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 www.CircusMusic.us 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: CenterRingCB@comcast.net

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