If you want to ruin your ability to play drums, use Moeller Technique. Jim Chapin and Freddy Gruber clinics presented nothing but contradictions. Loose grip and wasted arm motion is a waste of time for individual competition. Tight players can always play loose. Loose players can never play tight, especially true for executing flams at world class level. Loose players do not know where the bead of the stick is. It's out there somewhere, but knowing where is your execution score, not a problem at slower tempos or if you want drum set execution ability with a band. The precision of complex flam work, line drumming and lead hand switch difficulties comes from knowing where the bead is, not guessing.
I have seen some very good East Coast fife and drum corps Moeller style lines play at the Ancient tempo of 110bpm in parades and musters at Westbrook, Connecticut. They play well for their historical genre. When the Son's of Liberty began teaching American drum and bugle corps in 1950, the corps soon started winning at the 132 bpm tempo. The Blessed Sacrament Golden Knights won drums by 1.5 at the 1954 VFW Nationals, a margin that also gave them the National Championship. Moeller Technique then went extinct in America. I never saw a Moeller motion on a competition field in the 1950s, 60s, 70s or 80s. Individual competitors did not want to commit suicide. A drummer who physically trains to handle the extra arm and grip strength necessary to execute with more muscle usage knows where the bead is to execute with speed. Jim Chapin once stated, "You need to play very loose", then a minute later, "With speed there has to be fire in the muscles." Tight players train for "fire in the muscles." Moeller technique can not handle speed with execution. It is one or the other when you use a grandiose arm motion that takes you away from your target or use a right hand grip using fulcrum pressure from the pinky finger, something they taught you when learning how to sword fight in the 1700s. The idea that you relax as speed increases is ludicrous. Like a car engine (gas or electric), you burn more energy and work harder with increased speed. DCI individual competitors invented the "7 second rule" because of muscle fatigue. Those that say this doesn't exist do not have their names on individual contest list, or took the words of Moeller, Chapin and Gruber as fact without testing it. The technique of the Earl Sturtze St. Francis Parochial drummers from New Haven, Connecticut in the 1930s and 40s, then the Son's of Liberty in the 1950s and 60s, completely replaced Moeller in drum and bugle corps when tempos went up and the lines shrank to a 3-3-2 snare tenor bass format to perform much more difficult music after World War II. Moeller technique could not handle the speed nor the difficulty in a line. It did not allow the player to hold accents down to execute interior notes. Hence, it went extinct but for a few historical based fife and drum corps and drum set players who don't need the extra control. DCI judges resurrected it as "more musical" with whimsical explanations only the gullible appreciate.
How did Sanford A. "Gus" Moeller get involved in drumming and have so much influence pre-World War II?
Before the war, Brooklyn is where rudimental drumming took off. It had been coming on for a long time and went through a down period. Gus Moeller started it back up." Jay Tuomey
Gus did not learn drumming as a child. He was a Corporal in American Army during the Spanish American War of 1898. It is assumed he picked up his interest in drums listening to Camp Duty. He was a very physical man that saw drumming as a "manly art". Gus became involved with drum set work but because of his military experiences, thought the military method superior to drum set players. Two men bridged rudimental drumming through the depression and Vaudeville “contraptions”: William F. Ludwig (1879-1973) and Sanford A. “Gus” Moeller (1886-1960). Rudimental drumming was being frowned upon. While fife and drum sternly held ground, Bill and Gus saved the art in the public domain from “shortcuts” diluting the crisp sound of execution drumming. Ludwig had a drum company to help influence events. Gus was just plain incensed, believing it necessary to prove his thoughts. Moeller learned to drum as an adult, searching for those who he thought knew better which were the fife and drum players. He was not formally trained to a style by one instructor but picked up tips on the road playing as a drum set drummer with a band.
