The Schellenbaum & Tambourstock…

Perhaps one of the most characteristic and instantly recognisable feature of the German military band was the Schellenbaum (literally ‘Bell Tree’), which, like the military bands themselves, could also be traced back to ancient Turkey. Nick-named ‘Jingling Johnny’, the Schellenbaum began its life as an actual instrument that could be shaken and rattled in percussive fashion; however, somewhat reminiscent of the standards carried by the Roman legions, it gradually evolved to carry a small banner at its top and so became the symbol of command in the Janissary armies of the period…

Having been appropriated by Turkey’s enemy Austria in the 18th century, the Schellenbaum became a feature of the armies of Poland and Russia. Ultimately adopted by the German army, the Schellenbaum was to eventually be regarded as the formal and official standard of the German military band under orders to be paraded, wherever and whenever it performed, and was to be seen in many differing forms and designs, until a form of standardisation took place in 1932, followed by a formal specification being laid down by the German High Command in 1936 shortly after the creation of the Third Reich’s new Wehrmacht in 1935…

Paraded with the band and displaying its name or unit designation, the Schellenbaum was often bought by the local military veteran’s organisation or indeed by the townsfolk of the band’s garrison or shore-based naval establishment and given as a gift to the band to cement the bond between band and the local population.

Despite a Wehrmacht order of 1936, which attempted to rationalise Schellenbaum design, individual ornamentation continued to vary from unit to unit and between the differing branches of service. However, the standard Schellenbaum consisted of an eagle & swastika, made from an aluminium-coloured, light alloy known as helumin; suspended on a hanger from the eagle’s beak hung the unit or garrison banner, whose individual decoration was left up to the unit concerned. Normally this small banner was made of silk and was elaborately decorated on the front by hand, with the town’s coat of arms or the branch of service eagle and swastika emblem, together with the name of the town or garrison hand-embroidered in gothic letters to the reverse.

Under this was fixed a large hollow sun in polished tombac with either a swastika or Kriegsmarine/Heer/Luftwaffe emblem in the centre. Under this hung a crescent, also produced of tombac, with an eagle’s head made of silver coloured argentine at either end. From both these beaks hung trails of brightly coloured red, white & black horse or buffalo hair, whilst hanging from the lower edge of the Halbmond was a row of silver-plated brass stars or swastikas, and under the Halbmond hung a large bell in tombac from whose argentine rim hung another set of small silver-plated stars or swastikas.

The whole affair was mounted on a long handle of black polished wood and whilst not heavy, the full Schellenbaum was certainly unwieldy. Therefore, the carrier had to wear a 2 inch wide black leather carrying strap over the right shoulder with a small cup at the front, into which the lower end of pole could be placed in order to keep the whole structure steady.

Due to its height, the Schellenbaum holder was usually a non-musician chosen from amongst the tallest men in the regiment; in the case of Adolf Hitler’s SS Bodyguard Division, the Leibstandarte, it was an SS-Mann by the name of Gerhard Staubel, who measured in at an awe-inspiring 6’8″ tall! As unofficial members of the band, the holders were not allowed to wear the musician’s swallowsnests, though the author has seen photographs where they were patently being worn against regulations!

Variations to the 1936 official regulations on design included that of the SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, whose Schellenbaum was patterned on an older version used by the Imperial German army which sported an eagle holding lightning rods in its talons in place of a swastika, and those of some ship & shore-based bands who paraded Imperial German Navy Schellenbäume, displaying the Imperial naval eagle at the top instead of the eagle & swastika, together with an anchor to the centre of the sun instead of a swastika.

Other variations, (including this superb Luftwaffe example, left), included an eight-pointed star in place of the sun; but it was not unusual for a Schellenbaum to be paraded, unadorned, without the garrison or shore-base banner being displayed from the top eagle, (as in during musikkorps marching practice).

Not strictly a flag or banner, the Tambourstock was both a ceremonial mace & signalling device by which the drum-major issued orders & movement directions to the band under his command and it is an instantly recognisable feature of the German musikkorps.

