Calm down, I haven’t cut a student’s head off for playing the paradiddle incorrectly, although maybe I should employ such teaching techniques! This was a little misleading as a news headline but in the battlefields of the past, it wasn’t unheard of.
The military side drum was still popular on the 18th and 19th century battlefields and conditions could be dire.
On one hand the favoured timpanists of the orchestra enjoyed membership of the trumpet guilds (with whom they were closely associated) in such countries as Germany, offering job security and high musical standards. In contrast to the members of the guild, a military side drummer or timpanist was faced with special duties. For a start they marched head on into battle with the soldiers, keeping a steady rhythm to which the fighters could march. But maybe worse than that, they also accompanied any negotiation parties, playing their drums so that the enemy knew they came forth to talk rather than fight.
Sometimes this tactic might work but other times their visit was met with great hostility and used as an opportunity to make a point. Sometimes the enemy would decapitate the drummers’ heads and throw their severed noggins back as gruesome way of saying, “We are not interested in your offer of negotiation kind sir.”
And to think that these poor drummers were often young boys. So next time you’re playing your drums, just think how much worse it could have been if you were here 200 years ago!
Now you’re in the mood, check out this modern interpretation of the historical Basle drumming below.