In the Experience Real History: Alamo Edition app, the Experience Real History producers could have added any background music, or no music at all. But that would not have been an accurate depiction of events–and it would have been missing a huge element. Before the battle, the Mexican army played the “deguello” a song that struck fear in every defender. According to the Texas State Historical Association, the deguello announced that no quarter would be given the rebellious Texans, and signaled the final assault on the Alamo. And by “no quarter” they mean..
… the act of beheading or throat-cutting and in Spanish history [the deguello] became associated with the battle music, which, in different versions, meant complete destruction of the enemy without mercy.
To recreate the song, however, is more challenging than you might imagine. We asked the musician working on the Alamo Edition project how he did it. There were several steps.
1. Do Your Research. Youtube is full of themes claiming to be the deguello, and just as quickly you’ll find comments saying how that theme isn’t the “real” de guello. Fortunately, I found footage of a respected Alamo historian whistling the tune. I noticed that’s the same tune the most recent Alamo movie used, which seemed encouraging. Finally, I found a copy of the handwritten sheet music of the original bugle calls used for the deguello. There are four, and I used the second for the Aftermath music, and the fourth for the Assault music.
2. Choose the Right Location. For the app, we wanted to emulate the sound of Santa Anna’s band for the assault music to give a sense of what that might have been like for the defenders. Most music is recorded indoors, but that would not sounded exactly as they would have heard it. So, we sorted out how to record it outside.
3. Find Historically Accurate Instruments. Gathering all of the instruments required was probably the most challenging aspect. I used marching brass and percussion for the full ensemble and gave special consideration to the trumpets. Valved trumpets had not been invented at this time, so everything was played by bugles. The trumpet player I worked with happened to have a very unique old instrument called a slide bugle, very few of which were ever made. I think the serial number on his was “008”. Bugles can only play in one key, but this one has a slide similar to a trombone, so you can change the key it plays in.
So, how does it sound? I would describe the sound as more “authentic” than beautiful. I also layered in some tracks of him playing the bugle calls on cornet – which is the closest modern day equivalent to the bugle. The combination of the two instruments, along with the other brass and percussion, are what make up the wall of sound for the assault music.