Book Review: Field Music Revisited, Ten Years in the Ranks and Drum Taps in Dixie

Delevan S. Miller, author of Drum Taps in Dixie (1905)  Fontispiece, "A Wartime Photograph."  Author's collection.

Delevan S. Miller, author of Drum Taps in Dixie (1905) Frontispiece, “A Wartime Photograph.” Author’s collection.

Although contemporary first-person accounts are preferred over memoirs when it comes to accuracy, detail, and reliability, Ten Years in the Ranks U.S. Army and Drum Taps in Dixie are two candidates for the exception to this rule.  The authors, Augustus Meyers and Delavan Miller respectively, penned their memoirs early in the twentieth century, when leaders of the Grand Army of the Republic thought it wise to preserve memories of the Civil War by encouraging veterans to publish them.  Miller, himself a G.A.R. official who had served in the New York Second Heavy Artillery, was 55 when he authored Drum Taps in 1904.  He also wrote A Drum’s Story and Other Tales (1909), a lesser-known series of anecdotes that, while interesting, lack the charm of his earlier work.  Meyers’ Civil War experiences were predated by several years of service on the western frontier, but the most fascinating part of the story he told in Ten Years (1914) is of his antebellum training at the army’s music school on Governor’s Island.  He wrote about this at age 72, some 60 years after the fact, but did so with amazing clarity nonetheless.

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Augustus Meyers, author of Ten Years in the Ranks (1914).  Image taken in 1856 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Augustus_civil1 _war_02_001.jpg

The appeal of both Ten Years and Drum Taps arises from the candid recounting of what it was like for a couple of boys from New York to train for and serve in the Yankee army — not so much as fighting men but as musicians.  Because of their youth (they were just over 12 years old), both Meyers and Miller ended up in the field music.  Since fifers and drummers seldom saw actual field service (they had “nothing to shoot back with,” Drum Taps p. 83), musicians were seldom on the field, although there was the occasional “fight in which it was all “front” and no chance for the musicians to get to the rear”(Drum Taps, p. 142).  In any event, immediately upon enlisting Meyers was directed to the music school:

We reported to Sergeant Hanke, who was in charge of all the non-commissioned offices and music boys in that battery. . .Sergeant Hanke, after looking me over, asked whether I desired to be a drummer or a fifer. When I expressed a preference for the former, he made some remarks about my slim and very youthful appearance and advised me to think it over for a day or two (Ten Years, p. 1).

This proved to be sage advice:

I watched the boys practicing and noted how difficult it seemed to be for some to hold the drum-sticks properly and beat the first exercise, called “Mammy-Daddy,” without hitting the rim of the drum as often as the drum-head, which would bring down upon them a reprimand from the instructor or in some cases a rap across the knuckles of some persistently awkward boy. When I took note of the exceeding large and heavy drums used in the service at that time, which the drummers were obliged to carry, I resolved to become a fifer. . . (Ten Years, p. 6).

 

The training Meyers received utilized both note reading (he reports struggling to “understand the meaning of the notes in my music book”) as well as rote learning.  He found that Sergeant Henke

had a habit of taking a boy’s fife out of his hands and playing part of the piece for him to show him how it should be done. As he was an inveterate tobacco-chewer this was very disagreeable. Wiping the fife on the sleeve of the jacket did not remove the strong odor. In my case I used soap and water as soon as I had the opportunity to do so (Ten Years, p. 11).

GovIsl_and_fort_NY_Harbour_1865-600x375

accessed from http://www.nationalcivilwar brassmusic.org/GovernorsIsland.html

Otherwise, Meyers remembered his instructor fondly, “He often listened painstakingly to our complaints and forgave us for many minor transgressions,” such as when he noticed “a pipe stem protruding between the buttons of [Meyers’s] jacket” (Ten Years, pp. 11, 14).  He had no such memories, unfortunately, of Michael “Daddy” Moore, the drum instructor:

I once threw a basin full of dirty water out of a window and inadvertently dashed it over Sergeant Moore, who was passing. He saw me and immediately got his rattan and gave me a good whipping (Ten Years, p. 14).

 

Miller, too, was destined for the field music.  His enlistment in New York’s Second Heavy occurred at a pivotal time:

. . .only one company [had] got their guns and horses when it was decided that no more light batteries were wanted.  So the balance of the regiment was turned into heavy artillery (heavy infantry). This change called for fifers and drummers. . . (Drum Taps, p. 19).

from Drum Taps in Dixie (Author's collection)

Illustration of the drum corps of NY 2nd Heavy, from Drum Taps in Dixie (Author’s Collection)

Miller “was the first drummer the regiment had” and recalled with pride how his drum was “a present from the officers at Forth Worth” (Drum Taps, p. 19).

