It’s a question that gets asked a lot, most recently on May 13, 2013. This time, it was fairly easy to answer:
On 5/13/2013 9:32 AM, [a well-known fife maker] wrote:
Can you identify this fife
My answer went something like this:
This is a common but fascinating instrument — common, because we see a lot of these anywhere from the 1920s up to the 1950s or even the ’60s, but fascinating because it has quite a story to tell. Maybe a teensy tiny bit earlier than 1920, but not by much (maybe a year or two), because if you go much farther back you will see big differences in fife design and besides, there would be no machinery around to make this kind of thing much before the late ‘teens/early 20s, not to mention no market demand and thus no incentive for makers to buy fancy (and expensive) machines just to make this kind of fife.
The most prolific maker of this kind of fife was the Cloos company in Brooklyn, NY. The variable tonehole sizes are a dead giveaway. But your fife was likely not made by Cloos, since it does not have the mark one would expect to see (either a G with a superimposed C enclosed by things that look something like this: < and >, or the word CLOOS in a sans serif font running obliquely up the instrument). More than likely it was made by someone trying to capitalize on the market demand created by the Cloos products (another indication of that is, again, the toneholes…) OK, so you might convince me that it was *indeed* made by Cloos, but if so, he was working as a third-party jobber with someone else’s specifications (and thus was not marked as a Cloos product). In any event, it remains an early-to-mid 20th century fife.
Lots of people liked these metal fifes. At this time, the best flutes were made of metal, which was considered more resonant than wood (and required a lot less care and maintenance). Plus, they were “sanitary,” which was a big concern in the 1920s-30s, when society started taking the studies of people like Pasteur, Lister, and Koch seriously. The problem of reduced chimney height was recognized early on, which is why just about all the metal fifes one finds have some sort of lip plate, which at least doubles the chimney height, thus enabling the player to produce a more forceful sound with less effort.
The fact that it is made in two pieces reinforces my not-much-earlier-than-1920′s theory. At that time there were so many fife and drum corps demanding really good instruments that makers took the hint and devised some improvements to their products. Separating the head and foot of the fife into joints replicated what flute-makers were already doing, so that players could alter the sounding length and either sharpen or flatten the pitch. Problem is, there is only a very tiny “window” of pulling out/pushing in before you messed up the individual pitches, thus making the fife out-of-tune with itself, so they also made these models in one single piece for the unabashed historical-types (like me), who relied upon rolling the fife in towards the lip to flatten (and out away from the lip to sharpen) the problem tones.
So, your great-uncle probably paid a bit extra to have the latest, greatest fife model that was available at the time — but not quite as much as he would have for a real Cloos…clever guy, your great uncle…
I’m guessing your fife is most likely a B-flat, assuming a standard half-inch bore size. Thus, depending on cork placement, a fife with an overall length of 16 inches usually plays near or at B-flat. You can test it with a piano…if you sound the lowest tone (all holes open, not covered by any fingers) you would match A-flat played on a piano. (There is a much more sophisticated way of calculating sounding length, but this one works for me, given that I can’t see, measure, and play the instrument myself). So, even though you end up with an instrument pitched in A-flat, it is considered a B-flat, due to the problem of pitch nomenclature for transposing woodwinds, something I find confusing (it’s an argument based on German vs. English culture). I figure as long as A = 440, which it has since about 1938, the method I described above will determine if your instrument is pitched in what most people call B-flat but some people don’t <sigh>.
So, even though it probably was not played in a war or any of that kind of that awesome (and bloody–people forget these things were bloody and tragic!) stuff, it was probably played at a ton of July 4th and Memorial Day parades, not to mention the less dramatic but well-attended historical commemorative events sponsored by small communities and in those fabulous fife and drum corps that perpetuated the martial music of their fathers and grandfathers before them who marched anywhere and everywhere they had a chance to, including “exhibitions” and “field days,” where these corps each tried to outdo the other to impress judges and win prizes.
Lucky for you metal fifes require very little care. Just keep it out of damp cellars and dust it off every once in a while and you will have a nearly indestructible relic of times gone by…if you must wash it, maybe yearly with some mild soap (like dish detergent) and warm water, then by all means do so, but let it stand upright to dry overnight (so you don’t keep the cork wet, which will disintegrate it). Not that a cork is all that difficult to replace, but I don’t know if you live near someone who can properly place it for optimal tone and tuneability. Besides, you probably want to keep it as original as possible, and that includes the cork. So, if you like that cork, keep it out of dry attics, too, or wherever there are wide temperature and humidity fluctuations (like stuffed in a box somewhere in an unheated garage).
Then came the worst question of all:
On 5/13/2013 1:44 PM, [the fife owner] wrote:
My reply wasn’t so helpful, I’m afraid, but I would offer the same advice to anyone with an old fife:
Gah, I hate that question, because in truth, the fife (and anything else, for that matter) is worth only what someone is willing to pay. And that can vary according to time, place, and person. Too many variables for me!
That said, I do think these are sleepers. Right now the people most interested in fifes, new or old, are either reenactors or what we call “Ancient” fifers and drummers. The reenactors are spread all over the place, but the Ancients are kinda clustered in the CT Valley Shore area. In any event, it’s a small market that is mostly interested in antique wooden fifes that can somehow be related, wrongly or rightly, with one of America’s Great Wars; i.e., the Revolution and/or the Civil War.
Which, sadly, rules out the museum world, too. They, too, want something with a glorious war-related provenance, and they generally want it for free.
The end result is that you might, on a good eBay day, get something like $50 or $75 for it, but IMHO that’s cookie crumbs compared to its value as a relic from the truly golden age of fifing and drumming (which is AFTER the Civil War, thank you very much) and can’t even begin to recompense you for the family history that is in that fife. So, I would hang on to it, enjoy it as a tangible reminder of your past, learn to play it (and play some of the music that was once played on it, which either Ron or I can come up with for you), and in about 50 years, when the market wises up, then think of selling it.
Or keep it for your kids, and your kids’ kids, etc. Be sure to pass down the stories associated with it, too. See if you can dig up some newspaper photos of Great-Uncle [what was his name?] with his fife and/or his fife and drum corps — and you will likely find some of those. This was a great big thing back in the 1920-30s, and there are newspaper accounts of the field days and Memorial Day parades and things like that. Start with the town he lived in, look in the local history files, old newspaper clippings, etc. If he played this fife when it was fairly new, around the 1910s-20s-maybe even 30s, I would start there and work your way up. Was he a veteran of some kind? If so, check out the American Legion activity in his area of Vermont– the Legion was quite active and sponsored tons of drum corps events like field days in their early years. Build its history, and you will have something to be really proud of and, maybe in a few years, something salable as well.
M. W. Mowry is a name known so far only through a small book of autographs that he passed amongst his schoolmates just before graduation in 1878. He may be from one of the Mowry families of Rhode Island, or he may be the “M.W. Mowry” who died in Montgomery County, NY in January 1902. Or he could be from another Mowry family as yet undiscovered. What we do know about M.W. Mowry, straight from his autograph book, is that he was a talented young man who didn’t let school get in the way of his music-making activities.
We know more about the school he attended than we do the student. Wiki tells us the East Greenwich Academy, originally called the Kent Academy, was founded in 1802 by “eight prominent men,” but in 1841 the school was taken over by the Methodist Episcopal Church, who concentrated on producing teachers, both men and women, for the State of Rhode Island. They were so successful that “by mid-century, nearly three-fourths of all Rhode Island teachers were alumni of the Academy.” However, the school was also advertised as a “commercial” and “musical” institute, the latter of which must have attracted young Mowry to its doors.
Mowry must have excelled in the official music curriculum offered by the school, if one can judge from his unofficial musical activities referenced in his book of autographs. Apparently his nickname of “Philo” reflected not only his musical prowess but also his willingness to encourage musical prowess in others. Mowry played in the “Consolidated Orchestra” and participated in the “string band,” which likely supplied music for the impromptu “hops” (dances) that occurred in the kitchen and in the barn. His best friend appears to have been Fred Lawford from Wellesley, Massachusetts, the “one who plays the flute,” and with whom drummer Mowry, lacking a fifing companion, played duets, at which time Lawford’s flute became a sort of “bass fife.” We get a glimpse of one such performance courtesy of another schoolmate, C. W. Betts, who sketched Lawford with his “basso profundo” and a dour-looking “Filoh” urging him not to just play but to “Put in the agony, put on the style.”