"As I have said, I have had long sessions with drummers from most all the big cities in the country. It’s the way I learned to drum." Moeller's words in a letter to Dan English, the famous Lancraft Snare Drum Champion
Moeller and Ludwig were only seven years apart in age with a similar maturity in business, family and rudimental technique. Their friendship was a natural extension of the commitment both held to deflect attacks by those seeking a way around the time intensive mentoring process rudimental drumming required. These were among the last of the code drummers having loose but forceful techniques using extremely heavy sticks - neither was a great rudimental technician - but both had a rudimental heart.
Bobby Redican: “You must understand that not too many were dedicated at that time. There weren’t many good instructors. Moeller played in the Footguard Band in New York. There was stability in that band. They were sticklers in there. You had to know what you were doing to play there.”
"The American Legion Drum Corps are not so interested in rudiments"
"They are more or less marching drill teams" Ludwig Drum & Bugle Spring Bulletin April 10,1928
Prior to 1918, rudimental drumming was slighted. Ludwig Drummer articles state there were problems “for the past ten years” in 1930. Sousa drummer John J. Heney asks, ““How many times have you heard drummers start a roll – at the beginning – sounding as if they were falling down stairs?” Some set players were pushing rudiments in the 1920’s and 1930’s. It succeeded in the schools due to bandmasters influence in Illinois. Ludwig was there with his company, teaching the Evanston, Illinois corps, enforcing NARD rudiments in national schools in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s and sponsoring national drum contests. Moeller’s book was published with the help of William F. Ludwig in 1925, the same year Gus traveled 15,000 miles around the continent with a stage band contacting drummers along the way, figuring out what Civil War drummers actually did.
“Gus visited ‘old timers' homes to interview drummers who played in the Civil War. He would get them in a circle and pass tobacco and clay pipes around and get them talking.” Ed Olsen, Charles T. Kirk, Company of Fifers and Drummers
Moeller collected as much previous material as he could to standardize a Civil War approach sixty years after the war. Ludwig respected Moeller. They worked together. Ludwig hired clinicians, paid for promotions and would soon be the catalyst to start NARD. “I recall many smoky Sunday afternoons at our house in Evanston watching these two great authorities [Moeller and Ludwig Sr.] standing at our dining room table with practice pads and manuscript spread out all over the table. They were great drummers and cigar smokers! The Moeller Book was then published." William F. Ludwig Jr.
Moeller's 1925 book favored the 1862 Bruce and Emmett method over Strube’s 1869 offering. This caused eastern fife and drum corps and new drum and bugle corps problems as the base of strong drumming was from the east, especially in Connecticut with its history of Colonial music. The New England Drummers and Fifers Association contests used the Strube method.
Gus knew Vaudeville had no answer to the technique of Dan English, Frank Fancher or Earl Sturtze. But he didn't either. Ludwig thought drum and bugle needed instructional help, going about that himself. A 1929 sample: “If a corps is going to be in the running as far as the general public is concerned… they should have the most colorful drums, bugles and uniforms it is possible to obtain. The new “Ludwigold” finish is recommended." Ludwig always had the best rudimentalist on staff. He had 183 time champion Frank Fancher doing clinics, teaching the Ludwig Drum Company Drum Corps and traveling in the 1920's, then hiring Frank Arsenault four decades later. The largest caption for a drum & bugle corps back then was general effect captions of 20 points each. It hindered their development just like it does today for the same reasons.
Gus Moeller watched Kirk’s rehearsals in 1931. His students were taught the loose right-hand-pinky fulcrum described by Charles Ashworth (1812) as a fencing technique - left hand with a gap between the thumb and index finger. Moeller’s over-dramatic arm mo- tion - the arm moving before the bead of the stick - worked with slower Civil War cadence. However, his best Charles Dickerson FD&B students were running headlong into economical tap-and-grace-note control of Earl Sturtze’s young St. Francis students who were developing “super-speed” breakdown roll peaks at 132 to 140 beats-per- minute. Moeller’s heart was in the right place but it was already the wrong time.
The work Gus and Bill Ludwig did on NARD was to preserve Civil War Camp Duty and stop Vaudeville "shortcuts".
