Since the early 1600s, Drum Majors have been entrusted with the Dress, Deportment, and Discipline of regimental bands. Initially they were the main instructor to “The Drums” or “Military Music.” The Drum Major was charged with forming the field music that would provide music on the march, as well as relay commands on the field of battle and guide soldiers through their daily routine. Early on, Drum Majors were outfitted with the grandest uniforms that the regiment or its officers could afford, he bore a stave often of silver or ebony richly decorated and engraved with the unit’s battle honors or ciphers of their royal patrons. The Staves or Maces, as they are known today, were often passed down to each new Drum Major. WE see the extra care taken in the uniform, the drill, overall appearance, and in the manner in which he carries out his duties. None the least of which has always been showmanship. There is always that bit of style, panache, or flair that “Drummie” exudes that makes him stand out from the crowd. Today the Drum Major of a Highland Pipe Band carries out the more glamorous duties passed down through the gloved hands of professional soldiers of old. They lead their bands with some signals of the mace that were developed in the late 1700s, and hone their skills in the type of competition you see today.
Drum Major competitions take the form of a juried performance against set standards. Typically, the contestants perform together. From the Halt, they slow march for a specific amount of music time the, must signal a change of tempo to the Quick March. In quick time they may Walk, Roll or Flourish the mace during specific parts of the music only. They will also execute a number of Counter-Marches. They then must Mark-Time, Halt and Cutoff the music which is provided live by a Duty Band. They will be judged on execution of the commands, keeping time, marching, body carriage and mace movements just to name a few.
Prior to the marching portion of the competition is a dress inspections in which the uniform and deportment of the Drum Major is compared to a specific criteria. Every uniform item has a specific place and manner in which it is worn, only when the Drum Major is correct can he then be expected to keep his own band sharp! So when you see a Drum Major remember there is a lot more to the position than just waving around a stick, they are custodians of custom and ceremony that honor those who have gone before.