The book contains another sketch, which in 1878 must have been amusing to some but not so much today, 135 years later. Although untitled, it shows what Lawford called “The Knickerbocker Minstrels.” They are missing the tambourine, but otherwise the standard minstrel elements — the fiddle, flute, banjo, and bones — are represented in this sketch. We might assume that Mowry, the drummer, is playing the bones and that his duet partner, Lawford, is playing the flute. What is most remarkable, though, and unlike any other minstrel group, is that they are wearing the pointed caps commonly associated with the Ku Klux Klan.
Dan Emmett established minstrelsy in the mid 1840s as a lighthearted form of musical entertainment in which the players “blacked up” to sing comic songs, perform walk-arounds, and recite “stump speeches,” all caricaturing the nameless “dandies” and other “black” characters invented by white minds. In fact, Emmett had written “Dixie,” complete with a walk-around, for performance by his group, the Virginia Minstrels, in 1859. However, minstrelsy was never considered anything more than entertainment, a bit tawdry, perhaps, but entertainment nonetheless. It attracted large audiences, mostly from the working or “mechanics” class of citizenry, which could get pretty rowdy at times. It also attracted criticism, mostly from reformers (Frederick Douglass called minstrel performers “the filthy scum of white society”), and today it is criticized as an insult to the dignity of African-Americans. However crude or vulgar, though, minstrelsy was essentially apolitical (except when poking fun at politicians) and never associated with the Ku Klux Klan – until, that is, this image was discovered in Mowry’s book of autographs.
Why “The Knickerbocker Minstrels” chose to wear the pointed caps of the Klan is a mystery. At this time (1878), there was no real Klan activity in Rhode Island; in fact, there was no real Klan activity anywhere since the organization, founded in 1865, was all but defunct in the early 1870s, a victim of the Force Acts of 1870 and 1871 that were specifically directed against it. (Not that other vigilante hate groups, such as the Red Shirts, didn’t take their place, but that is another story.) Was it a stunt, then, some kind of a joke? If so, who where they mocking, the black man or the lifeless Klan?
Although Mowry and his friends couldn’t know it, things would change some years later. The film “Birth of a Nation” (1915) fomented a resurgence of the KKK, at which time they retained the familiar pointed caps but added white robes to their costume and cross-burning to their regime of terror. The new Klan was quite active, hating Jews, Catholics, and immigrants as well as African-Americans. It was the second Klan that, looking for fund-raising opportunities, borrowed from the minstrel show (rather than, in Mowry’s case, the minstrel show borrowing from the Klan). The Klan also formed bands, including drum corps. These participated mostly in Klan-sponsored events but also marched in parades alongside the “unpure,” setting aside their hatred for the moment in order to publicize their group and attract new members.
The second-generation Klan, rocked by scandal, essentially self-destructed by the 1940s, but not before the area in and around Liberty, NY, had become a hotbed of Klan activity, which included among its more frightening and gruesome activities, more innocuous ones of music, parades — and drumming. This bass drum, below, was purchased in 2008 from the granddaughter of its player, who was using it as a coffee table. Its slick glass top and applied wheels hid the fact that it had been carried by an ancestor in many a Klan parade during the early years of its second resurgence.
Copyright January 2013, History of the Ancients Dot Org. All rights reserved.
Contra Dances from New Hampshire 1783 by Kate van Winkle Keller and George A. Fogg (October 2012) is the latest from The Colonial Music Institute press. This book is an interpretation of the fifty-five dances written down by one Clement Weeks, a 33-year-old schoolteacher in Greenland, New Hampshire. In February 1783, just a few months before the Treaty of Paris would end the Revolutionary War, Weeks began writing out “Figures for Contra Dances,” thirty-five of them, the authors point out, “from a collection from a friend named Smith” and another twenty chosen by Weeks himself. Keller and Fogg, both expert dance historians, interpreted each set of dance figures and, using the titles in the Weeks manuscript, located the music intended for them. Thus, each dance, is written out in modern notation and coupled with its facsimile from Weeks’ manuscript. Facsimiles are provided for most of the tunes as well. That plus the front matter, comprising a history of Weeks and his manuscript and an explanation of “Contra Vs Country,” plus the back matter (“Formation,” glossary, and bibliography), makes for a book packed with information – and not just for dancers, either.
For those of us with an interest in Ancient history, the Contra Dances from New Hampshire demonstrates how easily dance music could become march music. At this time, both fifers and dancers required uncluttered music with two strong pulsations per measure in order to know which foot should be where at each musical measure. These indications of foot placement were just as important to soldiers marching in formation as they were to the ladies and gentlemen footing it on the dance floor, proven by the fact that about half of Weeks’ dance music is also found in the manuscript march collections kept by fifers in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
The liberal use of facsimiles in Contra Dances from New Hampshire deserves more than casual interest. These provide readers who have not had the opportunity to visit museums and research libraries a unique glimpse into the past, when frugal Yankees like Weeks preferred to write down dance figures in a homemade book rather than purchase the latest London publication which, if not available from a local merchant, might require a trip to Exeter or maybe even Portland [Maine]. Also, the facsimiles reveal the problems that Keller and Fogg faced when working with old handwriting on old paper. While the construction features of a clearly dated book like Weeks’ gives us clues useful when working with other, undated manuscripts, the closely spaced writing and sometimes heavy bleedthrough make interpretation difficult, especially when deciphering the phrase marks (is it a dot? Or bleedthrough from the page behind?).
Also, the authors note that “in many of the dances in this collection, [the phrase marks] are not correctly applied” (p.12). This simple statement is hardly dismissive; it is one made only after painstakingly working out a literal interpretation and spending hours in libraries and at the computer, comparing it to as many similar others that may be found, both in manuscript and printed form. That is the only way to separate an intentional deviation from a true mistake. And sometimes there is nothing comparable, at which time one must admit being stymied (“This dance was a puzzle,” p. 52).
I don’t see Contra Dances from New Hampshire in the Colonial Music Institute catalog yet (it’s that new!), http://www.colonialmusic.org/RetailCatalog.pdf, but I am sure an emailed request, firstname.lastname@example.org, would be honored. It certainly is worth the extra effort to get a copy now and use these winter months to learn the dances (or the music, depending on your personal interests) to have them ready for springtime performances.
Copyright January 2013, History of the Ancients Dot Org. All rights reserved.
Who wouldn’t? Sweet and clear in the high tones, every Cloos fife is surrounded by a mystical aura of heroic young men dressed in blue bidding loved ones farewell as they march off to a quite un-civil war, and all this to a sprightly tune that may indeed have been played upon the very fife now held in your hands…or so auction dealers would have us believe. In truth, the Cloos legend is related only peripherally to a war, and it is not the American Civil War. Its provenance, actually, is tied to the post-War development of civilian fife and drum corps. These home-grown marching bands provided a market for Cloos fifes that outlasted the company’s sale in 1946 and eventual demise of the brand some 20 years later.
It was the German Revolution of 1848, a grassroots effort to unify the German nation-states, that prompted a decade-long exodus of Forty-Eighters to other countries, including the United States. It was around this time (1857) that George Cloos arrived in New York City to live with Gotthard Cloos, on Remsen Street, just south of and across the river from “Little Germany.” Gotthard was a tailor, not a flute-maker, but he was evidently well acquainted with one by the name of William Bauer. It was Bauer (apparently no relation to the Chicago manufacturer Julius Bauer) who sponsored both Gotthard and George for citizenship in 1860 (Bauer himself had been sponsored a few years earlier by another flute-maker, Charles G. Christman), thus beginning a friendship with George Cloos that would last a lifetime. In 1870 the Cloos families were still on Remsen Street, but the Gotthard Clooses would soon remove to Buffalo and the George Clooses to a new home to the east in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. There George Cloos would live and work for the rest of his life.
•George and Mary Cloos had 10 children, and all the surviving boys participated to some extent in the family business. Both William (b. 1861) and Fred (b. 1867) were active by 1880, Herman (b. 1869) and Philip (b. 1873) not until 1892 and 1895 respectively. Manufacturing took place at home at 39 Stagg Street and included clarinets, piccolos, and fifes in addition to the previously established flute line. By 1897 they needed more employees than the family alone could provide, a number that in the next few years hovered between 8 and 9. Production continued at Stagg Street even after George Cloos’s death in 1910, but in 1916 the business, having been duly incorporated and now headed by son Fred, relocated to brand-new accommodations at 1659 Stephen Street in the Ridgewood section of Brooklyn. In 1919 Fred Cloos offered jobs to returning WWI soldiers, but even so, he soon reported that the factory could not keep up with orders for Crosby Model fifes, a product that “originated in the Cloos business” and was “one of their largest sellers.”