Evidently Miller was already a proficient drummer, since his first assignment, participating in dress parade, occurred the day after he received his instrument.  Not so for Meyers, however.  His first dress parade was still weeks away while he toiled with the other “music boys” at the Island in learning the basics:

I was handed a “B” fife, the kind that was used at that time, and was shown how to hold it and place my fingers over the holes and my lips over the embouchure. I found it difficult to make a sound at first, but after a time I managed to produce some noise. I struggled with the gamut for a week or more and spent another in trying to play a bar or two of music correctly. After that I got along faster and commenced to learn some of the more simple calls and to understand the meaning of the notes in my music book. . .after about two months I had made sufficient progress to take my part in playing the reveille, retreat and tattoo. After that, I learned to play marches and other pieces  (Ten Years, p. 11).

 

Both authors recounted the particulars of their military service, which extended beyond learning and playing music.  Meyers’s 10-year career began in 1854 with his assignment to Carlisle Barracks.  This was followed by several stints at various forts on the western frontier before the outbreak of the Civil War forced his unit’s return to the east.  They were attached to the Army of the Potomac, where Meyers set aside his fife to serve in the commissary department.  He described either witnessing or participating in a number of battles including the bloody Seven Days of the Peninsula Campaign.  One instance in particular “made such an impression. . .that I had no difficulty in recognizing it many years afterward when I revisited the scene.”  We can almost feel his terror as he recalled that day.

I noticed a great cloud of dust which seemed to be approaching, and when it neared the gap I could make out that there were horses, but was not sure whether it was cavalry or artillery. . . My doubts about this were dispelled in a few minutes when I saw a sudden puff of smoke and heard the familiar sound of a shell passing over our heads.  We heard the command to lie down and obeyed it promptly. . . Each time I heard the scream of a shell coming our way, I hugged the ground so close that I broke the crystal and hands of an open-faced watch which I carried in my pocket. . . (Ten Years, pp. 228-229).

Miller’s record with the Second Heavy is less clear as he wrote in a more random, spontaneous fashion.  His story is admittedly anecdotal (“[m]emory awakened furnished material. . .each article recalling faces, forms, scenes and incidents from out of the misty past” Drum Taps, p. vi).  He remained a musician throughout his service with Grant’s army at Fredericksburg (1862), Cold Harbor (1864), and during the Petersburg siege (1864-65).  The carnage of war so clearly described by Meyers is sometimes lost, since Miller recalled soldiering as a secondary duty.  He was, first and foremost, a musician.

. . .my precious drum was put out of action by a piece of a rebel shell at Bull Run and was among the trophies gathered up by the Confederates in the stampede that followed.  Its loss I regretted exceedingly, for its equal in tone and other good qualities I never tapped the sticks to again.  It was a beauty, too, and was my first drum (Drum Taps, p. 20).

 

Card found in Author's copy of A Drum's Tale and Other Stories (1909).

Card found in Author’s copy of A Drum’s Tale and Other Stories (1909).

These memoirs are important for several reasons.  The historian can rely upon them because so much of what the authors remembered is confirmed by genealogy, military records, and published chronologies.  Additionally, both the academic and amateur scholar of historic military studies, especially those interested in field music, will find an accounting of just how the fifes, drums, and those who played them related to the overall function of the mid-nineteenth century army, proving how closely the dictates of the period military manuals were followed — or not.  Using standard music bibliographies, they can prove that tunes cited by Miller, such as “Yankee Doodle,” “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” “Rory O’More,” and “The Campbells Are Coming,” remain part and parcel of the Ancient core repertory. It is perhaps these latter interests that resulted in both Drum Taps and Ten Years being reissued by modern presses long after they had been out of print.

What this writer found most important, though, is their empiricism.  The authors clearly define an additional, emotional connection to the music.  This is not something that can be easily detected, much less verified, in other historical sources, and it takes a close reading of both Drum Taps and Ten Years to discover it as an underlying theme. It is more obvious perhaps in Miller’s work — it is, in this writer’s opinion, what makes Drum Taps so charismatic.  Both Miller and Meyers internalized the music they played, making it a part of their own personal identity.  Because other fifers and drummers did the same, the field music was more than a functional military necessity; it was also a social community, binding its members together with an affinity for the music that rose above its physical nature and thereby enabled its survival long after it had been deemed old-fashioned by others.  A like assimilation occurs with Ancient fifers and drummers; maybe that is why so many remain in the community lifelong.  It also accounts for why the core repertory, although old, is never stale.  It is a bit surprising to discover, via Meyers and Miller, that this identity was not created by the Ancients but was inherited by them.

