Everyone loves the circus. The exotic animals, acrobats, clowns, high wire performers, and horsemen work together to entertain thousands of spectators everyday. All of the acts are choreographed to music. Today circuses use prerecorded popular music to augment their performers. But prior to the "Electronic Age," every circus had a live band. Circus bands ranged from a half-dozen musicians to large ensembles. The music of the bigtop was invariably exciting and driving in manner, and was always played at an appropriate breathtaking speed. Circus musicians have dubbed these fast moving compositions "Screamers," mostly because that is exactly what they do, musically. "Screamers" are sound in motion. They follow the standard form of a march, and are always of even and predictable phrases. They are designed to join with, to help and never hinder the rhythm of the various acts. Circus music developed from fast polkas, galops, and can-cans, and its foundation is a solid section of low brass instruments.
Most of the men who wrote "Screamers" had experience in circus bands, first as playing members, and later as bandmasters. Karl L. King (1891-1971) is the most famous composer of circus music. He began his musical career as an euphonium player. One of his earliest works was The Music Shop, which has an fiendishly difficult euphonium part. King's Barnum & Bailey's Favorite is considered the number one circus march of all time. Hosts of Freedom is one of King's most played marches. It has been used as the music for elephant acts in many circuses. King wrote almost 200 marches, including Robinson's Grand Entree. Henry Fillmore (1881-1956) wrote many marches featuring his instrument, the trombone. Rolling Thunder and The Circus Bee both include difficult and prominent trombone parts. Many of his other marches feature "smears," an effect that can only be produced by a slide trombone. The oldest "Screamer" in this collection is Bombasto, written by Orion R. Farrar (1866-1925). Them Basses written by Getty Huffine (1889-1947) is a marathon of chromatic scales and rousing melodies from the low brass section. Julius Fucik (1872-1916) wrote Entry of the Gladiators. It is also called Thunder and Blazes. This arrangement features the calliope which was a standard circus instrument. Bravura was written by Charles E. Duble (1884-1960). If the first two strains of The Billboard are not familiar to you, I am sure that you will recognize the trio. John N. Klohr (1869-1956) dedicated this march to the weekly entertainment newspaper of the same name.
Circus bands never play John Philip Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever as a part of their regular program. It is reserved for emergency use. If an animal gets loose, a high wind threatens the tent, or a fire breaks out, the band plays the march as warning signal to every worker on the circus lot that something is wrong. This peculiar circus quirk has evolved over the years, as have various other superstitions and expressions. Circus bands play other Sousa marches regularly.
The following are MIDI's of Circus Marches
Barnum & Bailey's Favorite(1913)
The Circus Bee(1908)
Entry of the Gladiators
Hosts of Freedom(1920)
The Melody Shop(1910)
Robinson's Grand Entree(1911)