With Moeller’s wrath finding targets, William F. Ludwig assembled drummers on June 20, 1933 in Chicago at the American Legion National Convention to form the N.A.R.D., the National Association of Rudimental Drummers. Although popular, the gathering drew yawns from the fife and drum crowd, who were already king of the hill, never to concede their perky anticipated phrasings for World War I vets whose weak left hands couldn’t execute Seven-Stroke Rolls at faster tempos. Drum & bugle corps did Fives. The order of the NARD rudiments from their famous meeting to standardize and re-introduce Camp Duty regimen, does not follow any coordination pattern. They placed the rudiments in the order needed to play Camp Duty, considered to be the pinnacle of drumming by older players and Moeller. Back in the 1920s and 30s, only military drummers had access to the Camp Duty. Drum set players and those that did "traps" for Vaudeville did not need a rudimental regimen. With few exceptions, military drummers or those who had instruction from them learned the stickings and style. Known as the "greatest drummer in the world", J. Burns Moore studied rudiments with Jack Lynehan of the Sarsfield Guards In 1888. There are many similar examples of knowledge transfer. Ed Lemley took lessons from "the wizard of the drum", Frank Fancher. Recordings of Fancher display the heavy, pounding sound of field code war drumming.
Joe Hathaway, the 1933 American Legion Champion, joined a fife and drum corps to become a better player. “I had been ‘throwing’ the sticks at the drum, without any regard to technique. It was necessary to learn all over; I had to teach my left hand to do its part as well as the right. I spent many hours before a looking glass, practicing and watching my movements to get away from ragged and careless execution.”
I have seen a video of the Chicago 1940 Commonwealth Edison Drum Corps who won the National Championship. It is a full color movie complete with an inspection. They had 14 snare drummers and 28 horns per the rule of one snare for two buglers. They couldn't play anything difficult clean - not even close. Their attempt at a Connecticut style fife and drum style solo with 15 Stroke Rolls and flams was a disaster. This was the drum & bugle national champ? They didn't judge execution yet. It was much more important for an "M&M" corps to look military and march well. Commonwealth Edison looks sharp and marches extremely well. The drumline can play simple things cleanly. Regardless, fife and drum looked down on them.
For the cause of ‘bringing light’ to drumming, Moeller marched 248 miles over 10 days (averaging 25 miles per day) from Madison Square Garden (NY) to the armory in Boston (Sept/Oct. 1930). This was a longer version of an earlier march by the Ripperger brothers from Charles T. Kirk of Brooklyn.
"Moeller’s march to Boston was the greatest stunt ever put over to stimulate drumming and draw attention to the study of drum rudiments." William F. Ludwig
Gus had a friend who was a well known radio announcer and queried him to help make drumming part of the Olympics. He was a Polar Bear, taking swims in the frozen waters of January. Physical displays were important to Gus.
A 1925 Moeller article – not long after women gained the right to vote – shows more of his mettle. “These aristocrats [of instruments] show the wisdom of the theorist and the skill of the artisan but are complicated and frail…. With its robust health, masculine sex, courageous military spirit and far sounding throat, it joyfully takes its place with the red blooded men out there in the open, shrieking, calling and inspiring above the rhythmic thunder and boom of great drums beaten by brawny arms.” Gus Moeller
Harsh word were flung around between rudimental players and Vaudeville. With criticism, Moeller stood firm: "The belief that "anyone can beat a drum" is discouragingly popular, and if anything could be said or done to rid the layman of this idea a great deal of benefit would be derived"...... "Whenever you find a drummer of the rudimental school, you will be convinced of his faith in it, and he will talk with enthusiasm and intelligence… For the desecrator it merely grunts rub-a-dub-dub."
Eric Perrilloux: "Moeller had a unique style; a peculiar left hand motion. Imagine your left hand on a door knob and then twisting it. Very odd. No one ever played that way before. It didn't look like the other players in a line. He was from Long Island; judged a lot and was very much into drumming."
Sean Egan: “Guys I know who were taught by Moeller pretend to wipe the sweat off their eye brow; older guys from the New York Posse.”
