The musical “Galop” used in Circus Performances

The French spelling is “GALOP”

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

“In dance, the galop, named after the fastest running gait of a horse (see gallop), a shortened version of the original term galoppade, is a lively country dance, introduced in the late 1820s to Parisian society by the Duchesse de Berry and popular in Vienna, Berlin and London. In the same closed position familiar in the waltz, the step combined a glissade with a chassé on alternate feet, ordinarily in a fast 2/4 time. The galop was a forerunner of the polka, which was introduced in Prague ballrooms in the 1830s and made fashionable in Paris when Raab, a dancing teacher of Prague, danced the polka at the Odéon Theatre, 1840. In Australian bush dance, the dance is often called galopede.

The galop was particularly popular as the final dance of the evening. The “Post horn Galop” written by the cornet virtuoso Herman Koenig was first performed in London, 1844; it remains a signal that the dancing at a hunt ball or wedding reception is ended.

Numerous galops were written by the “Waltz King” Johann Strauss II. Dmitri Shostakovich employed a “posthorn galop” as the second, Allegro scherzo of his Eighth Symphony, 1943. Particularly famous is the “Devil’s Galop” by Charles Williams.

Some Galops were also written by Nino Rota. George Gershwin composed the galop “French Ballet Class for two pianos)” for his score to the film ‘Shall We Dance’.”

The Galop form as used in the American Circus

Almost all circus composers wrote a galop at some time during their circus careers. One has only to look at what the composers of circus music wrote to identify a galop. The form of the circus galop mimicked that of the circus march (see article on the “March”). Tempos varied between a “Fast” to a “Breakneck Speed” tempo.  The meter of most galops is 2/4 time. Interestingly, snare drummers often chose to play the drum part using straight 1/8th notes with few breaks in the pattern but with well-placed accents. Galops were often short in duration but if needed, would be played Da capo or Dal segno until the ringmaster blew the whistle ending the act.  Every now and then the musician actually had to watch the conductor to see what and when to repeat.  When the galop ended it was time for the windjammers to catch their breath before continuing with the next act’s music. Circus windjammers needed to develop plenty of endurance to perform the fast-paced music required of the circus performances.

The Function of the Galop in Circus Performances

The American Circus (as well as European Circuses) used galops in a variety of circumstances. Obviously, the acts using horses, particularly bareback riders or “rosinback riders,” as known by circus people, commonly used galops as part of the featured performance. Other animal acts also benefited from Galops, like dog acts.  Dogs would sometimes run at the end of their performance on top of the 42ft. diameter ring curb. So the Galop would be played to support this feature.  Another common use of the galop was for flying trapeze acts or “flyers” known by the circus folk.  The galop was used when as the ending to their act as they dropped to the safety net below as well as playoffs. Tumblers commonly ran and performed their tricks to galop music. It goes without question that any act needing a fast-paced musical style probably had a galop played as part of their act. Finally, Galops were applied as an “Entr’acte,” when playing off acts while new acts were getting ready to begin. Sometimes these playoffs were called “chasers.” The circus did not have a curtain like a stage show, so the music combined with some creative lighting production became the “curtain” for the ring(s).

We will honor and appreciate comments about this and other articles on this blog.  Please feel free to contact us at our email address:

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New Circus Movie Promises to be a Smash Hit!

Water for Elephants” is going to be one of the best movies of the year.  It makes its debut on April 22, 2011 at your local theater.  It stars Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon. The story takes place in a small railroad circus trying to survive the 1930’s Great Depression. The story is based on the best-selling novel by Sara Gruen and directed by Francis Lawrence.

Set in the early thirties, the story follows a young Ivy League veterinary student played by Robert Pattinson, who, left with nothing after his parents die in a car accident, joins the circus, where he falls in love with Witherspoon’s character, Marlena. Marlena is not only the star of the circus, whose act with four horses and then an elephant is the show’s big attraction; she is also married to the charismatic, controlling ringmaster, played with sinister menace by Christoph Waltz.

The music promises to be a curious mix of jazz and circus music from the 1930’s combined with a modern pop-oriented musical score.  Want to see more?  Visit this website link:

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The Circus March

Anyone who looks through the library listed on the Center Ring Circus Band website will notice that the music is divided into categories, or “styles” of compositions.  You may also notice that the “style” with the greatest number of compositions is that of the “Marches.” We are often asked the difference between non-circus and circus marches.  So, we will attempt to offer some insight into the characteristics that set “Circus Marches” apart from other marches as well as defining the similarity in “form” of similar march compositions.  We will also attempt to offer some ideas about the “function” of the circus march.