 

Souvenir pinback from G.A.R. convention held in Buffalo, NY (1892).  For sale by Military Antiques and Memorabilia, September 7, 2014, http://www.milantique.com/misc%20GAR1.htm

Souvenir pinback from G.A.R. convention held in Buffalo, NY (1892). For sale by Military Antiques and Memorabilia, September 7, 2014, http://www.milantique.com/misc%20GAR1.htm

This phenomenon might be partly explained by the power that music attains from its emotional baggage.  Briefly, “emotional baggage” is what the late music historian Arthur Schrader identified as “a nonmusical factor in our perception of songs or melodies that consciously or unconsciously affects our thinking and rhetoric about them.”[2]  Certainly Miller recognized the intensely patriotic baggage carried by the old military music when he declared, “there is nothing like martial music of the good old-fashioned kind, such as inspired the continental heroes at Lexington, Yorktown and Bunker Hill, and rallied the boys of ’61, and later led them in all the marches through the South” (Drum Taps, p. 23).  Emotional baggage is what makes parade-goers “go wild” whenever the Ancients play “Yankee Doodle” while marching up Monument Street in Boston toward the Bunker Hill Memorial on the Fourth of July, much as the old veterans did when they heard it played by a continental-styled drum corps at the 1892 G.A.R. convention (Drum Taps, p. 24)

Drum Corps Family (and Friend) at Deep River Ancient Muster, 2012.  Author's Collection.

Drum Corps Family (and Friend) at Deep River Ancient Muster, 2012. Author’s Collection.

Emotional baggage notwithstanding, there are other ways that Ancients “feel” the music just as Miller and Meyers did.  Much of this is an unconscious process that is seldom articulated, only sensed.  However, it is the reason Ancients plan weddings and vacations so as not to interfere with muster season.  It explains the communal satisfaction of playing music together, which allows for friendships to develop while new players improve their skills and more experienced players indulge in theirs.  It also explains the muster etiquette that demands, as a mark of respect, no spontaneous playing while others are “on stand” and mandates enthusiastic applause for both the experienced player and the newbie, simply because both are fellow Ancients who deserve accolades for doing what they can to perpetuate the craft.  It is why Ancients preface their signatures with the phrase, “In the Ancient Spirit.”

"My drummer was a tall, haggard man with a sallow face.  I was still a few inches short of attaining five feet, and when my tall drummer and I marched at the head of our company we were called the "long and the short of it," which greatly annoyed me. . . (p. 38).  Apparently the old joke stuck around for many years, judging from this whimsical postcard dated 1905.  Author's Collection.

“My drummer was a tall, haggard man with a sallow face. I was still a few inches short of attaining five feet, and when my tall drummer and I marched at the head of the company we were called the “long and the short of it,” which greatly annoyed me. . . (Ten Years, p. 38). Apparently the old joke stuck around for many years, judging from this whimsical postcard dated 1905. Author’s Collection.

 

Meyers demonstrates this kind of feeling but with subtle understatement.  He laments that his first companion was not “a drummer-boy of about my own age, with whom I could chum” (Ten Years, p. 38).  Worse, he could hardly hope to enjoy sharing music with him since “he was not a very good drummer, and would not take the trouble to learn any new and fancy pieces” (ibid.).  Like the Ancient who suspends his-or-her own musical interests in favor of playing pieces that all can enjoy, Meyers’ drumming companion forced him to “content myself with the old repertoire” (Ten Years, p. 39).  Later, while serving on the frontier, Meyers found other ways to share music with others of like abilities, such as when he

. . . bought a flute from a member of the band, and took lessons from him. As I understood something about music and played on the fife, I made rapid progress on the flute and had become a fair player when Lieutenant Curtis asked me to come to his lonely cabin and play duets with him. He was an excellent player, and had a lot of music books. . .[and oftentimes] we played music until tattoo. . . (Ten Years, pp. 101-102).

The East Hampton Ancients, [ca. 1922?]  Author's Collection.

The East Hampton Ancients, [ca. 1922?] Author’s Collection.

Meyers also encountered what would become an Ancient custom — but in reverse. He relished how, as a fifer, he called the musical shots, since “the fifer was considered to [out]rank the drummer and in the absence of special instructions could order the drummer to play such tunes or marches as he chose” (Ten Years, p. 38).  This would change in Ancient practice, as tune control was, in the absence of the drum major, relegated to the drummer, who now was considered to outrank the fifer.  So it was that the fifers remained silent while old Ed Palmer, drummer and then drum major of Connecticut’s East Hampton Ancients called the tunes, something he was overheard to do at a field day in 1946 in his inimical, “swamp Yankee” way:

Drummahs play Golden Slippahs, Fifahs play whut ye hev a mind to.[3]

 

Miller was much more ebullient than Meyers in his recollections, perhaps feeling the musical emotional connection more keenly.  His fondness for the old-fashioned military drum corps of his youth jaded his later view of anything contemporary:

 Martial music seems to have gone out of fashion in these up-to-date days, and what little there is, is but a poor apology, with the bugle blasts interjected between the rub-a-dub-dubs of the drummers who hardly know their a b c’s about snare drumming (Drum Taps, p. 23).

Perhaps what was missing was as much psychological as it was musical:

[R]ight here it may be proper to say that an old army drum corps in the sixties could make music.  A boy would not “pass muster” in those days unless he could do the double and single drag with variations, execute the “long roll,” imitate the rattle of musketry, besides various other accomplishments with the sticks.  And when a dozen or more of the lads, with their caps set saucily on the sides of their heads, led a regiment in a review with their get-out-of-the-way-Old-Dan-Tuckerish style of music, it made the men in the ranks step off as though they were bound for Donnybrook fair or some other pleasure excursion (Drum Taps, p. 19).

