Most military bands have official Regimental Marches music that are played during parades and celebrations. Every Regiment and Corps in the British Army has its own March which identifies them and acts as an outward sign of regimental pride.
How do Regiments choose their March?
The March chosen was often dependent on the taste of the commanding officers. All regiments have quick marches, slow marches, marches for mounted parades, and pipe marches. Marches are chosen to embody the spirit of the Regiment.
A Regiment or Corps marches at a specific pace. It is important to bear this in mind when choosing a march for a particular occasion. For example, if a regiment uses a short march on a parade with a large number of troops, the constant repetition of one tune can become very monotonous.
Another consideration is the copyright associated with certain tunes. It is necessary to pick either a folk tune or the composer of which has been dead for over fifty years. This is to evade the payment for permission to use a tune each time the march is performed.
Most importantly of all, a tune must be adaptable to march time!
What are Marches based on?
Regimental marches are often based on folk tunes from the county that the band in question is based in, such as the ‘Blue Bonnets over the Border’ for the King’s Own Scottish Borderers.
Classical, Opera and Popular Songs
Regimental marches are often arrangements made of popular songs of the time. The King’s Royal Hussars play ‘Coburg’, which is a tune composed by Haydn and arranged by Grant-James in the late 19th Century. The Regimental Slow March of the King’s Dragoon Guards is based on themes from an opera by the Italian composer, Mercadante.
Although not as common, some bands are assigned their Marches in unusual ways. Ca Ira is the march of The Yorkshire Regiment. It came about in 1793 when 14th Foot was struggling against the French Army at Famars. The Commanding Officer ordered his musicians to play Ca Ira, so that they could “beat them to their own damned tune”. The French were defeated.
The Publication of Marches
In the 1880s, the War Office commissioned 3 musicians to make arrangements of Regimental Slow Marches for Cavalry regiments, and Regimental Quick Marches for Infantry regiments. As a result, the works were then available to all bands to play at appropriate occasions.
Since then, bands have continued acquiring their own marches. Bandmasters and Directors of Music often write new works for their bands. Corps sometimes run competitions to compose new marches. In 2001, Major Denis Burton won a competition to write the Corps of Army Music March. It combines “Come Landlord Fill the Flowing Bowl” with “Minstrel Boy”.
Other Marches in the British Forces
Although many senior units, such as the Submarine Service and Royal Marine Commandos, have their own regimental marches, The Royal Navy march to “Hearts of Oak”, whilst the Royal Marines march to “A Life on the Ocean Wave”. The Royal Air Force March Past was written by Sir Walford Davis, their first organising Director of Music. In addition to this, each unit in the service has its own marches.