The downturn began in the 1930s. The second-generation Cloos businessmen were aging out, and the market opportunities for a narrowly focused family business were dwindling. With the Great Depression in full swing and the purchasing power of amateur marching bands in doubt, the Cloos name all but dropped from the trade journals, and in 1933 Fred G. Cloos, who had succeeded his father and grandfather, left the business for a career in insurance. Meanwhile, the Clooses no longer jobbed exclusively to the trade and opened their factory doors to walk-in customers. In 1946, the company ceased production; when purchased by Penzel & Mueller of Long Island City, the new owners promised that “the name ‘Cloos’ and the world famous ‘Crosby Model’ trade marks will [continue to] be used.” They even named the elderly Fred Cloos an executive. However, business was no longer brisk, and after a few years the new owners quietly closed up shop, depleting the stock early in 1969.
The history of Cloos fifes is not easily chronicled since business records have not been located and public records, city directories, newspapers, and trade journals tell an incomplete story. When George Cloos (“Closs”) arrived in New York he was a joiner, but 3 years later he told census-takers he worked at flute-making. He did not own a business at this time, so he must have been employed by any one of a number of woodwind makers flourishing in New York. We might surmise that he worked for William Bauer who, according to tax records, operated a small musical instrument-making shop, but in any event, Cloos established his own flute-making business in 1862, or so his later advertising tells us. In a 4-page catalog produced for the trade, we are told that “the Manufacture of Flutes and Piccolos” was entrusted to his eldest son, William; his second son, Frederick was in charge of the “clarionets.” Although undated, this catalog was likely produced around 1902, the year that Cloos announced to readers of the Music Trade Review that his sons were now officially part of the company.
In 1928, in an effort to “increase interest in playing the fife,” the company announced the invention of the “Full Tone” mouthpiece made of “tasteless metal” and “guaranteed to play,” available with a plain finish or plated in silver or gold. Mouthpieces were colloquially called “cheaters.” Despite the promise of a “full tone,” a fife played through a mouthpiece is not nearly as powerful and strong as one played directly through the embouchure. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Snap-on mouthpieces such as this one (top, left) were custom-made by local tinsmiths. The Cloos “Full-Tone” (top, right) copied a late 19th c. manufactured standard but used no pewter in its construction. The rosewood fife shows wear from a long use of a round mouthpiece like the Full-Tone. The mouthpiece on the cherry fife is secured with linen string, the brass screw having been lost. Author’s Collection.
So, when did Cloos begin large-scale fife-making; more specifically, when did he produce the Crosby Model? The best answer, which is not very precise, is this: when it became profitable to do so. That did not happen for some years after the Civil War had ended. Prior to this, the market was quite limited, since fifes were of little use to anyone who was not a military musician. A member of the flute family of woodwinds, fifes have a relatively short sounding length that results in high, shrill tones entirely unsuitable for indoor use; however, they pair nicely with the field drum, both of which are loud enough to be heard over the din of marching men. Thus fifes and drums (“field music”) were used in the military camp to relay signals and on the march to establish and maintain cadence.
By the time of the Civil War, fife-making was a casual sideline of professional woodwind makers who fashioned the instruments from dense tropical hardwoods using specialized machines. However, these fifes functioned much the same as those turned from less exotic woods on foot-powered lathes nearly a hundred years earlier. Makers had not bothered to improve the fife’s acoustics, as they
had with other woodwinds, and why should they? There was little civilian interest in purchasing fifes, and the military market, excluding the war years, remained small and undemanding, so much so that army specifications continued to call for old-style instruments, despite their limitations, as late as 1889. Thus, makers had no incentive to spend time or money on improving fife design.
There is no evidence that Cloos made a significant number of fifes (and none of the Crosby Model) during his early career. Neither his name nor his firm have been found on surviving government contracts, suggesting that he did not supply the army with fifes during the Civil War, although other New York makers did, including William Hall & Son and Firth & Pond. Without these lucrative contracts, Cloos could not have supported himself and his growing family by wholesale fife production. Existing records suggest he continued making flutes and a maybe few traditional-style fifes until 1873, when an expanded product line was reflected in his city directory listing; he now manufactured musical instruments, not just flutes.
By that time, however, things were changing rapidly. The passage of time, which had romanticized the postwar image of the “boys in blue” as saviors of the union, plus the national pride inspired by the Centennial celebrations of 1876, spurred formation of amateur community bands (“corps”) comprised solely of fifes and drums. This occurred alongside technological advancements in warfare that would soon render the military field music obsolete. Now the civilian market for fifes outstripped even wartime military demand as more and more parades, ceremonies, and public commemorations included fife and drum corps in their line-up.
As fifers played in concert with and marched alongside other types of bands, though, they became acutely aware of the deficiencies inherent in the traditional fife, and they looked for an improved instrument with a truer pitch. This is the market that likely prompted George Cloos not to just produce fifes (he was already doing that) but to produce better ones and more of them. Certainly the profuse survival of Cloos/Crosby fifes and Fred Cloos’s assertions in the Music Trade Review confirm this supposition, even if direct documentation cannot.
The Crosby Model fife differed from its contemporaries in several ways, one of which was its ferrules. Ferrules are the decorative metal bindings applied to either end of the fife to prevent the wooden body from splitting. Initially ferrules were made from sheet metal, usually brass, rolled to a snug fit and finished with a burnished seam. They were then punched with a special tool to prevent the ferrule from sliding off. Sometime around 1840 “German silver,” an alloy of copper and nickel (and sometimes zinc) replaced the customary brass, and makers found that cutting ferrules from metal tubes was less expensive and more efficient than rolling them from sheets. However, tubing could not be used to produce the long tapered ferrules that Cloos used on the Crosby Model—that is, not until machinery designed to produce seamless tapered metal tubes was available. Cloos did not have these machines in 1870, but by 1880 he had acquired enough to keep himself and two young sons busy spinning tapered ferrules.
The seam on this late 18th century ferrule, far right, is so finely burnished that it is almost invisible. However, it runs in line with the edge of the embouchure. Ferrule from head end of Eisenbrandt fife (middle, ca. 1812) showing tooled “pince” or “dimple” to prevent loss as the ferrule loosened over time. Crosby Model ferrule (left, top) and pre-Crosby Cloos ferrule (left, bottom). Neither are seamed. The top ferrule was “spun” to achieve its conical shape; the brass ferrule is cylindrical and likely cut from metal tubing. Author’s Collection.
More important changes occurred in tone-hole design. Cloos and his fellow woodwind makers knew that placing six relatively small, equal-sized tone holes in an equidistant pattern along a woodwind body would negatively affect certain pitches. Accomplished players knew this, too, and compensated either by altering the force or direction of the airstream or rolling the instrument in or out as required. While many makers at this time decided to adopt (or adapt) the Boehm system to improve their flutes and clarinets, no one bothered to improve fifes. Neither did Cloos, whose early fifes feature the typical “even” tone holes. However, when his thoughts turned to producing a better fife, he shunned both traditional tone holes and the Boehm system in favor of a Nicholson-style pattern. Charles Nicholson (b. 1795, d. 1837) was the flautist whose playing in 1831 had charmed Theobold Boehm and inspired both to improve flute construction. The simplest explanation of Nicholson’s varied tone-hole design is that it altered the sounding length of certain pitches, thus improving the off-tones produced by instruments made with even-sized holes. He also enlarged the tone holes and the embouchure, which resulted in more powerful acoustics. Cloos applied similar changes to his new-style fife, probably as early as 1880 but certainly by 1893, when Lyon and Healy offered Crosby Model fifes for sale, a mail-order bargain at $1.50 each.
The variably sized tone holes of the Nicholson flute. Neither Cloos nor Crosby copied the Nicholson design, but they were both influenced by it. Courtesy Terry McGee, McGee-Flutes Research Collection, http://www.mcgee-flutes.com/collection.html, accessed September 14, 2012.
