What are Ruffles and Flourishes?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2019
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Ruffles and flourishes are musical embellishments which are played before the entry music for certain high-ranking officials as a mark of respect. Each nation has its own version of ruffles and flourishes, along with a corresponding table of honors so that bands know how many ruffles and flourishes are appropriate for any given official. As a general rule, the maximum of ruffles and flourishes is four, with this honor being accorded to heads of state and top military officials.

The concept of ruffles and flourishes hearkens back to a much older heraldic tradition. Historically, kings, queens, and other high-ranking officials have been announced with a fanfare of trumpets, with the musical announcement being more complex for people of high rank. The tradition of announcing entrances with music dates back to well before the Middle Ages, as do the complex tables of honors used to determine which music is played for whom. It should come as no surprise to learn that this tradition has been enshrined by the world's militaries, since militaries are famous for their love of ceremony and protocol.


Typically, ruffles and flourishes are played by military bands that act as escorts for high-ranking officials and visiting heads of state. The band plays a set number of ruffles and flourishes, and follows with the song, typically a march, which is linked with the individual being announced. The President of the United States, for example, is announced with four ruffles and flourishes, followed by “Hail to the Chief.” A wide variety of marches and anthems are included on the table of honors to prepare military bands for any situation, from announcing the arrival of a four star general to playing the retreat for a disgraced head of state.

The ruffles consist of drum rolls, while the flourishes are provided by bugles. Band members usually stand at attention while playing ruffles and flourishes, and the people present are generally expected to remove their headgear and stand until the music has been completed. Other honors may include salutes from military personnel present.

If a military band is not available, a civilian marching band may be asked to step in to play ruffles and flourishes, or a recording may be used. In situations where visiting officials from other nations are involved, a protocol officer usually determines the order in which officials will be announced, and the honors which will be accorded to those officials, often after consulting a protocol officer who works for the visiting official to ensure that no feathers are ruffled.


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