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 using only percussion instruments.

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 performance in this video involves 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 most of them work day jobs, which makes their professionalism all the more astonishing.

The performance     (duration 5:53 – and worth every second!)

This video 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.

Here is a second link to a different performance of Top Secret, which will astound you with even more percussion tricks and treats (duration 6:31):

Things to look for

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. All one can really say to all of this is OMG!

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 

I for one cannot believe the level of talent it takes to pull off the routines that Top Secret performs. Most of us cannot imagine doing anything at that level of expertise, but God gives talents to the human race that utterly astound us at times and that also add the spice of life to our routine existences.

We must thank God for these gifts and ask for the grace always to be filled with wonder and gratitude whenever we encounter the gifts of others.

Reflect on the many hours, days, weeks, and years of practice it took for those young men in the Top Secret corps to develop their talent.

We all have been given some personal gift by God 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 to become part of us and of service to others.

Scripture calls this attitude stewardship of the good things God has entrusted to us, and even 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. Jesus’ use of it as an image in a parable tells us that all gifts from God are precious and must be used well.

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?