Although Fred Cloos reported that the Crosby Model “originated in the Cloos business,” he failed to disclose that its prototype had been for sale all along in the Boston woodwind shop of its namesake, Walter Crosby (b. 1805, d. 1874). In 1827 Crosby was a woodturner who made umbrellas and toys. He partnered briefly with another turner, Henry Prentiss, in 1829 before both ventured into the woodwind market, Crosby in 1830 and Prentiss in 1834. He did well, with real property worth $10,000 in 1870. He is mentioned only once in Ayars’s study of Boston music industries (1937), but the citation is worth notice: “Possibly the first flutes manufactured in Boston were made by the firm of Walter Crosby, which made the popular Crosby fifes used in the Civil War…” Her statement is inaccurate (William Callender made flutes in Boston before Crosby was born), but she remains correct in that Walter Crosby did indeed make fifes. Their war-time popularity is doubtful, since there are no extant contracts to indicate that these attracted the attention of any military quartermasters, but they did attract the attention of George Cloos via a series of somebody else’s short-lived business enterprises that eventually involved his eldest son. This began in 1876, when George’s old mentor, William Bauer, traveled to Boston. His son Henry had spent the previous year there making musical instruments, but together they formed a new business, William Bauer & Son, at 103 Court Street, just a short walk from the old Crosby shop at #59. There the Bauers made, sold, and repaired musical instruments until 1878, when Henry returned to New York. William worked alone until 1880 when another son, Emil, joined him. This second father/son alliance ended with the elder Bauer’s death in 1882, leaving Emil to run a solo business, perhaps from his Ruggles Street home, and this in addition to his employment as a clerk for John C. Haynes. However, 1883 found him again on Court Street, repairing instruments for the Envers brothers, and it was this shop that in 1885 became “William H. Cloos, Clarionets, Flutes, and Piccolos.” Whether Emil partnered with Cloos or worked independently is not clear, but in any event, Ayars reports that Bauer sold out to August Damm in 1888, the same year that William Cloos returned to Brooklyn to supervise flute production at his father’s factory, which he did until his death in 1904.
What emerges from this convoluted story is that George Cloos, either through his son or his old friend William Bauer, clearly had the opportunity to examine Crosby fifes, perhaps as early as 1875 or ’76. That the one was the prototype for the other is undeniable, even had Cloos not retained the Crosby name. Both are made from dark hardwoods, and each features a Nicholson-type tone hole pattern that varies in size and placement. Lloyd Ferrar, in a detailed physical study comparing the Crosby fife with the Crosby Model (Woodwind Quarterly, Issue 12, n.d.), identified a few structural vagaries, but these are inconspicuous, both visually and acoustically. In fact, there are just two easily detectable features separating Cloos’s fife from Crosby’s (besides, of course, the makers’ marks): One is the design of the tone holes and the other is the ferrules.
Walter Crosby used shorter, widely tapered ferrules that bear marks of handwork; ferrules on the Crosby Model are longer, also tapered but seamless, turned on the metal spinning machines the Clooses were using by 1880. The result is a perfect combination of George Cloos, maker of fine woodwinds, and George Cloos, shrewd businessman. As a maker, he recognized the performance capabilities of Crosby’s fife and salvaged it from obscurity with the Crosby Model. As a businessman, he personalized the instrument and streamlined its production so that it could be readily prepared and sold with impunity once Crosby’s shop had closed for good, which it did after its owner’s death in 1874. Still, Cloos must have realized his moral obligation to the originator, which might explain why he retained the Crosby name. In any event, the Crosby Model became an instant best-seller as it satisfied the market demand for an improved, reliable instrument and was wholesaled to various dealers, including the John C. Haynes Company.
The success of the Crosby Model enabled the Cloos factory to ride the crest of a mighty wave of interest in fifing created by the burgeoning drum corps market. Fife and drum use was no longer confined to the military, although field music continued to abound in the postwar New York State Militia. These groups found companionship in the innumerable quasi-military civilian corps that sprang up in just about every city borough (especially the well-defined neighborhoods of Brooklyn) plus in the hundreds of youth corps sponsored by the Boy Scouts and the CYO (“Catholic Youth Organization”). Beyond Brooklyn to the east, Connecticut had its own tradition of “ancient” style fifes and drums, which flourished alongside their more modern counterparts comprised variously of fifes, flutes, drums, and/or bugles. The activity in New York and Connecticut, however, was just a microcosm of a nationwide trend that had begun with the commemorative G.A.R. corps founded by Civil War veterans and their progeny and continued with those spawned by the successive patriotic frenzies created by the Spanish American War, World War I, and the formation of the American Legion.
A GAR corps, right, leading the Memorial Day parade in Los Angeles in 1927. The right-most fifer (besides being out of step) is playing on a Crosby Model Cloos, as is the fellow next to him; the two fifers to the left are using short-ferruled fifes. Image courtesy Los Angeles Times Photography, http://framework.latimes.com/2012/05/26/memorial-day-1911-1929/#/10, accessed September 14, 2012.
In fact, at the height of Legion fervor, William Ludwig published a pamphlet advising the best way to organize a drum corps, details of which were published in the Music Trade Review in 1926.
Of course, no corps would be complete without its quota of Ludwig drums, and he was less than enthusiastic about fife sections, which he thought were best used as “a relief unit for the bugles.” Nonetheless he urged fifers to buy Crosby Models because they are “designed especially for corps work and [are] used by more corps than any other fife.” By this time, he proclaimed, it had become “the old-timer’s standby. It was no wonder, then, that Geo. Cloos, Inc. scrambled to fulfill orders.
It was this very focus on all-things-fife that ensured the demise of the Cloos factory. In their efforts to become the #1 supplier of drum-corps fifes and accessories, the Clooses ignored the danger signals emitting from the otherwise thriving musical market of the 1920s. Flutes were no longer the parlor instruments of choice; those who continued making music in the home preferred pianos. Stringed instruments (guitars, mandolins, and banjos) now dominated the small goods trade, so much so that Emil Bauer bid good-bye to John Haynes to work in banjos. Military wind bands continued to flourish; however, they had long since discarded woodwinds in favor of brasswinds. In fact, the active passion for making music was fast succumbing to the passive fashion of listening to it as families nationwide rearranged their furniture to accommodate “talking machines” (gramophones and phonographs), radios, and “player pianos” that required no musical training to operate.
One could listen to fife and drum music, too, such as the “Uncle Sam Medley” played by the National Guard Fife and Drum Corps (1917) http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/mp3s/6000/6344/cusb-cyl6344d.mp3. Recorded on a Gold-Moulded cylinder, it would be played upon a machine such as this one pictured here, courtesy of Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phonograph_cylinder, accessed September 14, 2012. MP3 file courtesy of Cylinder Preservation and Digitalization Project, University of California, accessed September 14, 2012.
Some manufacturers responded by dropping their unprofitable woodwind lines and retooling for small strings or pianos. The businesses of unlucky others failed or were subsumed by the large publishing houses, most notably that of Oliver Ditson. The Cloos products were given another chance briefly around 1932 with the Washington’s Birthday Bicentennial and again when the company was acquisitioned by Penzel & Muller but to no avail. The fife market, now much smaller and concentrated in metropolitan New York/New Jersey and the Valley Shore area of Connecticut, patronized local makers such as Ted Kurtze, T. D. O’Connor, and Henry “Ed” Ferrary or purchased a new kind of fife designed by the first of the revisionist makers, John McDonagh. The old Crosby Models were retired to attics, basements, and inaccessible closet shelves, emerging decades later as misunderstood eBay offerings but to those in the know, relics of the truly golden years of fifing and drumming.
Musical Selections for Fife and Drum, Historical, Traditional, and Contemporary was published in two volumes by the Company of Fifers and Drummers in the mid 1970s. Known simply as the “Company Books,” they were prepared by a specially appointed Music Committee, who faced a daunting task during the tumultuous years of the Bicentennial–how to standardize a largely aural body of music to accommodate an unprecedented swelling in the ranks of Ancient fifers and drummers. The committee consisted of Arthur “Doc” Ferrante and “Duke” Terreri, who immediately set to work:
“The method for selecting the music was to conduct a survey of all the corps and individuals in the Company of Fifers and Drummers to determine which songs have survived over the years and which songs were most ‘favored.’ “
Each tune in the Company Books is matched with a drum beating collected from “men who have devoted a lifetime to the art of rudimental drumming.” It is no wonder, then, that the Company Books are so popular as sources of music for musters, parades, and jollifications. But what about the Revolutionary War reenactor? Drummers frequently use Company selections without guilt, since a significant body of march beatings from the eighteenth century is presently unlocated. But that is not the case with fife tunes. How useful are the Company Books to fifers wishing to re-create music of the Revolution?
