My day-job is an administrator in the U.S. Marshals Gang Enforcement Unit of the Investigative Operations Division. I am stationed at U.S. Marshals Headquarters just outside of Washington D.C. As with many law-enforcement organizations, the USMS boasts its own Pipe and Drum Band. According to their webpage: “In addition to helping the children and families of our fallen heroes, the U.S. Marshals Survivors Benefit Fund provides support to programs that honor and commemorate those who have died in the line of duty. One such program is the U.S. Marshals Survivors Benefit Fund Pipes and Drums. The Pipes and Drums Band is comprised of active Deputy U.S. Marshals who volunteer their time and talents to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The Pipes and Drums serve as the staple of memorial and fundraising events across the country.”
The original Pipe and Drum Bands began life in the military. Descended from Scottish traditions, the group usually consists of several pipers playing the Great Highland Bagpipe. A section of snare drummers, tenor drummers and bass drummers collectively make up the drum corps. Sometimes a drum major directs the group. The standard instrumentation for a marching pipe band involves anywhere from six to twenty-five pipers, three to ten snare drummers, one to six tenor drummers and one bass drummer. Occasionally this instrumentation is augmented to include additional instruments but this is typically done only in concert settings.
Conventional Pipe Band music comprises a unique composition. Pipers deliver the top-end melodic and harmonic music, while the snare drummers provide a rhythmically interactive accompaniment part. The tenor drummers contribute the bottom-end rhythmic pulse and the bass drummer anchors the rhythms, providing a strong and steady beat. These instruments all combine to make up a powerful structured cadence. Players are often able to execute extremely complicated and technically demanding rudimentary patterns.
One standout in Pipe and Drum Bands is the distinctive snare sound. The tension on a Pipe and Drum snare is extremely tightened with maximum tension and often uses a Kevlar head. This creates a crack and is more suited to the buzz roles and accents most attributed to the music. The tenor and bass drums are tuned with the usual set-ups used by marching bands.