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What Is a Drum Major Mace?

By Micah MacBride
Updated May 23, 2024
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A drum major is the individual who leads a marching, military or regimental band, and a drum major mace is a long object that is the symbol of the drum major's authority over the band's members. Sometimes called a baton, it is a key piece of equipment for a drum major to lead such a band in parades. A drum major mace acts as the drum major's badge of office to a parade's audience, helps the drum major keep time for the musicians marching behind him or her and serves as an instrument for the drum major's virtuoso display before the band begins to play.

Structurally, a drum major mace consists of three major components: the crown, the shaft and the ferrule. The staff is the wooden cylinder to which the metallic ferrule attaches as a metal casing for the staff's end point. The crown, a bell-shaped piece of metal, sits at the other end of the staff and is the top of the drum major mace. The crown consists of two parts: the bell-shaped base and a detachable dome-shaped top. Drum majors can affix different domes that are topped with different metal ornaments, called finials, that can take a variety of shapes. These shapes can take the form of things such as royal crowns, shamrocks or imperial eagles, or the mace can have a plain tip.

Drum majors use different maces and crown domes on different occasions. When a drum major is practicing the routine that he or she will perform before the band begins to play, he or she typically will use a plain dome atop the mace. These performance routines often involve the drum major twirling the mace, throwing the mace up into the air to spin and catching the mace before it hits the ground. Drum majors who are still working on perfecting their routines will often let their maces slip out of their hands or might fail to catch spinning maces before they hit the ground. Drum majors usually will, therefore, use a plain practice dome to collect this accidental damage during practice and will replace it with a more ornate dome for actual performances.

In most cases, drum majors reserve the use of the most ornamental maces for having pictures taken of themselves as drum majors of their bands. After drum majors have carefully practiced their routines, they still might make a mistake during their actual performances and drop their maces. These most expensive drum major maces are too expensive to risk damaging in a performance, so they usually are reserved for photo shoots or similar events.

After drum majors complete their performances, they will signal their bands to march forward and begin playing. As they march, drum majors will move their maces in rhythm with the paces they set for their entire bands. This enhances the military look and regimented feel of the bands for the parade audience. It also allows each drum major mace to act as a conductor's baton, because the band behind the drum major can ensure that they are marching and playing at the right pace by observing the rhythm of the mace.

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