Monday, September 12, 2011

Marty Hurley 1946-2011

I've just learned that drum corps hall of famer Marty Hurley has passed away- he was best known as the percussion caption head for the Phantom Regiment drum and bugle corps from 1976 to 1992. In addition to his drum corps work he was a high school band director for several decades, and influenced countless young musicians.

I was in a different sphere of influence during my corps involvement, but he was one of the big names at the time, and I loved what Phantom did with the 1812 Overture in 1984 and especially Spartacus in 1982.

Here's a clip of Hurley playing with some former Phantom members- you can safely turn it off at the end of his feature at 1:05:

After the break is an excellent extended comment from a discussion of his approach to snare drum technique.

This is from forum user Greg Gentry:

Marty was taught rudimental drumming by a guy named Bobby Thompson. The curled pinky grip is actually a grip developed by Bobby Thompson and his fellow snare drummer Les Parks. Both guys were members of the Sons of Liberty fife and drum corps out of New York several decades ago.

The style of drumming they used was developed in the Connecticut River Valley in the first third of the twentieth century. The fife and drum influence on modern rudimental snare drumming is quite pronounced, although much of it is not well-known these days.

The chief exponent of the Connecticut River Valley style was a man named Earl Sturtze, who is widely regarded as one of the most influential snare drum teachers of the last century. His line of influence extends through the Sons of Liberty, Frank A.rsenault (if you know who that is) of the 1960s Cavaliers, and eventually was taught to guys like Marty Hurley and Dennis DeLucia, both of whom studied with Bobby Thompson. Marty brought it to the Phantom Regiment, while Dennis toned the style down a lot and used the resulting technique to teach the legendary Bayonne Bridgemen.

The Sturtze style is NOT the same as Moeller and the arm motion is in no way related to what Moeller taught. In fact, historically, although Moeller and Sturtze were contemporaries, Sturtze drummers beat Moeller drummers in almost every competition back here in on the East Coast, in areas like NJ, NY, PA, CT, etc. Funny historical note: Moeller was not known as possessing a very clean style, and when he was a judge for snare drumming competitions in the 1930s, he was always made the timing judge, to make sure tempo was good and people didn't run over time. Moeller was never an execution or technique judge in these competitions. Sturtze, on the other hand, was one of the best-known technique judges.

Here's a brief description of the style differences between Sturtze and Moeller:

Use of Arms
Both men taught use of arm motion but in radically different ways. I'm sure you know the Moeller style is produced by a whipping motion that begins in the shoulder and flicks all the way down to the hands and fingers. This does produce a big sound, but the older snare drummers who competed at a high level knew it was an inconsistent approach to the instrument because the sound the sticks made was different within the inner beats or taps, due to how the stick was moving across the drumhead.

Sturtze motion, on the other hand, was produced by bending the wrist back and bringing the elbow INTO the side of the body. When the stick is snapped back down the elbow moves OUT away from the body. The opposite happens in Moeller. Mechanically, Sturtze uses a better form of leverage which allows for total consistency of taps during accent patterns. You can see it in the video of Marty (if it's the one I'm thinking of). Moeller: elbows are whipped. Sturtze: elbows move in and out away from the body--in as the stick travels up, out as the stick travels down. Try playing a paradiddle using the Sturtze arm motion and you'll see just how powerful and consistent the sound is. The biggest advantage from this sort of Sturtze style is the power in the accent, because the weight of the forearm is involved. Very different from just using the wrists for accenting.

The Moeller right hand grip is legendary, even though almost no one uses it anymore. The stick was held by the little finger and allowed to "play through" the hand, the way a fencer would wield his foil. Chapin talks about this grip in his video. The effect is to move the fulcrum to the back of the hand, around the ring and pinky fingers. This assists greatly in making the whip without inordinate shock to the hand. But the control of taps becomes a lot more difficult.

Sturtze right hand grip is pretty similar to what was used in DCI almost exclusively until very recently. The fulcrum was the thumb and index finger. If you know who Ken Mazur is (student of Marty in the 1970s), he says the importance of keeping the fulcrum at the front of the hand the way Sturtze did is that it allows for better control of interior notes and grace note placement. Guys like Frank A.rsenault had superior fulcrums, where they actually squeezed the stick, something Mazur strenuously advocates.

In the left hand, Moeller's grip isn't all that different from what many people use today. It's loose and relaxed and the thumb is over the top of the stick.

Sturtze taught a similar grip in the left, but guys like Bobby Thompson and Les Parks, who I mentioned earlier, took this grip and made important modifications to it. They wrapped the index finger around the top of the stick and derived all their power from that finger as opposed to the thumb. If you try it you'll find the index finger doesn't tire out nearly as quickly as the weaker thumb does. Most noticeably, these guys developed what came to be known as the Bobby Thompson grip, with the pinky boxed or curled tightly toward the palm. There was a mechanical reason for doing this. The best description again comes from Ken Mazur (an acquaintance of mine for many years and the guy I learned all of this from): the curled pinky acts like a pendulum; it helps turn the hand down towards the drum. Try it and you'll find it's true. And they always rested the left stick in between the knuckles of the ring finger as opposed to up near the cuticle like you see it today. This takes a lot of getting used to, and the grip can feel very awkward for a long time. But this is the famous grip Marty got from Bobby and took with him to Phantom. And the Sturtze arm motion.

Check out the way all the guys in the video break down the double stroke roll: sticks pointing up, elbows in--classic Sturtze. Notice also that the second note of the roll only comes up halfway when accelerating the roll. Sturtze taught that from the beginning, as opposed to, say, velocity strokes, where you try to rebound the stick back up high for both beats. Sturtze knew that as the roll got faster, the secondary would inevitably come down in height, so he taught guys to play that way from the beginning.

One final thing the descendants of Sturtze gave us was what's called the powertrain or "S-out" in the right hand. This is where the right wrist is cocked towards the outside to make more of a straight line with the arm, with the wrist acting like a hinge. Les Parks gave us that. People didn't used to drum that way. Look at really old pictures and photos and you'll see the universal style in ancient times was where the wrist extended straight out from the hand, and the stick was almost at a right angle to the arm. The right hand used to rotate like the left--you can see it in Moeller's book. Les Parks found out that's not efficient for power and speed, so he taught the Sons of Liberty to play with his new powertrain style, and they became unbeatable as a drum corps. As Mazur says, they had the physics of superior technique all figured out.

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