Many, if not most, people associate circus marches with a variety of circus acts as a type of music that typifies circus music itself, as these march compositions relate to performances throughout American Circus history.  So the characteristics we will discuss relate to marches used in American Circus performance from about the later 1800s through the end of the 20st century. Often a person’s first impression with circus music is the “March.”

Common March Characteristics and Unique Circus March Characteristics

Marches can be written in any time signature, but the most common time signatures are 4/4, 2/2 (alla breve) or (cut time), 6/8, and 3/4; however, some modern marches are being written in 1/2 time. The modern march tempo runs at around 120 beats to the minute (the standard Napoleonic march tempo); however, many funeral marches conform to the Roman standard of 60 beats to the minute. A specialized form of “typical American march music” is the circus march, or “screamer,” typified by the marches of Henry Fillmore and Karl King. These marches are performed at a significantly faster tempo (140 – 200 beats per minute) and generally have an abundance of runs, fanfares and other “showy” features. Frequently the low brass has one or more strains (usually the second strain) in which they are showcased with both speed and bombast.

The parts of the march is divided into “strains” and identified in a variety of ways. Commonly the first section is called the “Exposition.”  This consists of two strains.  Commonly, there is also an introduction that precedes the exposition. These introductions vary in length from only a few measures to lengthy introductions of many measures. After the exposition there is a “Trio,” commonly identified on the score and parts.  The Trio usually has a key change by adding one flat to move the trio to the subdominant key. Trios can be a melodic, stately or lyrical; they can be followed with a “Breakstrain” (sometimes known as a “Dogfight”) resembling some of the exposition or another lively melody. Trios, also may not contain a breakstrain, but instead comprise of two different melodies each, that repeat. There can also be a trio consisting of a single, but lengthened melody that repeats, soft then loud. This is the traditional interpertation of the form of the march.  Today all bets are off, and March composers will deviate from this traditional form.

Circus marches usually follow these traditional march forms.  But, circus marches tend to be made up of melodies that have jumps and rapid runs that are often syncopated with brass parts that have technical runs, sometimes very technical! Stylistically, many circus marches employ a lyrical final strain which (in the last time through the strain) starts out maestoso (majestically—slower and more stately) and then in the second half of the strain speeds up to end the march faster than the original tempo. A common example of this is the famous “Billboard” march by John Klohr.

Until about 1970 almost all circus marches were composed by circus musicians. As popular as Sousa marches were, they were not found in circus performances.  The one exception was Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever”. This march served to function as a “disaster” signal for all circus employees that an emergency was eminent and to come running to help. Merle Evans, bandmaster of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus band wanted the most familiar march that everyone knew and band members could play instantly from memory to alert all that an emergency was happening. It was this march played by Merle’s band that saved thousands of lives during the Hartford Circus Fire on July 6, 1944.

Function of Circus Marches

American Circuses from the mid-1800s through ca. 1980 featured marches for many uses including: overtures, band features, grand entries, specs (Spectacles), production numbers, various animal acts, daredevil acts, exits and finales as well as “blowoffs” (when the audience exits).  And the list goes on. When the circus needed to make a musical statement, it relied on the familiar circus march.

The circus march collection found on the web pages of the Center Ring Circus Band is forever growing. Our objective was to reproduce authentic arrangements of these famous marches and correct the errors in the march compositions as well as re-orchestrate them for today’s concert band instrumentation.  There are several wonderful publishers of circus marches such as the C. L. Barnhouse Company of Oskaloosa, Iowa, USA. Also, the widest assortment or recorded circus marches can be obtained from “Sounds of the Circus” website located at

We welcome contributions, corrections, or additions to this article.  Please feel free to contact the author, Joel Schilling at Here’s looking forward to hearing from you!

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What Defines Circus Music?

To begin to answer the question, “What defines circus music?”, it would take more speculation as well as some argument as to how the elements for the form and function of each piece of music were applied to circus acts, spectacles (specs), production numbers, entries, playoffs, exits and finales etc. There is sufficient information on this subject if one is fortunate enough to devote the time and energy to complete the research. This website is an attempt to not only offer improved musical arrangements of a wide variety of musical compositions that were used in circus performances over the years, but also a statement of the specific acts that the compositions accompanied. This is where the research comes in. Center Ring Circus Band continues to update the content of this website based on the accuracy of the information our research uncovers. 

