drummers have always been in the front rank of Royal Marines Bands.

LCdr (Ret’d) David J Freeman, an avid historian and volunteer at the CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum explained the historical development of the corps of drums in the Canadian Armed Forces.

“As far as can be determined, Royal Canadian Navy bands copied the Royal Marines front rank tradition for side drummers. A photo of King George VI presenting Colours to the Royal Canadian Navy in 1939 here in Victoria shows some 40 musicians with the side drummers in the front rank.  This practice continued throughout the Second World War. In the late 1940s, the Naval Band service and the School of Music in HMCS Naden were formed and this drum tradition continued.”

With the unification of all three CF elements in 1968, the corps of drums virtually disappeared as various CF bands were merged or closed. In the mid 1980s, there was a comeback of this tradition within Naval Reserve bands. Most recently, the five-person corps of drums of the Naden Band of the Royal Canadian Navy made its first public appearance at the Victoria Day Parade.

“My goal is to use the five-person corps of drums as much as possible, especially for large high profile events” said Lt(N) Clark. “I didn’t know that this was going to take off like it has. The resonance has been unbelievable.”

-A/SLt Ron MacDougall, BPAO Trainee

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  1. Ken says:

    Hi my name is Ken I grew up in Victoria late Fifty,s to late Seventy,s.I am wondering if you have any info on a Naden band member that I took Drum lessons from in the early seventys I think his mane might have been Doig maybe Robert he taught me to read and play drum rudiments.Any info would be appreciated.

    Thanks Ken

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