Miller, too, experienced a musical custom that was destined for the Ancient community:

The first two years of the war we were brigaded with a certain Massachusetts regiment…Their drum corps was a good one, too, but of course the boys of the Second New York thought they were a little better than the Bay State fellows, consequently quite a little rivalry existed between the organizations, and when the regiments were out for a review or brigade drill the stalwart drummers from down East would always try to drown out the lads of the Second Heavy (Drum Taps, p. 26).

Camp Grant, Portland [ME] G.A.R. Convention, 1885.  Accessed from https://www.mainememory.net/sitebuilder/site/1937/page/3186/display?use_mmn=1

Camp Grant, Portland [ME] G.A.R. Convention, 1885. Accessed from https://www.mainememory.net/sitebuilder/site/1937/page/3186/display?use_mmn=1

What the Massachusetts men were doing became, in Ancient parlance, “bearing on.”  The purpose of bearing on was to play with enough vigor and volume to confuse the target corps until their music became disorganized, forcing them to stop.  Bearing on continued in Ancient practice until at least 1885, when one newspaper reported an incident that occurred between the Moodus Drum and Fife Corps and the Portland Regimental Band, both of whom had attended a G.A.R. event in Maine.  “The keen rivalry [that] existed between each organization” resulted in a contest from which only a skilled and enthusiastic Ancient drummer could emerge triumphant:

It was considered great sport to attempt to drown out all other opposition bands or drum corps.  The Moodus Corps were overwhelmingly victorious upon this occasion.  It appears that the Portland Regimental Band was playing before General Headquarters as the Moodus Corps arrived and marched alongside of them.  With their big powerful instruments the Moodus Corps were so dominant that the Portland Band was unable to hear themselves play.[4]

The losers did not take their “derision and defeat” lightly.  They protested with “one blast with their horns in the ears of the Moodus players” before breaking ranks.[5]

The antique drums (and drummers!) of the Moodus Drum and Fife Corps, 2009 (Author's Collection).

The antique drums (and drummers!) of the Moodus Drum and Fife Corps, 2009 (Author’s Collection).

The Moodus Drum and Fife Corps continue to carry the “big powerful instruments” that they did in both 1885 and 1935, when the incident was reported.  Nearly all of these, which date between 1818 and 1846, were produced by the Brown family of Bloomfield, Connecticut.  They are “square” drums; that is, their width equals or nearly equals their length, and are perfect for performing in the thunderous, slow-tempoed manner that was once common throughout New England but is now uniquely preserved by Moodus drummers.  Miller referred to this style as “chunks of pudding and pieces of pie” but attributed it to age, not region:

[The Massachusetts regimental drum corps] were all full grown men while our drum corps was made up of boys all under eighteen years of age.  Their music was always of the “When the Springtime Comes, Gentle Annie,” and “Chunks of Pudding and Pieces of Pie,” style, played in 6/8 time, just suited to the stalwart men in their ranks; while ours was more of the “Rory OMore,” “Garry Owen,” and “Get-out-of-the-way-Old-Dan-Tucker” sort, which we played 2-4 time, better adapted to the quick-stepping New Yorkers behind us (Drum Taps, p. 26).

At the time of this writing, an online search yielded no findings for Ten Years and only two copies of Drum Taps in original issue.  However, inexpensive modern reprints were located in quantity.   Drum Taps in Dixie is also available through several online book sites, including the Smithsonian (https://archive.org/details/drumtapsindixiem01mill) and The Gutenberg Project (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/41608/41608-h/41608-h.htm/0, as is Ten Years in the Ranks U.S. Army (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/45949 and https://archive.org/details/tenyearsinranksu00meyerich).

[1] Augustus Meyers, Ten Years in the Ranks U. S. Army.  New York:  The Stirling Press, 1914.  Hereinafter Ten Years.  Delavan S. Miller, Drum Taps in Dixie.  Watertown [NY]:  Hungerford-Holbrook Co., 1905.  Hereinafter Drum Taps.
[2]Arthur Schrader, “Emotional Baggage and Two National Anthems,” The Bulletin of the Society of American Music Founded in Honor of Oscar G.T. Sonneck.  Vol 28, No 2, Spring 2002, p.17.
[3] Edmond Palmer, “Interview with Ed Palmer,” Edward Olsen, ed.  Collected September 24, 1952.
[4] “New England Traditions Fostered by Village Drum Corps.”  New Haven Register, September 17, 1935.
[5] Ibid.

 

Copyright, History of the Ancient, 2014.  All rights reserved.

Dry Drum Corps

Socialist DCThe apolitical nature of drum corps is taken for granted today, but that has not always been the case.  Consider such corps as the Socialist Drum Corps of Syracuse (another was located in Newark) and the New Departure corps of Bristol [CT].  Other corps had a distinct political identity even without a suggestive name, such as the GAR fife and drum corps.  Their music assisted their parent organization, which was formed originally as a Grant club, as they lobbied for a variety of veterans’ causes.

