The Tradition of Military Music
Military Bands and Music

The Bands

A military band is a group of personnel that perform musical duties for military functions, usually for the armed forces. A typical military band consists mostly of wind and percussion instruments with a few Brass instruments. The conductor of a band commonly bears the title of Bandmaster or Director of Music. Ottoman military bands are thought to be the oldest variety of military marching band in the world.

The military band should be capable of playing ceremonial and marching music, including the national anthems and patriotic songs of not only their own nation but others as well, both while stationary and as a marching band. Military bands also play a part in military funeral ceremonies.

There are two types of historical traditions in military bands. The first is military field music. This type of music includes bugles (or other natural instruments such as natural trumpets or natural horns), bagpipes, or fifes and almost always drums, the latter two being organised into Corps of Drums. This type of music was used to control troops on the battlefield as well as for entertainment. Following the development of instruments such as the keyed trumpet or the saxhorn family of brass instruments, a second tradition of the all brass military band was formed.

During the American Civil War most Union regiments had both types of groups within the unit. However, due to changes in military tactics by the end of World War I field musical had been mostly phased out in favor of the brass bands. These performed in a concert setting for entertainment, as well as continued to perform drill and martial events. In the United States, these bands were increased in instrumentation to include woodwinds, which gives us the modern military band in the United States.

In the United States Army, the band is attached to the headquarters element and one of its duties is to provide security for the command post. Regular British Army musicians are all members of the Corps of Army Music. As a secondary role they are trained to work in NBC 'Casualty Decontamination Areas'. Modern-day military musicians often perform a variety of other styles of music in different ensembles, from chamber music to rock and roll. During World War II, The Royal Air Force Dance Orchestra, better known as The Squadronaires, served to entertain troops and support morale.

In the United Kingdom, massed military bands perform at Trooping the Colour, an annual ceremonial held every June on Horse Guards Parade to mark the official Queen's Birthday celebrations.

The Music

For the United States Army, during the War for Independence and the War of 1812, the favorite marching song of the foot soldiers was "The Girl I Left Behind Me", an old British Army ditty.  Infamously, the favorite marching song during the period of the Mexican War was "Green Grow the Rushes, Oh!" a popular song based on a poem by Robert Burns.  As troops passed through Mexican towns and villages, they sang the more ribald and risqué verses in English that were not appropriate to sing up North.  As a result, the Mexicans referred to the Yanquis as "Greengrows" and the name has since stuck.  By the time of the American Civil War, many popular minstrel songs and parodies were sung by the marching foot Soldiers of both sides.  One of the most popular was the minstrel version of "Liza Jane" (NOT the Stephen Foster version).  This marching song returned at the time of the Vietnam War with extremely adult versions that were outlawed in the modern Army.