In order to answer this question, the music played by the fifers who served with the military during the Revolutionary War must first be identified in the extant literature. This was gathered from Keller and Rabson’s The National Tune Index Part 1 (New York: University Music Editions, 1980), now updated as Early American Secular Music and its European Sources, (EASMES, http://www.colonialdancing.org/Easmes/Index.htm). Of the several handwritten tune collections cited therein, seven are positively identified as fife tunebooks compiled during the years 1775-1783. Two others were not included in the NTI , and three more were discovered subsequently (one each in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Tennessee) and are listed in EASMES. If one also counts the flyleaf that survives from a Rhode Island fifer’s book and a published report (including photographs) of two tunes from a now-lost Connecticut manuscript, this brings the total to 13, collectively representing 468 different tunes.
Printed sources for Revolutionary War era music, unfortunately, are even more scarce. We know of just one fife instruction book that was produced in America during the war, but a copy of it has not been found; musicologists, however, believe it closely approximates one printed in London in 1767. By 1780 a total of seven fife method books had been published, all in London. Some of these were advertised in American newspapers as imports for sale and thus available to American fifers, despite the hostilities with the mother country that began in the late 1760′s.
In determining which of these period fife tunes were captured by the Company Book compilers, I compared the music found in these printed and manuscript sources with the tunes contained in Volumes I and II. Although I found many eighteenth-century melodies, only twenty-four were found in the fife literature described above and thus become candidates for the reenactment field.
Fife Tunes Found in Revolutionary War Sources and in the Company Books:
- Road to Boston
- White Cockade
- Seven Stars
- Stony Point
- Welcome Here Again
- Rakes of Mallow
- Sailor’s Hornpipe
- Successful Campaign
- St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning
- Paddy Whack
- Haste to the Wedding
- Essex March
- Fifer’s Masterpiece
- Duke of York’s March
- Duke of York’s Favorite Troop
- Fifer’s Delight
- Janizarie’s March
- Redcoat Fifer
- York Fusiliers
- Over the Hills and Far Away
- Soldier’s Joy
This short list raised some serious questions. For instance, there were two “Yankee Doodle” tunes, one entitled “Ancient Yankee” and the other a more “modern” version. The “Ancient Yankee” found in the Company Book I shows up only once in the fife literature, in a manuscript from Connecticut that was written out between 1777 and 1780. The tune, however, does not appear in print until the war had long been over, the Constitution had been adopted, and Washington had completed nearly two terms as president, when it is found in Benjamin Carr’s Evening Amusement (Baltimore, 1796). Variants of the “modern” version, however, also appear in the period literature but only slightly more often (three of the 13 compilers wrote it down). So, it would appear that both versions were circulating, largely by ear and less so in writing, at the time of the Revolution.
There is no doubt, though, that fifers played some version of “Yankee Doodle” throughout the Revolution. A check of American colonial newspapers up to and including 1783 reveals reports of the tune starting in 1768; the frequency of the citations and indeed some of the reports themselves allude to a tune that was highly popular throughout the War. Newspapers reported that, much to colonial delight, “Yankee Doodle” was played during the Yorktown surrender ceremonies in 1781, but one soldier, equally delighted, recalled hearing it years earlier during another surrender, that of the “Convention troops” at Saratoga in 1777:
The 17th of October a day never forgotten by one present, the British army marched out of camp and surrendered themselves as prisoners of war. This was a glorious day to us. The tories through the country had tauntingly told us for months before when Burgoynes army reached Albany they would teach us to play Yankee Doodle in a way we should never forget — When all was arranged for Burgoynes surrender —our army in to lines that we might have a fine view The music was ordered to strike up which began with Yankee Doodle: Gen. Gates could not refrain from smiling as he ordered a British march to be played.
Diary of Park Holland (Bangor [Me] Historical Society)
Another problem occurs with “British Grenadiers.” Three fifers wrote it into their notebooks, and two examples are included in Volume I; unfortunately, only the first bears some resemblance to the Revolutionary War fifers’ versions. The second differs markedly (and actually turns up in the post war repertory of the 1790s). The problem was solved, however, by searching the contents of The American Veteran Fifer; both Company versions are identical to the ones found in this early twentieth-century publication and were likely copied from there.
I also found some tunes with eighteenth-century titles that were coupled with much later melodies, “Cuckoo’s Nest,” and “Hare in the Corn” being two such examples.
“Paddy on a Handcar” (p. 19, Volume I) presents still another problem. The tune’s second strain is strikingly similar to that of “Fifer’s Masterpiece” (p. 6, Volume II), although the first strains of these tunes are different. An earlier Company publication (1968) contains “Paddy” along with this note: “Paddy on the Hand Car was also known as ‘The Fifers’ Masterpiece['] and was played at the time of Shea’s [Shays'] Rebellion in the late 18th Century,” but the Company version of “Paddy” can be traced only as far as Winner’s Primary School [for the Fife] (1874). The “Masterpiece” tune found in Book I does indeed survive in a notebook kept by a Massachusetts fifer in 1778, but only further research will prove whether it can be connected to the western Massachusetts tax revolt led by Daniel Shays in 1787.
Perhaps the most difficult problem is posed by the tune “World Turned Upsidedown,” so commonly associated with the Yorktown surrender of Cornwallis in 1781. Studies by the late Arthur Schrader have established that it was not. The only tune associated with this title in the Revolutionary War fife literature was written down by a fife major serving in the New York Highlands with the 4th Connecticut Regiment in 1781; however, it bears no resemblance to the Company Book version. Furthermore, while the 4th did send a contingent of soldiers to Yorktown, the writer was not among them, so there is nothing here to connect this tune, despite its tantalizing title, to the surrender ceremonies there. Given all this, there is currently no indication that this tune or any other entitled “World Turned Upsidedown” was played at Yorktown or any other surrender during the Revolution.
In truth, the Company Book “World” turns out to be a much older tune known as “When the King Enjoys His Own Again.” The ballad bearing this title was written, says Claude M. Simpson in The British Broadside Ballad and Its Music (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1966) in the 1640s by Martin Parker “to bolster the fortunes of Charles I and a Cavalier use that was seriously pressed in the several campaigns of 1643.” Simpson describes several uses of the tune, none of which involve the events at Yorktown and only one of which invokes the “World” title. A similar tune with a similar title “When the King Comes Home In Peace Again’ is one of several handwritten tunes bound behind a 1750 copy of Compleat Tutor for the Flute, but likely refers to the Jacobite Rebellion, not the American one (which, at that time, had yet to occur). The tune is not found in the British-produced fife books, and none of the Revolutionary War fifers wrote it into their notebooks. It was submitted to the Music Committee by a researcher who had included it in his own publication after mistakenly interpreting a discussion of the “King” tune found in William Chappell’s Popular Music of the Olden Time (1859).
The repertoire of the Company Books contains more eighteenth-century tunes than the twenty-four located in the Revolutionary War manuscripts, but many of these, like “Girl I Left Behind Me,” “Captain MacIntosh,” “Downfall of Paris,” and “Devil’s Dream,” do not show up until the 1790s, beyond our period of interest. Others like the “World/King” melody and “Rondeau” predate the War but by that time had likely dropped out of popular musical memory, if indeed (as in the case of “Rondeau”) they had ever been a significant part of it (“Rondeau” was included because it was a personal favorite of the Doc, who heard it as the opening theme for PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre while watching the series “Upstairs Downstairs”). Even if the later eighteenth-century examples were added to the list of known Revolutionary War fife tunes, the eighteenth-century content is 54 tunes, less than 25% of the total number in both Company Books.
Still, the Company Books are vital to Revolutionary War simulation for three important reasons:
- They are inexpensive, easily obtained, and if not owned by nearly every fifer who participates in reenactment are otherwise available to them on the World Wide Web, http://fifedrum.org/resources/music/gif/.
- Although they offer only a limited selection of appropriate tunes, this situation may change as new information is obtained from the existing literature base and new resources are discovered that augment it.
- “They ain’t that many and they ain’t that hard,” as Ed Classey used to say, so all fifers, no matter where they reside, should be able to master all twenty-four.
And that’s an impressive number of march tunes upon which to build a basic repertoire for Revolutionary War simulation.