Another Grant club, the Boys in Blue, preceeded the GAR.

Another Grant club, the Boys in Blue, preceeded the GAR.

Perhaps the most benign of the politically oriented drum corps were the Father Mathew TAB corps.  “Father Mathew” was an Irish priest (Theobold Mathew, b. October 10, 1790, d. December 8, 1856) who advocated total abstinence from strong drink.

father mathewAbstinence, according to Father Mathew, was a matter of will, and he urged his followers to take “The Pledge,” which promised a lifetime of freedom from the evils of alcohol.  Ireland experienced the power of Father Mathew’s teachings when crime rates dropped and breweries and distilleries closed as more and more “total abstinence societies” were established.

Band of HopeIn 1849 Father Mathew brought his message to the United States, resulting in the growth of temperance societies nationwide and the eventual founding of the Knights of Father Mathew.  In 1895, the Knights had become affiliated with the Catholic Total Abstinence Union, and the old total abstinence societies were now temperance and benevolence societies.  As their name implies, the TABs performed many charitable works, but in Connecticut some TABs also sponsored drum corps, a wholesome activity for the abstinent juvenile.

At least 15 TAB corps were organized between 1886 and 1938 in 13 Connecticut towns.  They all participated at one time or another in the contests sponsored by the Connecticut Fifers and Drummers Association (founded 1885), in either the modern class or the fife, drum, and bugle class.  None of the TABs were known to play Ancient style, and none competed as Ancients.  Notable among them were St. Paul’s of Kensington, the Father Mathew corps of Hartford, and the Young Men’s Temperance and Benevolence Corps of New Britain.

TAB corps 064St. Paul’s was organized in 1909.  The corps was a frequent winner in CF&D contests.  Two offshoot corps, the St. Paul’s Juniors and the St. Paul’s Freshmen, were established in 1957 and 1959 respectively, and in 1956 St. Paul’s took the unusual step of admitting women to its senior corps.  The corps was still competing in 1960.  Its last member passed away in 2010 at the age of 93.

TAB corps 003

Taught by Jimmy Ryan, the “ace fifer” in the Father Mathew Cadets of Hartford. OLS later competed against the FMC in the local contest circuit.

Hartford’s Father Mathew Cadets won their first trophy in 1887, heralding 50-plus years of award-winning performances.  In 1928 Jimmy Ryan, “an ace fifer” with Father Mathew, was recruited to teach the fledgling Our Lady of Sorrows, whose cadets earned a fair number of trophies beginning in 1931.

YMTAB Hall NBJPGLittle is known about the Young Men’s Temperance and Benevolence Drum Corps of New Britain.  They maintained a stellar record of performances in CF&DA contests, spanning a 36-year period beginning in 1901 and continued beyond that date as a contributing member of the CF&DA.

Copyright, History of the Ancients Dot Org, December 2013.

Priceless treasure? or piece of trash?

you decide:

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Look through the grunge at the tone holes.

A closer view shows that these are Cloos-style tone holes.

A closer view shows that these are Cloos-style.

 

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Machined ferrule of nickel silver (don’t be fooled by the splits — these are not a burnished seam).

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Would be pretty hard getting this fife into playing condition…or even display condition…

I guess you know my decision, but I’d like to know yours.  Treasure or trash?

Photos courtesy of ebay seller, NQAC.  To see all photos plus the seller’s text, please visit http://www.ebay.com/itm/RARE-Colonial-Era-Wooden-Flute-Fife-NOT-Reproduction-Museum-Piece-/121203155223?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item1c38456117

Moodus Muster, 2013

The best muster EVER!!!!  Weather was wonderful, friends were fantastic, libations were liberal, music was marvelous, jollification was truly AMAZING!  For the first time in a long time I saw real muster etiquette — people calling out tunes rather than bullying their way through them, none of those let’s-practice-our-corps-medley-here-at-the-jam intrusions, lively tempo, and a true feeling of camaraderie that was much welcomed. That’s they way I remember jollifications!

The only regret I have is that there wasn’t MORE MOODUS!  Not that we didn’t beg, plead, and nag them, but I guess they kind of had a good excuse, being busy running the party and all. . .

The corps performances were outstanding — just enough corps to keep you enthralled for the entire afternoon and the standpieces really made you wish they would play maybe just one more tune:

This is the most Mooduses (Moodae? Moodi?) I have ever seen assembled in one place...you should've heard them!

Never saw so many Mooduses (Moodae? Moodi?) assembled in one place…you should’ve heard them!

Brown drums were in abundance.

Brown drums were in abundance.

"I don't wanna work, I just wanna bang on de drum all day..."

“I don’t wanna work, I just wanna bang on de drum all day…”

Don't know what was more awesome, the Irish medley that Westbrook played on stand or the 92? 95?-year-old Lee Zuidema belting it out on the fife. . .

Don’t know what was more awesome, the Irish medley that Westbrook played on stand or the 92? 95?-year-old Lee Zuidema belting it out on the fife. . .

