by Steve Vickers, DCW Publisher
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Some of the most intriguing and widely viewed YouTube videos over the last few years have been provided by the drum line from Basel, Switzerland, called Top Secret. They have appeared three times at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo held in front of Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. They have also played at many other locations in Europe and all over the world.
Each fall, drum corps fans “discover” the performance and a flurry of posts result that send the exciting show around the worldwide drum and bugle corps scene.
Daniel Bühler is project manager for Top Secret. Since the group’s Web site does not include an English translation, I thought it would be interesting to find out more about this unique and excellent percussion ensemble.
Steve Vickers: Can you give me a brief history of your organization?
Daniel Bühler: The Top Secret Drum Corps was founded by seven young men in 1991. First they called the group “7 drummachines,” but after a few months they were known as Top Secret.
As their drumming was vastly different to other groups, they had lots of performances in Basel and the rest of Switzerland.
In 2001, they played at the Nova Scotia International Tattoo in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. The producers of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo saw them there and invited them to their tattoo in 2003, provided they could organize about 15 new members, new uniforms and new instruments.
After their appearance in the Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2003, the Top Secret Drum Corps became world famous.
SV: Who makes up your staff?
DB: The board of the Top Secret Drum Corps decides everything about the corps. On that board are the corps leader, sheriff, the project manager, the four line leaders, the equipment manager and the training room manager.
The corps leader and the project manager plan all the trips and shows. The project manager does all the administration for the corps. The sheriff is in charge when we are all together. He says what we have to do and when.
The four line leaders (snareline, bassline, color guard and the supporters) are responsible for their lines. The managers of equipment and the training room manager organize all the material we need and make sure that our training room is always in a good condition. The other members don’t have to organize or worry about anything, but they do help when asked.
At the end of every year we have a big meeting with all the members. There we speak about what we did in the past year. We discuss what was good and what we can do better and we also vote for our leaders and the board.
SV: How many performances do you have on your schedule in an average year?
DB: Normally we have about 10 to 15 performances. But as we were playing at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo in 2003, 2006 and 2009, and at the Basel Tattoo in 2006, 2007 and 2009, we had a lot more shows in those years.
In November 2009 we organized our own Top Secret Show — two hours with only Top Secret drumming. For every member, Top Secret is just a hobby. Everybody has a job or is a student and for that reason we can’t make too many trips every year.
SV: Is the style of Top Secret influenced by the American drum and bugle corps movement or has there been any input from anyone in the U.S.?
DB: After we received the invitation for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, we were very well-supported by John Bosworth and Jim Dinkins. With their help we improved the unique Top Secret style. Our style is based on the traditional Basel drumming style, Scottish style and, of course, the American drum styles.
We are very lucky to have a lot of American friends who are always willing to support and help us. Since 2005, a lot of American drummers have played with us, so we have an eye on the DCI and WGI movements.
SV: Swiss drum rudiments have a basis in your country. Can you tell me about the history of the style?
DB: Drumming has a very old history in Switzerland. It started in the military, where they used the drums to give different signals. But the style in Basel is very different to the original military style. We play different pieces accompanied by fifes.
In Basel, we have about 12,000 people who either drum or play the fife. During our very famous “Basler Fasnacht”( a three-day festival) all those people are on the streets with their “Clique” (traditional Basel corps) and play the drums and fifes while wearing traditional costumes. The first Fasnacht we know was in 1376.
Some people say the Fasnacht is much older, but they can’t prove it, because in 1356 a huge earthquake destroyed most parts of Basel and with it all the documents.
SV: Who becomes a member of Top Secret?
DB: You can join Top Secret in the snareline, bassline, color guard or as a supporter. Every line has different requirements. If you want to be in the snareline, you need to be a very good drummer who is trying to get better and more precise all the time.
For the bassline, it’s probably better if you play the drumset and not only do the Basel drumming. You have to have a very good understanding of music.
For the color guard you need to feel the beats. You always have to be on the counts — without playing that’s not too easy! Our supporters make sure that we don’t have to take care of anything else other than putting on a good show. Altogether we are about 25 to 30 people.
SV: Do you have any plans to travel outside Europe, perhaps coming to the U.S.?
DB: The last year was very busy. We played at the Basel Tattoo in front of 85,000 people and the Edinburgh Military Tattoo with 225,000 spectators. In November, we had our own show where we told the Top Secret story. The whole show was two hours and we played for 22,000.
In February 2010, we were in Sydney, Australia, playing there for about 90,000 people.
Right now we’re looking for new members and working to get them up to the Top Secret level. Unfortunately, there are no shows planned outside Europe so far.
We would love to come to America again, but it’s very hard for us to organize such a big trip.
SV: Anything more you would like to tell me about Top Secret?
DB: As we recognize that there are a lot of young drummers who stop playing after a few years, we decided to make our own Top Secret drum school. We will teach on three different levels. In the first group (11 to 14 years old) we will train them to get better in the traditional Basel style. The second group (ages 14 to 16) will be learning more pieces and they will start to learn how to show drum. The third group, our “Junior Corps” (16 to 18 years old) will only do Top Secret work.
We hope that we can secure young drummers for the Fasnacht and, of course, for our corps.
SV: Thanks for taking time to share information about your group. Best wishes for your 2010 season and beyond!
For more information about Top Secret, visit their Web site — www.topsecretbasel.ch — or visit www.YouTube/.com to see their performances.