The Company books are useful to the Civil War reenactor, too:
Fife Tunes Found in Civil War Sources and in the Company Books:
- Rally ‘Round the Flag
- Belle of the Mohawk Vale
- Tramp, Tramp, Tramp
- Strube’s 6/8
- Red, White and Blue
- Hell on the Wabash
- Biddy Oats
- Downfall of Paris
- Hail to the Chief
- Wrecker’s Daughter
- Turkey in the Straw
- Arkansas Traveler
- Colonel Robertson’s Welcome
- Just Before the Battle
- Owl Creek
- Marching through Georgia
- Nellie Bly
- Tenting Tonight
- When this Cruel War is Over
- Rory O’More
- Sgt. O’Leary
- House of Duncan
- Rochester Schottishe
This list, however, raises two issues of import to the Civil War reenactor. The “penny press” was in full swing by the mid-nineteenth century, thanks to the combination of industrialism, urbanization, and consumerism that permeated society at this time. Publishers intent on making maximal profit on minimal investment often recycled their printing plates, so that books for just about any treble instrument, such as violin, “clarionet,” flute, and fife, all featured the same repertory, making it difficult for us, 150 years later, to determine just which of these myriad tunes attracted the attention of fifers — something made even more difficult in the mammoth “omnibus” collections that contained hundreds of tunes drawn from innumerable repertories. Since printing was so cheap and readily available, even to the most rural farmer, there was less reliance upon handwritten collections, which in the past had revealed so much about regional preferences and which tunes were fifers’ favorites. Although the listing above seems short, it is limited to what was most likely, by comparison with diaries, period fife music books, and other contemporary evidence, to have been played by fifers in a military context.
And what of the music that was not printed and sold? This traditional music, which passed by rote from grandfather and father to son and grandson, comprised a large portion of the fifer’s repertory, despite the many modern compositions that also attracted his ear. This was recognized by publishers who catered specifically to fifers, whose books contained a hefty dose of the old Rev War tunes — “Haste to the Wedding,” “St. Paddy’s Day in the Morning,” “Road to Boston,” and maybe even “Yankee Doodle” — and other favorites that emerged after the war — Jefferson and Liberty,” “1812,” or perhaps “Paddy on a Handcar” — among a lesser but important number of the latest minstrel tunes, patriotic songs, and operatic airs. Civil War reenactors, therefore, should not ignore these older tunes as they thumb through The Company Books looking for something to play at their next reenactment.
Intentionally excluded are tunes copied from The American Veteran Fifer (1905, 1927). While AVF does indeed contain some Civil War era tunes, it served another purpose for the GAR fifers for whom it was published (see “National Association of Civil War Musicians: American Veteran Fifers,” another posting on this blog, for more information).
Copyright 2001, 2011, 2012 HistoryOfTheAncientsDotOrg. All rights reserved.
A Patent Fife by John Pfaff
By 1864, the Civil War was nearly over, but neither the Federals nor Confederates could know that for certain. Both governments continued to recruit soldiers, and in the North the merchant mass scrambled to secure lucrative military contracts for the necessary clothing, arms, and accouterments as well as for drums and fifes. Some makers, such as New York’s Firth and Pond and Philadelphia’s William H. Horstmann Co., filled governmental orders with standard instruments, but others responded to the increased demand by developing and patenting improvements, especially in fife design. One such maker was Philadelphia’s John Pfaff.
Pfaff was one of 7 sons of Johann Pfaff of Kaiserlautern. In Germany, Johann and 3 of his sons made woodwinds, a practice that John continued upon his arrival in the United States in 1842. He worked a year in Baltimore, but then the 26-year-old Pfaff established a shop in Philadelphia, where he stayed until his death in 1887.
John Pfaff produced flutes mostly but also clarinets. He was not content to just make them, he also improved them. In 1857 he invented (and patented) a flute that could be played vertically, because
In playing the ordinary flute it is necessary to turn the head partially to one side, and to maintain the arms in an unnatural position, causing distortions and strains which have been found to affect the chests of players, and more especially of beginners. The fingers and wrist too have to be stretched to an inconvenient extent.
Health issues aside, Pfaff further believed that the unusual playing position of his newly designed flute “actually improves [the tone of the flute] both as regards clearness and volume.”
Turning his attention to fifers, Pfaff found different problems. He saw that while the fifer was playing and marching, the instrument was in danger of “slipping from its position in front of the mouth when the body of the performer is constantly moving.” He sought to correct this by placing a “ridge or protuberance” on either side of the embouchure, allowing the fifer “to draw the fife up without hesitancy or doubt as to proper placement against his lips.”
Pfaff submitted his written arguments along with a detailed drawing of his plan to officials in Washington, which was sufficient to convince them to issue a patent on November 29, 1864.
While a flute of the 1857 design is not known to this writer, two examples of the 1864 fife are. These were not found in any major museum collections, though; both of them, surprisingly, turned up on the online auction Ebay, one in December 2001 and the other in April 2004, and I bought both.
The fifes are quite interesting. Both are pitched in B flat and are straight-bore instruments with a tapered body. One fife has ferrules made from thin brass, the other has none. The tone holes are grossly equal in size and spaced more or less equidistant along the body. Both fifes are made of bird’s-eye maple, although the figure is more pronounced in the unferruled one. The lack of ferrules, by the way, appears to be intentional, as there were no insets spun to receive them; however, there are decorative lines scored at either end of the body in imitation of the lines customarily engraved on ferrules.
The embouchure on each fife is guarded bilaterally with the patent-protected ridges, which are sufficiently high to fulfill their purpose.
Pfaff wasn’t the only maker who sought to improve the military fife. On July 5, 1864, John W. Tanner filed for a patent to protect his “convertible fife.”
His design would enable the player to change the pitch of his instrument simply by substituting a second, differently-sized foot joint.
However, fellow New Yorker A.H. Stratton had already produced an instrument that accomplished this without the inconvenience of carrying two foot joints around. His patent, filed on May 2, 1856, described a fife made with a double tube. The outer tube contained 2 sets of tone holes, each set strategically placed along the body. By adjusting the inner tube, the fifer could access either set of tone holes and thus play in the desired key at will without the trouble of changing foot joints. While patient monitoring of Ebay did indeed result in one of the Tanner fifes, I am still looking for a Stratton patent model, so if you see one, post a note here and don’t bid on it!
Copyright 2006, 2011 HistoryOfTheAncientsDotOrg. All rights reserved.
GEORGE BRUCE, DAN EMMETT, AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF FIFING AND DRUMMING
Many have called the era of the Civil War “the golden age of fifing and drumming.” Certainly the war inspired a large number of publications (and re-publications) of music for fifers and/or drummers, even as the improved technology of warfare would soon eliminate the fife and drum from the field music and eventually from military use altogether. One handbook in particular, The Drummer’s and Fifer’s Guide by George B. Bruce and Daniel D. Emmett, is often cited as the best example of military music of the period. But was it? And if so, why? What made this book different from other period publications? What does it reveal about contemporary repertory and performance practice? And, most importantly, how does it help present-day musicians understand fifing and drumming as it was practiced in during the Civil War? Comparison of the Guide with 13 other instruction books dating from 1851 to about 1865 goes beyond “golden age” rhetoric and gives some surprising answers to these questions. What we find is that Bruce and Emmett’s music was more singular than it was representative and that a substantial portion of the arrangements do not address the functional requirements of military musicians. In fact, the reasons that made it largely unsuitable for the mid-century military market were the ones that attracted a substantial civilian-based market long after the war was over. Therefore, we must appreciate the music collected by Bruce and Emmett for its own sake and not as a representative example of the music and practices of Civil War-era fifers and drummers.
The two compilers were unlikely affiliates. George B. Bruce, whose real name was George B. Barrett, was born about 1815-16 in (or near) Baltimore, MD. He was taught by “Drum Major George Riggs,” who later recalled Bruce as the best of his students. Bruce’s skill as a drummer is further revealed in his prewar service with New York’s 69th Regiment (“Fighting Irish”), but these activities far overshadow his otherwise dubious military accomplishments. A printer by trade, the 21-year-old Barrett enlisted in Maryland’s 2nd Regiment of Dragoons on November 18, 1836. Within seven months, however, he had deserted. Two years later, this time as “George Bruce, silversmith,” he enlisted once more. He managed to serve for nearly 4 years before he was recognized as a deserter from the Dragoons and summarily discharged. Bruce made no mention of these unhappy events in his prefatory remarks in the Guide, nor did he cite a short but legitimate enlistment as a drummer in the 22nd NYSM. Instead, he claimed service as “late principal instructor at the army music schools on Bedloe’s and Governor’s Islands,” even though it is highly unlikely that a known deserter would be chosen to fill this (or any other military) post. Besides, that position had been held continuously since 1841 by somebody else, who would continue to hold it until his retirement in 1869. More reliable is Bruce’s claimed connection with the 7th New York regimental band. This is indeed confirmed in surviving records, albeit for only a brief, six-week enlistment.
