Johann Strauss Orchestra ~ Percussions ~ Drums

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When I was a young girl, I remember the first drum I ever saw or heard was a little drum my brother got for Christmas. He used to bang that thing all day long until we would hide it because of all the noise. Back then I could see no use for a drum at all except to drive us all crazy! But when I became a little older, I used to watch Leonard Bernstein on TV, a special Saturday Children Hour. He would explain all the different instruments & how they all worked together to harmonize a piece of music, and he taught us to listen for the individual instrument. Well, I started to hear how a drum could be the heartbeat, so to speak, of music. That's where the rhythm came from. Needless to say, I began to respect the part of the drum in an orchestra much more.

The drum is man's oldest musical instrument. It expresses his instinctive love of rhythm. It was also used as a means of communication. It has been used as a center for ceremonial dances, as a call to battle, or as a requiem for the dead. Much of the force and vitality of popular music would be lost without the rhythmic accent of the drums.


There are different kinds of drums. There is the Field Drum, used in marching bands, the Snare Drum, which provides rhythm in orchestras, the Congo Drum, used in Latin American music, the Bongo Drum used in folk and popular music, the Bass Drum, and the Timpani, or kettledrums.


So a drum is a musical instrument that is played by percussion, or striking sharply.

Most drums do not produce definite musical notes. They are said to have indefinite pitch.


A bass drum is made of wood, with metal tension rods holding the drumheads in place. The rods can be tightened to increase resonance. The drummer uses a beater covered with felt or sheep's wool. A snare drum measures 14 or 15 inches across and from 5 to 10 inches deep. It is built like a bass drum, except it has snares, or strings of catgut or wire, across the underside. They vibrate against the drumhead, giving the drum it's penetrating tone. The drummer uses two wooden sticks in alternate double strokes.


A field drum resembles the snare drum, but is larger and deeper in proportion to its diameter. It is used chiefly in military and marching bands and in drum and bugle corps.

The timpani, or kettledrums, are the only drums that can be tuned to a definite pitch. They are hollow halves of globes with single drumheads. The globes are usually made of brass or copper. The drumheads are usually of calfskin. The player tunes timpani by adjusting screws that hold the head in place. This changes the tension and pitch. Some have petals for rapid changes in tone. Timpani are usually used in pairs. The player makes single strokes with two padded sticks. Tone is affected by the kind of stick. Timpani may be muted by small pieces of cloth.


The percussion section of an orchestra gives rhythmic background and special tone effects. This group includes the timpani, the snare drums, the bass drum, cymbal, gongs, bells, triangle, tambourine and many other types of rhythm instruments.


In the Johann Strauss Orchestra, in the percussion section, you will find Marcel Falize, Mireille Brepols, and Ronald Gerards. So, next time you are at an Andre Rieu concert, watch for these musicians and see how they add to the performance. Listen to the "heartbeat" of the music.
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Shirley Kirk


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