Music styles and instrumentation evolved over the years to complement the popular styles of the respective periods of performance. What began as a simple performance involving a fiddler, or a flute, eventually became the giant traveling bands of the “Golden Age” of the American Circus from ca. 1890s through 1930. The big shows eventually used the “stage band” format of brass and saxophones, doubling on clarinets and flutes in the 1960s through 1980s.  Now many of the circus bands are “electric” bands, an interesting blend of wind instruments and electric instruments with synthesizers. “Cirque Du Soleil” performances vary their instruments with each specific performance and that music gravitates toward the “new age” style of composition. Nevertheless, when combining an athletic act with a musical style, the audience views each act as a stand-alone entity with sight and sound that complements each other much as ballet music complements the dancer(s). The difference being that the ballet dancer follows the musical score whereas the band leader usually follows the act.  After all it still remains difficult for athletes and animals to time their tricks to a musical composition.

Too often the general public only recognizes circus music as marches and comic tunes to accompany clown acts.  In reality, circus music is rich in a wide variety of styles and forms of music. Many compositions remain unknown and have international origins that acts brought with them to the American Circus performances. In subsequent articles we hope to address a variety of topics about the form and function of the wide variety of music that was used in the touring American Circuses throughout the history of the United States.  We welcome comments and suggestions to improve the content of this website and remain historically accurate.  Contact us by email at:

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Features of Our Musical Arrangements.

When arranging music from Circus productions, care must be taken to remain authentic to the composer’s intent.  Circus music repertoire includes not just the marches that most people first recognize as associated with circus productions, but waltzes, galops, show tunes, serenades, polkas, ethnic dances from all over the world, motion picture themes, fanfares, ragtime, cakewalks, jazz, fox trots, Latin-American dance music, and the characteristic “trombone smear.”

Many of the compositions in this collection date back from the late 1800s through today’s performances. Some of the music is so old that its revival makes it new to new musicians and students of music.  Over time, instrumentation evolved to a standard established by today, School, Community, Military and Professional organizations. Our goal at the Center Ring Circus Band is to recompose historical compositions for the instrumentation of the modern concert band, without sacrificing the quality of the original composition and arrangement.  An example is to create “C” piccolo parts from the “D flat” Piccolo parts that were dominant in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In this example our arrangements feature the “C” Piccolo parts standard in in the instrumentation with the “D flat” piccolo parts available as an option for those preferring to play that instrument.  The same conversion was made from “E flat” Alto Horn parts to today’s “F” Double French Horn, again with optional “E flat” Alto Horn parts available as an option.

The standard instrumentation included in an arrangement’s  purchase or rental is as follows:

One Conductor’s Full Score on 11×17” paper in the “picture” format.

1 – C Piccolo                                                     2 – Bb Cornet 1

3 – C Flute                                                         2 – Bb Cornet 2

1 – Oboe                                                           2 – Bb Cornet 3

2 – Bb Clarinet 1                                              2 – Bb Cornet 4

2 – Bb Clarinet 2                                              1 – F Horn 1

2 – Bb Clarinet 3                                              1 – F Horn 2

1 – Eb Alto Clarinet                                         1 – F Horn 3

1 – Bb Bass Clarinet                                        1 – F Horn 4

1 – Eb Alto Saxophone 1                                1 – Trombone 1

1 – Eb Alto Saxophone 2                                1 – Trombone 2

1 – Bb Tenor Saxophone                                1 – Bass Trombone 3

1 – Eb Baritone Saxophone                           1 – Baritone Horn (TC)

1 – Snare Drum (or drum set)                        1 – Euphonium (BC)

1 – Bass Drum (or drum set)                          1 – Tuba

1 – Cymbals (or drum set)                             1 – Bells/xylophone/accessories

Other available optional parts available for extra purchase include: Db Piccolo, Eb Soprano Clarinet, Eb Alto Horns 1-4, Trombones 1-2 (TC) or Tenor Horns (TC). Other parts are available by request.

All Arrangements may be ordered by hard copy with 2 pages 8.5:x11” on folded 11×17” paper.

Custom paper is also available in the 11x 17 format

When purchasing several arrangements, we can bind the parts and conductor scores in a book format with plastic binding. 

On request, we can order custom papers, although we need plenty of advanced notice to order the paper stock and print the parts.