Daniel Emmett, who assembled the fife portion of the Guide, enjoyed an equally brief but somewhat more illustrious military career. At age 15 he had enlisted in the army as a fifer, only to be discharged the following year “by reason of minority.” Emmett worked as a printer for a while in Cincinnati, but he much preferred playing the fiddle for traveling circuses, something he was doing full time by at least 1840. He retained his fondness for fifing, though, and at one time aspired to publish an instruction book, Emmett’s Standard Drummer; however, this endeavor was either unsuccessful or abandoned, and no copies exist beyond a single manuscript prototype. In 1843 he founded the Virginia Minstrels, whose musical sketches performed in blackface spawned a popular and long-lasting entertainment genre. His many original minstrel tunes, especially “I Wish I Was in Dixie’s Land” (1859), earned him international fame as a composer.
What was the catalyst for the unlikely pairing of Bruce and Emmett? We don’t know for sure. It is possible that Bruce, a printer, might have worked at the trade while in New York, where his affinity for drumming may have attracted the attention of music publishers, but it may have been through the efforts of William Hall. Years earlier Hall had partnered with his brother-in-law, John Firth, and they with a third man, hymnist Sylvanus Pond, in a highly successful music publishing/retailing venture, but he left in 1847 to establish his own firm, Hall & Son, nearby. Over the years the multifaceted Hall sponsored local musical events, was active in Fifth Ward politics, and also served as an officer in the state militia. As such, he had not only the occasion to hear regimental music but also had the ability to anticipate and supply its musical needs. It is possible, then, that he recognized a lucrative publishing opportunity when he saw one and may have put Bruce in touch with his former partners, who were still profiting from their association with Dan Emmett. In any event, the two-part Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide was issued by Firth, Pond & Co. in 1862 and subsequently reissued by its successor, Wm A. Pond (1865, 1880, and1885).
The differing musical background of the compilers is evident throughout the book. A former soldier, Bruce recognized the significance of an uncluttered downbeat in maintaining march cadence, but as a band drummer he also recognized the value of creativity and challenge in application and performance. The result is an organized eclecticism, mixing such straightforward pieces as “Quick Steps for Drum Corps” and “Army 2/4″ with more complicated ones such as “Seely Simpkins,” “Girl I Left Behind Me,” and “Governor’s Island.” These latter beatings feature syncopation and embellishments that challenge the performer and rival the fifer’s tune for musical dominance.
Emmett drew upon his unconventional musical background for the tunes he selected for the fife portion of the Guide. A few were chosen from the familiar fife repertory that had developed from eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century practices, such as “British Grenadiers,” “Duke of York’s,” and “Lamplighter’s.” The overwhelming majority, however, do not appear in other fife publications or in oral tradition, and one has to ask, did he compose them? Examination of the Guide itself plus ongoing research so far answers “no.” For example, Emmett was careful to identify the composers of several tunes, ascribing four to “Walch,” two to “Ned” Kendall (the famous bugler who, during their circus days, had improved Emmett’s drumming), and one each to “Jacobs” and Bruce. Emmett claimed authorship of only two tunes, “Dixie” and “Seely Simpkins.” It is not unreasonable, then, to assume that had he composed others they would be similarly noted. Instead, Emmett adopted and at times adapted tunes from the prevailing non-fife repertory, such as the dance “Speed the Plough,” the theater song “Trust to Luck,” and the marches “Downshire” and “Larry O’Brien” (“General Wayne’s March”). “Ethiopian” (minstrel) tunes are represented by selections such as “Sugar in the Gourd” and his own contribution, “Dixie.”
Emmett’s personal touch is obvious throughout the fife section of the Guide. Some of the tune titles reflect his Ohio heritage, such as “Cincinnati,” “Owl Creek” (a stream running through Mount Vernon, Emmett’s birthplace), and “Seely Simpkins” (a colorful local character from Emmett’s youth). Other titles refer to his early musical experiences, such as “Circus Rider,” “Sandy McGregor,” and “Newport” (the latter two referring to Emmett’s army fife instructor and the old Kentucky army barracks). “Miss Brown’s Fancy,” a traditional dance tune, became “Governor’s Island,” memorializing the army’s New York training school for its musicians.
Perhaps the factor that earns the Guide so much praise is its intricate and detailed indications of performance practice. This is evident in both the drum beats and the fife tunes. Bruce indicates specific crescendos, decrescendos, and other dynamics as well as unusual sticking patterns and syncopations in many of the drum beats. Tune embellishments include the usual trills and grace notes in addition to a large number of difficult-to-execute turns. While these in themselves are not innovations (we find turns in handwritten American fife notation as early as 1781), their placement and prevalence here are more indicative of banjo and fiddle performance practices and hence require special skill from the fifer.
The most striking musical changes, however, are those that occurred within the tunes themselves. For example, “Hell on the Wabash” stripped of its grace notes and sixteenth note/rest combinations was recognized by Emmett’s biographer as “The Night We Made the Match,” a traditional Irish air printed some years later in O’Neill’s Music of Ireland (1903). The trills, syncopation, and runs in Emmett’s “Girl I Left Behind Me” leave only the ending phrase of the first strain to remind us of the 1790s origin of the tune. “Fort McHenry Quickstep” (formerly “Virginia March” in The Village Fifer ) underwent similar but less drastic modifications. More remarkable are the changes wrought in “Cuckoo’s Nest,” formerly “The Nightingale” in Patterson’s A New Preceptor for the German Flute (1834). “The Nightingale” is a pleasant, undemanding melody accompanied by an equally pleasant harmony. As “Cuckoo’s Nest,” though, both parts are forged into a single and dramatic melody line. Emmett’s rendition of “Cuckoo’s Nest” requires a great deal of virtuosity from its single performer, more so than the original “Nightingale” does from its duetting musicians.
Other contemporary fife and fife-and-drum books are not quite so descriptive or innovative. They relied on a more familiar traditional repertory, both in style and selection, than did Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide. This tried-and-true formula was essentially a mix of old favorites, some dating from around the Revolution, with a few newer selections culled from the then-current repertory of song, dance, and stage tunes. For example, Col. H.C. Hart advanced a repertory of traditional, minstrel, and popular tunes and beatings that he encountered in his pre-war work as an organizer and instructor of military drum bands. His New and Improved Instructor for the Drum was published at least four times during and shortly after the Civil War. While one of these issues was dedicated solely to the camp duty, the other three concentrated on a traditional repertory that survives nearly intact in Connecticut ancient music today. Tunes that were (or became) longstanding favorites, such as “Downfall of Paris,” “Frog in the Well,” “Old Zip Coon,” and “Le Petit Tambour” (“General Time”) appear in their vernacular forms as do beatings such as “Plain 6/8″ and another subsequently known as “Connecticut Halftime.” Hart advocated the eighteenth-century practice, still followed by ancient-style drummers today, of applying a single drum beat to several tunes, so that, for example, “Rickett’s Hornpipe,” “Guilderoy,” and “Rolling Hornpipe” were all suggested as suitable accompaniments to the same beating used for “Beaux of Oak Hill.” The last, postwar issue of Hart’s book explained the use of bass drums and offered several bass drum beatings, something that other compilers from this period, including Bruce and Emmett, failed to mention at all.
Other period manuals, while not as explicit as Bruce and Emmett’s or as enticing as Hart’s, followed the prescribed model because it worked so well, both for the publisher and the military fifers and drummers who made up their market. Both Elias Howe (Boston) and Septimus Winner (Philadelphia) drew upon their extensive personal knowledge of traditional and modern musical trends when preparing publications for specific woodwinds, brasswinds, and stringed instruments (including the “accordeon” and “clarionet”) as well as for the fife. Others utilized much the same repertory while focusing specifically on the unique needs of military musicians. Thus Keach, Burdett & Cassidy’s Modern Drum School (1861) included such classic fare as “Yankee Doodle” along with the more contemporary “Red, White and Blue” and “Wood-Up Quickstep,” a pattern echoed by Simpson & Canterbury in their Union Drum and Fife Book (1862). Of course, these and other publications by Klinehanse, Leighton, and Nevins as well as Bruce and Emmett, included the more-or-less standard camp duty, so vital to the repertory of the Civil War field musician.
