Switzerland is like a hidden jewel in the middle of Europe, a mountainous land with a highly secretive banking system and a tradition of remaining neutral during wars. The Swiss culture has given the world exquisite chocolates, precision watches, cuckoo clocks, the Swiss Army knife, and even the modern marvel of Velcro!

What an amazing place, Switzerland.

In my estimation, however, their finest gift to the world is the drum corps, which, traditionally, is a line of snare drums accompanied by a line of bass drums performing dazzling exhibitions of musical pageantry.

Because drums are percussion instruments (you have to hit them to make a sound), they are particularly suited for pageantry and dramatic displays of sharp rhythms and sound. You cannot imagine how a simple banging instrument could ever be so exciting.

Military roots

The drum corps itself derives from military processions and marches, where its function was to keep the soldiers marching in unison by the beat of drums that the troops could hear even at a distance.

However, military drumming is slow and rhythmical, often accompanied by flutes (fifes) as we know from our American Revolutionary War depictions. What you will hear in the video link, however, is anything but slow and steady.

It’s more like a dramatic, high-speed chase on narrow roads through the Swiss Alps with sharp curves threatening to drop you over dangerous cliffs at every turn.

The performances in this post involve the premier Swiss drum corps, named Top Secret, from Basel, Switzerland. The drummers in this band of brothers are not professional musicians. They are college students and working men with day jobs, which makes their finely-tuned performance all the more astonishing.

The first video (duration 5:53 and worth every second) was recorded from the stands, so it lacks the polish of a professional presentation; however, it picks up the exuberant audience reactions, which are worth a thousand words. The second video (duration 6:31) features a more recent show, and it will astound you with even more pageantry.

You can either skip down to the “Things to look for” section before you watch the videos or jump right in and then read my analysis after that. Either way, you’re in for a treat.

The performances

Things to look for in the first video

Composition:

  • Snare drum line (ten drummers with identical instruments)
  • Bass drum line (five graduated size bass drums with different tones)
  • Color corps (six flags)

Supreme stick work:

  • Technical perfection in both marching and playing
  • Perfect precision of stick movements at close quarters
  • “Wave” movements (arms and sticks) up and down the drum line
  • Twirling and tossing of sticks like batons
  • Using the backs of the sticks as well as the rims and sides of the drums for effect
  • Striking each other’s drums and passing sticks to one another
  • Fake down strokes which don’t hit the drum head so they produce no sound
  • Playing with one hand while making dramatic motions with the other.

Sheer pageantry:

  • The plumes on the hats add to the dramatic effect as the drummers’ heads move back and forth, up and down
  • The only words in the entire performance are when the drummers pause to yell their name, “Top, Top, Top, Top Se-cret!”
  • Complicated, interweaving marching patterns of snares, basses, and flags while still playing (just after the 2:00 mark – unbelievable!)
  • Snare line breaks into smaller sections, each part revolves in circular motions, then re-forms into a single line
  • Fake “sword fight” scene with the “death blow” and change of lighting
  • The dramatic Finale, which will leave you on the edge of your seat

Video #2 has all of the above with the added fun of sparklers on the flags, “exploding” bass drums, and sticks on fire as the finale. It is absolutely amazing.

Note especially at:

4:00 – while the snare drummers are tossing sticks back and forth to each other, make sure to listen to the astounding bass drum routine coordinating their tonal drums as they run flawlessly up and down the scale.

4:40 – the amazing light show (lights flash with each stroke of the snare drum).

5:00 – the exciting “Hot Sticks” routine: here the drummers bend forward and play each other’s drums so the audience sees the full effect of their hand and arm movements, while their heads with feathered caps bob back and forth.

Are you a fan of drum corps yet?

Soul Work 

Most of us cannot imagine doing anything at the expertise level of a Top Secret performance, but God bestows an abundance of talent on the human race. Extraordinary human talents and performances utterly astound us at times and add the spice of life to our routine existences.

We must thank God for His abundance of gifts and ask for the grace always to be filled with wonder and gratitude whenever we encounter them in others. Reflect on the many hours, days, weeks, and years of practice it took for those young men in Top Secret to develop their talents.

Our word “talent” comes from the biblical Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14–30). In the ancient world, a “talent” was a unit of money of great value. The parable tells us that all talents come from God and must be used with a sense of accountability to Him.

We’ve all been given some personal gift that needs development. That talent can be anything from a humble craft or manual skill to a musical, artistic, or intellectual gift, but whatever the gift, its development requires practice. Talents, like habits, don’t develop on their own. They need concerted effort over time to become part of us.

What gift do you have that you can offer to others? What are you practicing and developing in order to be a more effective steward of that gift?