Kentish Guards...reminding us that old standards never get old when they are well played...

Kentish Guards…reminding us that old standards never get old when they are well played…

It's the Adamsville Ancients!  No foolin'!

It’s the Adamsville Ancients! No foolin’!

The best thing about musters?  You can invite ALL your friends, no matter what they play...

The best thing about musters? You can invite ALL your friends, no matter what they play…

...because who could resist this face...

…because who could resist this face…

...or this one!

…or this one!

Olde Toga...who host a pretty nice muster of their own in Kinderhook, NY...

Olde Toga…who host a pretty nice muster of their own in Kinderhook, NY…

Warehouse Point Fifes and Drums...they get better and better every time I see them (and they were pretty darn good to begin with!)

Warehouse Point Fifes and Drums…they get better and better every time I see them (and they were pretty darn good to begin with!)

Deep River Juniors and Seniors making the ground shake...

Deep River Juniors and Seniors making the ground shake…

Sailing Masters of 1812...whose "Sailing Masters Quickstep" is an old Valley tune called "No Mistake." Which is exactly how they performed it.

Sailing Masters of 1812…whose “Sailing Masters Quickstep” is an old Valley tune called “No Mistake.” Which is exactly how they performed it.

Chester Drum Corps, 145 years old...sure beats (snicker) the Energizer Bunny!

Chester Drum Corps, 145 years old…sure beats (snicker) the Energizer Bunny!

They HAVE no last name, they're just June 'n Frenchy.   In fact, they've been June 'n Frenchy just about forever...

Address all mail to June ‘n Frenchy.  They have no last name, they’re just June ‘n Frenchy.

Stony Creek...still restricting 50% of their potential membership simply because of the location of the plumbing...maybe someone should tell them that inside plumbing is an improvement over the old outside stuff...

Stony Creek…still restricting 50% of their potential membership simply because of the location of the plumbing…maybe someone should tell them that inside plumbing is an improvement over the outside stuff…

Watering the kids...not a really bad job when you are with the Windsor kids!

Watering the kids…not a really bad job when you are with the Windsor kids!

Ameri-Clique...a/k/a The Swiss Chefs...or, to us old-timers, Young Dr. Kildare...

Ameri-Clique…a/k/a The Swiss Chefs…or, to us old-timers, Young Dr. Kildare…only kidding, folks!

Milford Volunteers...with more D'Amico's per square foot than any other place on earth...

Milford Volunteers…with more D’Amico’s per square inch than any other place on earth…

Another good reason to attend the Moodus Muster...the Higganum-Haddam Fifes and Drums...

Another good reason to attend the Moodus Muster…the Higganum-Haddam Fifes and Drums…

Leading CVFM in grand style -- General Newsense and Half-A-Mike!!!

Leading CVFM in grand style — General Newsense and Half-A-Mike!!!

"...the overall effect was less one of watching perfection than of watching folk musicians having a very good time playing well." (pp. 75-76)  Right, Dr. Jim?

“…the overall effect was less one of watching perfection than of watching folk musicians having a very good time playing well.” (pp. 75-76) Right, Dr. Jim?

Black River Ancients, the only drum corps whose friends have super powers...

Black River Ancients, the only drum corps whose friends have super powers…

MIA, through no fault of their own (had to change the batteries in the camera):

  • The Lancraft Fife and Drum Corps, who did their usual fine performance ending with the Rudimenter.
  • A contingent of Ancient Mariners, who didn’t march the parade but formed a pick-up corps for the stand…nice to see Neil-The-Lazy-Drummer in line, though, instead of goofing off in the color guard
  • The Colchester Continentals, who deserve special mention:  This corps  is comprised of ex-Marlborough Juniors, all grown up.   Every time I see them on the street, I am struck by how admirably (and easily!) they prove “the juniors are our future.”  You don’t have to do stick-wheels or play fancy tunes once a summer to be “our future.”  You don’t have to dominate the muster field with large numbers.  You don’t have to resurrect music from corps long gone.  You don’t even need a special T-shirt!.  All you have to do is continue doing what you’ve done every summer since you were nine to the best of your ability with a smile on your face and a tune in your fife (and drum), and then share it with others — THAT is our future!   Thanks, ex-kids!!!!

If I left anybody else out it’s only because I made the 14-hour round trip in one day and am working on two hours of sleep. . . most of it obtained while driving on the Thruway. . .

I think the best part of the day was when someone discovered their three-year-old was missing.  An emergency announcement, stopped the Mariners in mid-selection while everyone looked for the little girl.  The fact that a dense woods ringed the field made us all look that much harder, and within minutes the little girl was found and returned to her worried parents, and the standpiece picked up just where it had left off.  Way to go, Ancients!

P.S.  All that mustering wreaked havoc with local traffic, causing widespread delays:

It was only three cars, but the problem was one of them stalled.  Thankfully, the driver was prepared and got the thing going after just a few turns.

It was only three cars, but the problem was one of them stalled. Thankfully, the driver was prepared and got the thing going after just a few turns.

