08 April 2006

More Fife and Drum Memories

I don't know why I've been going down this particular rabbit trail this weekend. But I have. LightHusband and I have been engaged in a project that has allowed for some brain mush. I call it conquering Mt. Washmore. He is sad that we're removing a perfectly good carpet protection device in our bedroom. I'll leave you to guess what we've been doing. In any case, it's allowed me some time to wander down rabbit trails in my mind.

I was remembering the first muster my old fife and drum corps ever went to. I hardly remember anything about it. Except that it was in Connecticut, because they all were at the time, and I was scared, because we all were at the time. Heck, we only knew about 5 songs and they were all the easy songs. We knew they were easy songs. We knew that everyone else knew that they were easy and that they knew that we knew. We were afraid of looking like chumps. We ranged in age from 14 to 16 or so. We knew Battle Hymn of the Republic, Yankee Doodle, Seven Stars, World Turned Upside Down (the song played when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown) and Old Saybrook ... these are the easiest songs on any fifer or drummers play list. If you don't know these you should just stay home.

We set up camp (tents). And then we all stood there and looked at one another. There was a jam session going on. We could see it. We could hear it. We all had our fifes. But if we went down to it, it was that much sooner that everyone would know ... we were chumps. We were NEW ... brand spanking NEW. Nobody likes to be new like that. Especially not when you're in highschool. Half the problem was that we were all from highschool bands. We thought (up til that weekend) that the only way one could learn to play music was with a score and a teacher. We didn't know you could learn by listening and watching someone else. Finally our director, who had learned that way, kicked us down to the jam session and brought his drum along too.

We stood there on the edges for the longest time. Waiting for just the right moment. For the five songs that we knew. And then sometime that night a magical moment happened. We heard a song that we hadn't known before, but we'd heard it enough times and we started to notice that if we listened and stood behind someone else who did know it, we could copy that person and learn the song. And so we did. And we started to learn new music in a very old traditional method. The way fife and drum music has been passed down for generation upon generation, without benefit of learning or writing, but benefit of passion and talent.

It's always been this way. Fifers and drummers sitting around a camp fire at the end of hard march, during the day providing communication and in the evening providing the entertainment. When two or more units meet up, the musicians trade music not on paper, but in actual song. "Have ya heard this 'un before?" and "How'd 'at go agin?" And they'd play for each other til one had it right or the other. After the Civil War some of the music was written down in a landmark book (for the time) referred to as the Bruce & Emmet Guide and it is still the published in the fife & drum community. There are now several other books out there as well and much other music has been added in the years since the Bicentennial especially.

I did a lot with this fife and drum corps when I was in high school. I remember that at my second muster, which was also in Connecticut, I exploded out of the car. And the corps "Mom" just laughed indulgently and shook her head much the way people do when LightBoy is around now. I remember the parade we marched in for the Maple Sugar Bowl, when it rained so hard that water dripped out of my tricorn hat and into my fife and I just spat water everytime I tried to play. We played at the Big E - The Eastern States Exposition. But most of all we just knocked around like the bunch of high school kids that we were, learning something about history and having a great time.

My big dream was to be able to get a job playing my fife at Fort Ticonderoga. But at the time they only hired boys to play in their fife and drum corps under the theory that only men fought in the Revolutionary War. So I did a bunch of research to prove them wrong; that women had in fact disguised themselves as men and fought in the war. Molly Pitcher being the most famous of them. I sent a paper to the Fort and a job application and by the time I was finished with college, they were hiring women. But by that time I wasn't interested anymore.


Blogger Pounce184 said...

Yes, it is one of the best things out there. Musters are awesome and really fun. A majority of musters are in Connecticut, and the weekend after this one is Deep River muster in Deep River, Connecticut (Which is usually the largest muster).

7/04/2006 12:55:00 AM  

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