The body of the Tambourstock was composed of a 51 inch length of brown Bengal cane, with a weighted ball and neck at one end and a point at the other, both of which were made of polished Argentine. Heer, Waffen-SS & Luftwaffe Bataillonstambourstöcke were decorated with two cords black/red/white wool each ending in a tassel with a fringe whilst the Kriegsmarine version was decorated with cords and tassels of a golden-yellow colour

During the pre-Nazi era, the army of the Reichswehr limited the use of the Tambourstock to military parades, guard duties and ceremonial tattoos (Grosser Zapfenstreich). At all other times the battalion drum-major would use his signalling bugle, held out in his right hand at arms length.

However during the Third Reich, the Tambourstock became a more regular and more commonly used item, though with its increased popularity came more stringent rules on its usage, with the German High Command ordering that it should only be used with ‘full military dignity’. Any ostentatious use, such as throwing it up into the air and catching it, was definitely frowned upon and resolutely discouraged!

The era of the Third Reich saw some drum-majors continuing to use older Imperial army, Imperial navy or Reichswehr Tambourstöcke, whilst several Prussian regiments were known to carry similar staffs that were captured from French regiments during the Franco-Prussian wars of the Napoleonic era.

In the German army bands of the new millennium, modern versions of both the Schellenbaum and the Bataillonstambourstock are paraded with pride and élan, as was captured here in the UK in October 1996 when the Bundeswehr’s Heeresmusikkorps 10′s Schellenbaum was paraded at Pembroke Castle, as a part of the military ceremonials marking the German Army’s Panzerkorps withdrawal from their long-time base at the Royal Armoured Corps Tank Ranges down at Castlemartin in South Wales…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

Third Reich Spielleute…

As one thought or action invariably leads onto another so, as the bugler and drummer/fifer are forever linked historically down the ages, did I find myself moving from former naval cadet bugler to rock-drummer with ‘Adam West and the Gotham City Rockers’, amongst other bands, early on in my pre-television professional life.

However, like many other tub-thumpers I have also endured much stick as a result, for we un-sung souls, (beavering away at the back of the stage to ensure the ‘rock gods’ in the spotlight at the front kept time & looked good), are always the much-mocked ones and never taken seriously by our fellow musicians… though have you ever tried playing a full 5-piece rock kit and seen just how difficult it is? So perhaps having mastered this complex instrument myself I wasn’t quite the knuckle-dragger as depicted by the ‘real’ musos!

However on the basis of ‘once a drummer, always a drummer’ my continued long–time interests in the infantry bugle also helped keep alive, (once I’d given up active rock drumming), my interest in the snare-drum in its military role with the company bugler and drummer & fifers… an integral part of any military column throughout history.

Markedly different from the ‘standard’ German military musician and forever at the head of the company on the march, the Spielleute…literally playing people… have, with their fife & drums, (together with my beloved signalhorn), seemingly forever been a part of military lore. In fact the fife is very much an historical instrument in its own right having been given to the world by the ancient Greeks, and then picked up by Swiss mercenaries who used them in conjunction with drums as far back as The Middle Ages.

Adopted by the British army in the 18th century, the Third Reich’s Hitlerjugend was to take to fife & drumming with a great enthusiasm and ready zeal in the 1930s and today fifes, (along with bugles), are always associated with drums, with the German military term Trommelflöte in fact meaning ‘drum flute’. Made of black ebony and normally tuned in C of normal tuning the fife (or Pfeife in German) measured approximately 15 inches in length and when not being played was kept in a brown or black leather fife case suspended from the bugler or drummer’s leather belt to the rear of his bayonet and frog.

However, the oldest of all the military instruments is the snare or side-drum dating right back to The Crusades and, used in conjunction with the fife, was an effective way of keeping an army in step and on the move; like bugles they were also used to signal & transmit orders. In the 17th century, German armies went into quarters during the winter until a spring offensive could be launched, with soldiers being billeted in a town or village and with only the locals inns and hostelries for entertainment.