No cows were injured during the course of this muster.

No cows were injured during the course of this muster.

Did you say “$14,800″??? or am I on drugs?

Except as noted, all images courtesy of ebay seller amose123.  The images and the seller’s descriptions are available at the URL listed below and were accessed by the author on  07/24/13.   The images on this site will enlarge by double-clicking on them.

When is a fife worth $14,800?  Damned if I know.  But I do know when it ain’t.

The seller makes a good argument to support his asking price.  His description paraphrases (but does not acknowledge) a substantial passage from William Waterhouse, ed., The New Langwill Index (London, 1993), which is where just about anyone researching historical woodwinds begins to search:

“Thomas Stanesby Jr. was apprenticed to his father in 1706 and set up his own establishment over the Temple Exchange in Fleet Street near St Dunstan-in-the-West soon after being released from his indenture in 1713. In 1728 he received the Freedom of the Turner’s Company and in 1739 he was elected Master. In 1734 he inherited all his father’s tools and a seal ring. He eventually took two apprentices, William Sheridan 1737 and Caleb Gedney in 1741, who finished his apprenticeship in 1750 and inherited the tools of his Master upon his death in 1754. About 1732 Stanesby, sensing the impending eclipse of the recorder in professional music circles, issued A New System of the Flute a Bec or Common English Flute wherein he argued vigorously for the use of the ‘C Flute’ (tenor recorder in C) and presented a ‘full and perfect’ fingering chart. The demand for the transverse flute increased, however, and Stanesby made a considerable number of these. Halfpenny wrote that Stanesby signed himself ‘junior’ only up to 1732. He marked his instruments ‘STANESBY IUNIOR’ or ‘STANESBY LONDON'; the mark ‘MURAEUS’ is added to the only surviving bassoon, which is dated 1747 (it was possibly repaired by the maker of that name). Other surviving instruments include 38 flutes (of which 25 are ivory), two flutes d’amore, 16 recorders, five oboes and a bassoon.”

(from http://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-Original-Antique-Thomas-Stanesby-Junior-Jr-Flute-Fife-Revolutionary-War-/281139463742?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item417537c63e, accessed July 24, 2013.)

Quite convincing — until you consider a few facts beyond the scope of Langwill:

In the 18th century, the fife was a military signal instrument.  The London woodwind makers, whose specialty lay in flutes, clarinets, bassoons, oboes, and the like, made fifes as a sideline primarily to fulfill military contracts.  However, the British military had been using (and buying) oboes, not fifes, for the field music since at least 1685 and maybe even earlier (Raoul F. Camus, Military Music of the American Revolution, Chapel Hill, 1976).  This practice extended far beyond “the 1730s,” since the fife “was not restored till about the year 1745, when the Duke of Cumberland introduced it into the guards; it was not, however, adopted in the marching regiments til the year 1747,” this according to Francis Grose (Military Antiquities, London, 1788).  Even so, reinstitution of the fife into the field music was not widespread until a decade later, when the London publishers responded to the market demand for instruction books to aid the military fifer in his new-found craft.  What all this means is that any London woodwind maker, including both Stanesbys, Senior and Junior, would have wasted his time making fifes in “1732” or at any other time in “the 1730s,” simply because no one was interested in buying them.  And they would have to be unusually clairvoyant to make them in anticipation of a war that wouldn’t begin for another 40-plus years, as the seller’s title suggests.

Equally important is what the seller failed to note while reading Langwill; to wit, the wording on a trade card preserved in the British Library, which reads in part:

N.B.  Whereas Instruments are sold about the Town pretended to be made by Persons who have work’d under my Father or Me, which is an Imposition on the Publick, for my Father, or Self, never taught, or employ’d any other Person, in the finishing part of any Instrument whatsoever…”

Indeed, Stanesby’s fears of counterfeit instruments bearing his mark were well-founded, since spurious instruments survive to this day.  Two of these are cited in Langwill, but doubtless there are others — including this one, which could have been made as recently as, oh, I’d say yesterday, judging by the fact that it is plastic:

Image courtesy of Magic1Seller, http://www.ebay.com/itm/Stanesby-Junior-Soprano-Zen-on-Japan-Flute-Case-/221258509420?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item338408ec6c, accessed 07/24/13.

Note the “Stanesby Junior” mark on the head joint.  Image courtesy of Magic1Seller, http://www.ebay.com/itm/Stanesby-Junior-Soprano-Zen-on-Japan-Flute-Case-/221258509420?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item338408ec6c, accessed 07/24/13.

Or this one, each joint of which is marked STANESBY / JUNIOR but which the seller states is “new:”

Interested?  Yours for the small sum of $920.48!  Image courtesy of music_technology,  http://www.ebay.com/itm/Aulos-1716F-Baroque-Flute-Stanesby-Jr-AF3-/281121003074?pt=UK_Woodwind_Instruments&hash=item41741e1642

Interested? Yours for the small sum of $920.48! Image courtesy of music_technology, http://www.ebay.com/itm/Aulos-1716F-Baroque-Flute-Stanesby-Jr-AF3-/281121003074?pt=UK_Woodwind_Instruments&hash=item41741e1642, accessed July 24, 2013.