This traditional approach was highly successful–so successful, in fact, that attempts to supplement the established repertory with original compositions were doomed to fail. One such entrepreneur was Boston’s talented Alonzo Draper, whose entirely original Fife Melodies was self-published in 1855. Evidently this effort did not attract much market, although it did catch the eye of the prolific Boston music publisher, Oliver Ditson. Perhaps it was Ditson himself who attempted to improve salability by adding a series of “Lessons”and two pages of camp duties when he re-issued Draper’s collection in 1857 as Fife without a Master. This time Draper was cited as compiler, not composer. However, this venture, too, proved unsuccessful, if surviving evidence has any value. The two Draper imprints exist today in three known copies, and none of his original music survives in any other source, including traditional aural repertory.
Just how widely the Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide was distributed during the Civil War is uncertain. What is certain, however, is its postwar use by ancient fife and drum corps. Specific pieces, especially the camp duty, were adopted by competitive associations as judging standards for their field days and contests. Other selections, including “Army 2/4,” “Downshire” and “Dixie,” were assimilated into the largely traditional repertory of the early ancients and survive to this day. Emmett’s unique version of “Downfall of Paris” ultimately became the non plus ultra of the ancient repertory. These selections notwithstanding, it was the more vernacular music presented in several contemporary manuals (most notably those of Col. Hart ) that likely enjoyed a greater prominence in the repertory of the typical Civil War field musician, simply because the music they contained conformed to and supported the military practices of the time. In short, the average Civil War field musician, subjected to the stress of long marches and hard duty, probably did not have the incentive or stamina dictated by much of the music as written in the Guide. Its more complex fife tunes required a skill level (and sustained breathing patterns) that were not conducive to protracted performance in rough conditions. Only the less complicated of Bruce’s beatings, those that emphasized the downbeat and thus coordinated placement of left foot, and the less-ornamented Emmett tunes would be useful in organizing and moving large groups of men over rutted dirt roads or through unfamiliar territory.
This is not to minimize the significance of the Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide or to suggest that mid-century musicians were not talented enough to perform its music. Rather, the problem lay with the conflict between the Guide’s emphasis on music and the army’s emphasis on function. By necessity, military music at this time was subservient to its function of regulating both the soldier’s workday in camp and his cadence on the march. Here is where musical elegance failed, because march music required a predictably repetitive downbeat, plainly discernible by men with varying degrees of musical sophistication. It was this very important element, however, that was obscured rather than promoted by the highly stylized ornamentation of much of the music in the Guide. More accommodating to these purposes were the neat and orderly marches and quicksteps established during the Revolution and which, by the time of the Civil War, had been indelibly incorporated into the field musician’s repertory with surprisingly few changes.
The more traditional repertory of Civil war musicians was perpetuated after the war. Fueled by a nostalgic secular society that had romanticized the “boys in blue” as saviors of the union, the veteran musicians belonging to such commemorative hereditary groups as the GAR played the old-fashioned music with vigor at local and national encampments, Memorial Day ceremonies, and various political rallies and other events. As the years went by, it continued to be played by their sons and grandsons, who formed hereditary groups of their own. Meanwhile, in Connecticut, a similar repertory had been handed down from father to son ever since the Revolution, resulting in the quasi-military fife and drum corps indigenous to Valley Shore region. These corps, called “ancient” to distinguish them from their modern musical cousins, nonetheless participated with them in field days, conventions, and exhibitions, first in Connecticut and later in New York, where the music of Bruce and Emmett had become standard fare. This intermingling created a demand that kept the heirs of the old Firth and Pond shop busy in the 1880s churning out reissues of Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide to satisfy the new civilian market for the music of Bruce and Emmett, a demand that likely far exceeded that of the original military one.
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Starting at $400 but you can Buy-It-Now for $1K. Actually, not bad for this early maker, it’s got some problems, though:
The Hammond Silver Drum Corps Takes a Trip to Rocky Point
The year 1953 heralded a new era of Ancient history when, thanks to the pioneering efforts of Ed Olsen and Carl Emmanuelson, the Deep River Drum Corps hosted the first ancient muster. At the event they conceptualized, music would be the feature of the day and “no trophies, no prizes, and no unkind words” would be tolerated. And, with 10 corps in attendance, the first Ancient muster was indeed a grand success. But was DRAM 1953 the first of its kind? One candidate for that honor might be the long-defunct Hammond Silver Drum Corps of Rockville, CT. Their 1878 excursion to Rocky Point, Rhode Island was an event that offered neither prize-winning contests nor the ill will they could sometimes produce but instead featured a parade, libations, stand pieces, a commemorative button, and many other characteristics of our now well-established practice of Ancient mustering.
The Hammond Silver Drum Corps began in the late 1860s with Joe C. Hammond, a leading citizen of Rockville, Connecticut. With Joe on fife, wife Catherine on bass drum, and their two sons on snares, the family entertained their friends and neighbors with patriotic music whenever the occasional arose. At first they played informally, sometimes as the Elm Street Drum Corps and at least once as the Lilliputian Drum Corps, no doubt in deference to the youthful snare line consisting of 12-year-old Willie and 9-year-old Charles. By 1876, however, Joe was busy with another group, the Veteran Field Music of Tolland County, and the Hammond Silver Drum Corps officially became a junior (“juvenile”) corps.
It was at the great Jubilee held in Rockville in 1877 that a trip to the Rocky Point was discussed. At that time the Hammond corps consisted of 10 boys led by the well-known William Nelson. Among their duties that day was greeting the visiting corps at the train station as they arrived to participate in the festivities. Moodus won the prize that day for best drumming, a silk banner made by the ladies of Rockville, but the performances by all the corps, including Hammond’s, were impressive. By day’s end, all agreed that another event should be held the following year, and the date was set for Friday, August 30, 1878, at the Rocky Point amusement park, Rhode Island’s premier tourist attraction. The Hammond corps made plans to be there, too.
Several newspapers memorialized the Rocky Point affair, including The Rockville Journal and The Providence Evening Press. Undeterred by the 4-hour train ride to Providence, the Connecticut contingent filled 19 cars with musicians, spectators, and newspaper reporters, some of whom sported what might be considered the first “muster button” in the form of a wooden nutmeg set off with a red ribbon, “an emblem of times past,” according to one reporter. The trip was completed by steamer, which brought them from Providence to Rocky Point. Following a dinner of Rhode Island clams (a Rocky Point specialty) and fueled by an enthusiastic throng of onlookers, the corps paraded to the bandstand where the festivities commenced in earnest.
The stand pieces began with the Tolland County Veterans, who received “hearty applause” for their efforts. They were followed by the “excellent music” of Suffield’s Remington Drum Band. Next, the Tunxis Valley Band played with “much spirit and vigor,” followed by the well-known and much-admired “gentleman drummers of Moodus,” who were “handsomely attired in red jackets barred with white.” The Mansfield Drum Corps played “creditably,” given that they were “a country band and have not the opportunity for practice which city bands have.” Polite encouragement returned to enthusiastic applause with the “the careful practice and confidence” exhibited by the St. James Band of Manchester.
It seems the best performances were saved for last. The Hammond Silver Drum Corps “played with self possession and vigor, and were very heartily applauded.” Next came the G.L. Belden [Bolden] Drum Corps of Hartford, “composed of colored youths” whose expert drummers would grow into adulthood and dominate the competition circuit. Last but far from least was Steele’s Independent Fife and Drum Corps, also from Hartford. We are told by the observers that this “very excellent band had some of the best performers in the State including Joseph Heck.” Two years earlier, it was Heck, “the boss fifer of Connecticut,” who had won the coveted gold-tipped fife as “Best Fifer” at a contest held in Rockville.True to a tradition that cannot be improved, the festivities concluded with—what else—a jollification. It was reported that the music, which had kept up until the steamers arrived, continued for the entire 45-minute boat trip back to Providence. While one reporter feared that “to those whose nerves were weak, the noise must have been very annoying” another worried not a bit. Speaking of the Hammond Silver Drum Corps specifically, his words might have applied to all. “The boys found admirers wherever they had listeners,” he bragged, “nor were the words of praise in any sense unworthily bestowed.
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