07 April 2006

A Memory

When I was in high school a memorable event happened. We (that is, the national we) celebrated the nation's 200th birthday. The Bicentennial. There was a huge ruckus leading up to T.H.E. B.I.C.E.N.T.E.N.N.I.A.L. and it carried on for a couple of years afterwards. There were regenerations in many "primitive" or colonial art forms that have carried on til today. One that I'm still involved with is quilting. But I'm not writing about that here. I'm going to write about fife and drum corps. Especially about fifing. Because that's when I got involved.

The fifes and drums and then bugles had been used for centuries to call commands on the field of battle during war. Or as we're fond of saying (because it's used for a really cheesy Army promotional event called Spirit of America) "...in the smoke - of - BATTLE!!" Pause for dramatic effect between each word and you'll see what I mean. It's cheesy, but fun. The 3rd US Infantry (The Old Guard) puts this extravaganza on each year. I've been to at least 30 shows since LightHusband used to be in it. I used to be able to recite the whole show ... something like a Monty Python movie, only much more boring.

Some time around the turn of the century between the 19th and 20th centuries the fifers and drummers no longer had any work to do because they had been replaced by electronics. The electronics were in their infancy to be sure, but were still easier and could carry further than a fifer or drummer and didn't die when they were shot. But ... the fifers and drummers still liked to play and more importantly they liked to drink beer and even more importantly they liked to do both at the same time. So they gathered into groups called fife and drum corps and began to offer themselves out for parades and such. They banked on their historic, patriotic heritage to get them into parades and ... it worked. People loved them.

Then in the 1950's and 1960's attendance started dropping off. And interest in these fife and drum corps started drying up. It was sad. But then a miracle happened. It was history in the making ... it was ... THE BICENTENNIAL. Just made for fife & drum corps. New corps sprouted up all around New England ... two in Vermont alone. One for me, one for LightHusband.

Here's the thing about fife and drum corps. You do parades and stand and play gigs all year long to earn money so that you can go to musters. Musters are the big kahuna. Musters are where you want to be. Your corps can probably only afford to go to 2 or 3 a year. So you have to choose wisely. Which is going to be the most fun. What is a muster? I'm glad you asked.

The term has it's roots in the idea that the colonial militia "mustered" it's troops on the town green before marching out to meet the British army. A modern day "muster" is a gathering of fife and drum corps with a parade and then a show. First the parade, which usually steps off at noon (sometimes 11). Then there's a stand where every corps performs a stand piece, often with some drill accompanying it. Some years lots of drill is in fashion, other years it's not.

You always camp at a muster. And in the evenings (Friday and Saturday) the jam session goes all night. It starts about 6 or 7 and goes til your lips or hands give out. Everyone ... 100's of fifers and drummers all playing together ... plays. Anyone can call out a song. But be careful of calling something out too often. And the beer flows. When I was a teenager I won't tell you that I went to musters and drank too much beer, because that would be wrong of me. And neither did any of my friends. We were all fine upstanding young people who would never have made any wrong choices like that.

Sometimes, depending on the location, an F-troop will start up. This is an impromptu parade. One time we marched through a Dunkin Donuts and into and around a pizza parlor. I think we marched 6 across during that F-Troop. We marched across a 4 lane road and up and down the sidewalks for a while and around a parking lot. We created a bit of a stir that night. One time our muster was held in conjunction with an ethnic festival and so we marched our F-troop through the ethnic festival. That was also fun. I sold a muster button to the governor that day. Most of the time when we did F-troop, I marched in my bare feet. It's kind of lucky I didn't get any cuts.

I didn't do fife and drum when I was in college. In fact, I thought I'd put my fife away for good. But then shortly after college, when I met LightHusband (and he was just a buddy) he talked me into getting into a civilian corps that he was involved with. And I went to a muster again. Only this time I was legal. And I remembered all the songs, like riding a bicycle. Only now I was better at it than I had been before. I was hooked. I kept playing. I started organizing music. I started writing drill. I became the music master. Which meant I was responsible for all of our music for several years. I designed our uniforms and based them on uniforms worn by Virginia militiamen. In short .... I had fun! and I played and I played and I played. I learned a whole bunch of Celtic music. There were a bunch of people in our corps better than I ... like Truculent Duck. He'd been playing a long, long time. And now ... neither one of us has picked up our fifes in ages and ages. I don't think I've played since LightGirl was born. They've gotten dusty. But we keep promising ourselves we will. Maybe I still could get some decent notes out of the old fife ... maybe ...

P.S. To those you from my church who read this and think, "Aha ... she's a musician. We didn't know that. Maybe she can play in church." The answer is NO. I cannot. I'm not being stubborn, just realistic. First, remember, the fife was developed to relay battle calls, therefore, it's not necessarily a particularly melodic instrument. Second, it's pitched in B-flat which means it can't be played with any other orchestral instrument except perhaps a banjo or a fiddle. I did once play Dueling Banjos with a fiddler and that sort of worked ... sort of. I used to play flute a long, long time ago ... but that's another story.


Blogger Scott said...

You've got the itch! ;-)

4/07/2006 10:37:00 PM  
Blogger aBhantiarna Solas said...

Nah ... just thinking through some old times! We had fun didn't we ...

4/08/2006 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger Scott said...


4/08/2006 02:26:00 PM  
Blogger Liz said...

Don't worry, I'm working really hard to figure out a way that you and the lighthusband can play a duet for church hehehe

4/09/2006 02:42:00 AM  

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