To encourage the soldiers to return to their billets at the end of the evening, the inn-keepers would turn their ale-taps off promptly at 10pm. This ‘witching hour’ would then be communicated to inn-keepers and soldiers alike by the garrison drummers who, in the company of an officer and sergeant, would set off around the town beating out a rhythm, whilst checking and ensuring all soldiers were on the move. From this action the word Tattoo’ which we are all now very familiar with in today’s military phraseology is thought to have been coined, derived directly from the Dutch phrase: Doe-Den-Tap-Toe or ‘Turn The Taps Off’!

Wehrmacht snare drum barrels were made of a brass and their batter heads made from calf-skin whilst snares were made from four catgut cords which were strung tightly across the lower drum skin and were held in place by a brass knob on one side and a hook and cord-screw on the corresponding side opposite. The skins were held in place by a wooden inner ring and an outer ring, the latter having a thin covering of copper, and the complete drum was held together by 5 stretching screws  evenly spaced around the body. Additionally a piece of strong curved wire, either covered in field-grey cloth or bound in leather, was riveted to the drum’s bottom rings as protection for the drummer’s trousers or breeches…

By a German army order of August 1933, all military snare and side drums were to be painted white on the inside and on top of the wooden drum rings, whilst the outsides should have 39 red lacquered isosceles triangles along the outer edge, with 39 black triangles along the bottom edge, both pointing inwards, with the resulting squares pattern formed between the triangles in white.

Whilst Luftwaffe and Heer & Waffen-SS snare drums had a standard brass barrel, it was custom and practice for the Kriegsmarine to over-paint the brass in a dark or medium blue. Hitler Youth & Sturm Abteilung snare drums, produced in 3 differing sizes, were painted in red and white alternating triangles, whilst those of the Allgemeine-SS & Waffen-SS sported alternating black and white triangles… and if you actually get to see or handle one ‘in the flesh’ very attractive items they are too…

Incidentally, talking of the Spielleute and their musical armoury of fife, drum & signalhorn, (another subject I write about in some length in the Tomahawk Films-produced book The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45), the bugle itself was originally developed, way back in the dim & distant past by the French as a hunting accessory. In fact ‘bugle’ is actually the French word for ‘young bull’ and it was to be the German & French armies that adopted the instrument for military use, and its primary role was in the passing of signals on the battlefield and in camp, including ‘To Arms’ or ‘Last Post’.

As such it soon became an instrument of major significance within the German military, with all units parading its own signalling bugler.

However, finally as a sign-off for this particular Blog, whilst having dwelt primarily on the subject of the snare drum, though not an instrument of the Spielleute but very much harking back to those aforementioned Swiss and indeed German mercenaries of the Middle Ages, is the Landsknecht drum that was peculiar to the Hitler Youth and Deutsche Jungvolk. Certainly a most formidable-looking and very attractive military instrument, its skins were made from calf-hide, and its wooden drum rings were secured top and bottom by rope cords tautened by leather thongs.

Often used en-masse as part of the formidable Nazi propaganda machinery, these impressive drums were worn suspended on a black leather strap over the right shoulder and hanging down at an angle on the drummer’s left and in place of the standard drum-sticks, it was played by two cane-stick beaters with thick white felt pads on the end…

The usual or standard colour-scheme for these beautiful drums was a most dramatic, almost vivid red & white burning flame design for drums paraded by the Hitler Youth, and a similar black & white flame design for the Landsknecht drums of the  Deutsche Jungvolk. The DJ drums also appeared as a very dramatic design of black with a white runic device to the front. In terms of drum size, as with military snare drums, smaller sizes for the shorter boys were produced and issued.

In addition, though a musical instrument forever linked with the propaganda film newsreels of Hitler’s Germany, they were also used later on in great numbers in post-war East Germany, where they were repainted in blue & yellow of the FDJ and re-issued for use by the myriad Communist Youth bands, so as the saying goes: ‘the apple never falls far from the tree’!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013