Al Linquity: “Gus wasn’t the Earl Sturtze type drummer. He had a loose style. You’d never win
a rudimental contest with it. He wasn’t a good rudimental drummer I’d say but he judged a lot. They put him on timing. He didn’t judge drums all that much.”
“Gus used to come down to visit the Kirk rehearsals. I was about 15 when I met him. He was balding, about 5 foot 7 with big sturdy strong hands. One tough German! A very strong individual. He made the best drums there were. I’d come in and Gus would be sitting there. He had built our drums. George and Harold [Ripperger] had larger shells, maybe because they were taller. He was a humorous guy sometimes. We’d go up there to Mt. Vernon – George and Pop Ripperger and me – and he would take out a saved news clipping. There was Gus Moeller on the front page taking his dandy dip! There were ice skaters in the background. He was swimming in the middle of winter!”
Eric Perrilloux: “I knew Gus Moeller in his later years. He made us the Grand Republic rope drums. I lived in Queens just 6 or 7 blocks from Moeller’s shop. It was my job to take Kirk’s drums over there to get fixed. It was an education going down into his basement where the drum shop was. There were bending machines and stuff hanging from the ceilings. I got to know him pretty well. He had a strange way of playing. It wasn’t a full arm motion. It looked so different. He didn’t lift his left arm; just turned it. There was no forearm lift. The Kirk’s played with forearm 14, 16 and 17 inches off the drum. Moeller was a timing judge. He invented a box with a dial and an arrow to check your time. He never judged execution as far as I know."
Joe Morello: “The Moeller technique is good for one accent.”
The loose backhand right grip taught by Moeller was a slap on the knuckles by a Redican or a Perrilloux. The ability to hold small grace notes down is the mastery of post 1947 drummers, especially Bobby Thompson’s charges. In contrast to war drumming’s no adlib etiquette, Gus wants soloist qualities in his students. They were seeing the art tainted. One last Moeller shot at Vaudeville: “No matter how well a drummer can read, if he does not know the rudimental system of drumming, it is impossible for him to play THE THREE CAMPS, BREAKFAST CALL, or in fact any of the Duty except the simple beats such as THE TROOP.”
Bill Boerner: “Gus was a drum maker later on. He would make you one for $25. But going up to get it was another story. He would have you play it, and if he thought you weren’t very good he would ask you to take it off and ‘get out of here.’”
One fine afternoon, Troop 16 Boy Scout Corps of Mt. Vernon New York felt Mr. Moeller's wrath. David Boddie told a story whereby they had won a local parade. No one could figure out why Gus shuffled the unit into the schools rehearsal room and promptly went into a rage. "You didn't win because you were good. You won because the others were lousy and you’re not leaving here tonight until you learn to play it right!” Gus then locked the door. It is said that the mothers crowded about outside in the cold as the corps went through its paces over and over. Phone calls from mothers wondering what he was doing, wanting their sons back went unheeded. “You’ll get ‘em when I’m through with ‘em!” No matter what, they respected him. It was always "Mr. Moeller”. (Consider the lawsuits that would occur today.)
While a Civil War drummer might play for a half hour or more, a competitive field show was only 13 1/2 minutes long. Styles would work toward a tighter, more controlled grip with lighter sticks that moved in a much more efficient arc, close to the body for uniformity and power. Rudimental styles were not needed at this time for set playing as drums were spaced very far apart. The best drumming was still with small eastern fife and drum standstill corps who posted 10 to 30 members.
Never would Connecticut fife and drum corps attack while the hand was moving away from their target - "round-housing" or "floating" - by moving the wrist and stick down at the same time the arm was moving up. Jim Chapin, a Moeller advocate, describes it as “the dance in mid air.” It created grandiose, unnecessary motion and made the stick-hand-arm system look like a snake; a squiggling "S" where the arm moves before the bead. The motion is an unnatural whip action that uses far more energy than necessary to place a note - arms almost moving more than the sticks.
The M&M corps need for uniformity and speed drifted quickly away from Moeller toward Sturtze, especially when his young St. Francis Parochial School drummers began winning, then dominating.