Another option is to request that the score and parts be delivered by email attachment in the PDF format.  But because of the large quantity of parts and PDF pages, many times we need to deliver woodwind, brass, and percussion parts emailed separately as well as conductor scores (in 11×17’ format).  PDF parts can then be taken to your favorite printer for printing parts, and scores can be reformatted to 8.5×11’ paper or printed on 11×17” paper. The electronic media age is upon us.

Because of copyright restrictions, many of the rental items are only available in publisher’s original hard copy format, shipped by postal service or United Parcel Service.

All music has been checked for errors, but occasionally and rarely we do make mistakes or “typos”. After all, there are a lot of notes we write. If any customer finds a mistake in the music we encourage that the error is noted (or circled) and faxed or emailed back to us so a corrected copy can be returned at no additional charge.

We hope that this gives you a better understanding of the nature of what we offer in arranging services.  We are proud of the collection as this represents a living part of history of the American Circus.  New arrangements are added to the collection periodically, so check back to discover our most recent additions.

We are pleased to answer questions with those interested in our work.  Pease feel free to contact us at:

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Newspaper, Circus Man Led A Big-Top Life

October 17, 2010 Chicago Tribune, by George Hesselberg

“Madison, WI – A man who owns a circus and newspaper might be wary of the potential for exaggeration in an obituary. So he would write his own.

But a true account of Bill Griffith’s life could fill all three rings of the circuses he owned and the front pages of all the newspapers he published.

Mr. Griffith, who died Sunday (10/17/2010) at 81, wrote his own obituary and achieved the impossible, underselling himself.

‘We are trying to list all the businesses he owned or started, and we’re still at it,’ said daughter Linda Schwanke, co-owner of the Home News, a weekly in Spring Green, Wis.

Mr. Griffith played trumpet in his own polka band, bought and sold and bought again nearly two dozen little Wisconsin newspapers and shoppers, personally promoted the Harmonicats and the Ink Spots, and was the owner or part-owner of three three-ring circuses based in Appleton, Wis., that traveled to 34 states.

He did not shy from describing things as the best, the first, the largest and he really was the last – he claimed – surviving circus owner in Wisconsin.

He smoked big cigars and accumulated a stupendous collection of antique circus air calliopes and put them on display until, he notes in his obit, he ‘found out that most of today’s families never heard of calliopes.’

Schwanke said her father, an Appleton native, was a printer by trade who hustled his whole life.

‘He grew up in the depression. His motivation was, he just had to hustle a buck, he always had to have some businesses giong,’ she said. ‘He didn’t have hobbies.’

But it was the circus that guided his life. He was always looking for a promotion, a flair, or a new way to package an old favorite such as having Santa Claus arrive in a spaceship at shopping centers.

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October 2010 Circus Arrangements

October 2010 – Four New Circus Arrangements are now available.

It’s that time of the year when the tented circuses are getting ready to end their seasons and move into winter quarters.  But the indoor shows continue to perform.  In Chicago, IL next month the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus will perform for a couple weeks at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL from November 4-14, 2010 and then at the United Center in Chicago, IL from November 17-28, 2010.

Four new arrangements are now available from the Center Ring Circus Band:

  1. Artistry in Bolero 1947 – by Pete Rugolo: Ronnie Drumm was bandleader for the 108th Edition Blue Unit in 1978 and conducted this composition for Charly Baumann and his Tiger Act.
  2. Hoe Down from “Rodeo” 1946 – by Aaron Copland: This composition was used for the 114th Edition Blue Unit’s elephant production titled “Elephants – Country Style”
  3. Manege from the 1950 RBB&B Show – Merle Evans Library: The main theme from this waltz medley was called “Come To Vienna” composed by John Ringling North.  It was used for the three dressage horse acts that performed in three rings
  4. Children of Sanchez – by Chuck Mangione: This composition was performed for the RBB&B 113th Edition Red Unit – Gunther Gebel-Williams Tiger Act and the 114th Edition Blue Unit – Wade Burck White Tiger Act.

Next month we will be developing more exciting arrangements for the shows during these years.  If anyone has any historical information to add to this website, we always appreciate the email, so don’t hesitate to contact us and we will be pleased to update our records.  We want this website to be a historical reference as as a place where music educators and bandleaders can easily find restorations of historical music that has been carefully rescored to today’s concert band instrumentation.  Mor about this to come in future articles.

In the meantime, enjoy the remainder of October!

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Huge Library!

We have over 700 arrangements available for both rental and purchase in our circus music library. You can search by type or arrangment as well as alphabetically by title of the arrangment or composer. Come see some of the recovered and remastered works that date over 100 years.

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