Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Lambeg Drum

A republication of material found elsewhere (source identified below) on the Web:

The Lambeg Drum
from the Website of the Ulster-Scots Agency

The Lambeg Drum, as it is colloquially known, is perhaps the most easily recognised instrument in Ulster culture.

Although not as common in parades as they once were, nevertheless the Lambeg Drums still hold a place in the folk memory and affections of many people.

In addition to being the loudest folk instrument on the planet, the Lambeg shares, along with the Uilleann Pipes, the distinction of being the only musical instrument indigenous to the island of Ireland.

Lambeg Drums can trace their history back to the period 1688-90 and almost certainly evolved from the large side drums played by the Dutch troops of King William III.

Sometime during the late 18th century, local musicians began to play the drums in the vertical position, thus enabling both ‘heads’ or skins to be struck. At this time the drumsticks were made of cork or wood and resembled tenor drum sticks currently used by many pipe bands.

Early instruments were constructed using numerous narrow pieces of timber (somewhat like a barrel) and were known as ‘stave’ drums. In parades these instruments were used to accompany one or more fifes - high pitched keyless flutes used by the military.

In the mid 19th century instrument makers began to form drum shells by bending a single piece of oak. Typically these measured 2’10” – 2’11” across the head and were approximately 23” wide.

By the early 20th century the demand for larger drums (up to 3’2” in diameter in some cases) coupled with the difficulty in economically obtaining oak planks of sufficient width necessitated a new method of construction. This involved fastening two 12” planks of oak side by side and bent to form the shell.

Popular drummakers included Hewitt, Bridgett and Johnston families of Belfast.

Various suggestions have been expressed as to how the drums obtained the name ‘Lambeg’. The accepted explanation is that during a parade in Lambeg c1870, the drums were played for the first time with Malacca canes instead of the traditional cork or wood headed sticks. This innovation enabled quicker rhythms to be played and dramatically increased the sound volume of the instrument. The practice of playing with canes quickly became widespread and thereafter when people referred to the drums they frequently used the prefix ‘Lambeg’.

The Lambeg drum is most commonly associated with the Orange Order; however the Royal Black Preceptory, the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Masonic Order all used these instruments at various times in their history.

While Drum and Fife ensembles are enjoying a welcome resurgence, most Lambeg drumming takes place at competitions organised by the various drumming associations throughout Northern Ireland.

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