In any event, given all of the above, the fife in question might have caused the later Stanesbys much angst, but it never really bothered the original Mr. Stanesby Junior at all.  That’s because he was dead long before it was made.  I can say this because an examination of the images provided by the seller points to a fife made in the early part of the 19th century.

Let’s start with the ferrules.  The seller notes that “at some point in time someone scratched in some letters and numbers along with some anchor symbols into the brass ferrels on the ends.”  However, the letters and numbers that the seller would have us dismiss are “C” and “AD 1808.  The “C” most likely is an indicator of pitch, but more important are the four numbers, 1808, preceded by “AD” (Anno Domini). This is clear evidence of a date.  And it is entirely likely that this fife was indeed made in 1808 or shortly (very shortly) before.

Ferrule-2ferrule-1.jpg

Also, the seller calls our attention to a stylized anchor, which is built around a burnished seam.  The seam tells us a lot about how the ferrules were constructed.  At this time (the early 19th century), ferrules were made of thin brass sheets that were wrapped around the wooden body with the edges burnished (rubbed) to seal them in the required tubular shape.  They were further secured to their seating by use of a pincing tool, which indented them at regular intervals onto the fife body.   In these photos one of the pinces is visible.

The pince interrupts the scored line decoration.

The pince interrupts the scored line decoration just to the right of the crack.  The uniform depth and precision of these lines suggest they were machined, not hand-tooled, and is yet another indicator of an early-to-mid 19th century manufacture.

We now recognize the burnished seam as the anchor’s shank, around which the artist/owner incised the stock, a V-shaped crown, tipped flukes, and intertwining rode.

Ferrule-3

Another 19th century feature is the unequal lengths of the ferrules, which is visible in the total body views:

body-2

The fife body tells a similar story.  The fact that it appears to be of boxwood is not surprising, as boxwood was the hands-down favorite of British woodwind makers well into the 19th century.  The tone holes, though, are set in variable distances from each other.  While this could indicate an attempt to improve pitch, their placement favors finger positioning more than pitch improvement.  Besides, the “two groups of three” is a pattern found in fifes (and flutes) produced in the early-to-mid 19th century in both Britain and America.

Body-1

The tone holes appear to be slightly off-center, but this could be an illusionary defect produced by the camera.

In short, I could find nothing in the images or in the seller’s commentary that would convince me that this is a fife made in “1732” or at any time in “the 1730s.”  It might be that old had it been perhaps a sopranino flute and not a fife, but several features,including the brass ferrules (a flute might have rings but not ferrules), only reinforce its identity as a (military) fife.

So, is it worth $14,800?  To answer that question, I compared it to another fife made by a contemporary London maker, that being Valentine Metzler:

Metzler (t) Eisenbrandt (b)

Fife by Valentine Metzler, top. This and the Eisenbrandt fife, below, are more fully discussed in another entry on this blog, “A Tale of Two Fifes.”  Author’s Collection

As you can see it is uncannily similar to the super-high-priced Stanesby, right down to the machine-scored ferrules, and tells pretty much the same story.  However, it does this much more reliably since we have no indication that anyone faked (or is faking) Metzler fifes, legitimately or otherwise, and the maker’s mark thereon indicates a circumscribed production date between 1788 and 1815.  So, since I bought the Metzler for $10.00 (plus $3.00 insured shipping), my answer to the $14,800 question would have to be “no.”

Copyright 2013, History of the Ancients Dot Org

When is a fife worth $3000?

Well, given my oft-stated philosophy that “a fife (or anything else, for that matter) is worth whatever someone is willing to pay,” this fife is probably worth that much to someone, especially when you get this cool-looking piccolo with it:

Image

Image courtesy of eBay seller, kenlindsey382012 (see link, below).

And it comes with the name of a former Civil War era POW inscribed on it, too:

3000 Cloos fife-1

Image courtesy of eBay seller, kenlindsey382012 (see link, below).

The problem is, said Civil War era POW didn’t own or play this fife (or the accompanying piccolo) until long after the war was over, simply because Geo Cloos, Inc, which mark is impressed upon the fife (not the piccolo), couldn’t have made or sold it until long after the war was over:

  1. The machinery to make the ferrules was a postwar invention and Cloos didn’t own any until long after the war was over, and
  2. Cloos didn’t know a thing about either Crosby or “Crosby Model” fifes (and therefore couldn’t possibly have made any) until long after the war was over, and (most importantly)
  3. Cloos could not have produced a “Crosby Model” fife without risk of a lawsuit, unless he waited for Crosby to either close up shop or die, both of which were accomplished in short succession but not until long after the war was over.

This is not to say that Ben W. Ash didn’t own a Crosby Model fife (long after the war was over) and play it as often as he liked — he was only one of the thousands of veterans (and sons of veterans and grandsons, even) who did just that — and there has got to be some value to that, just not enough to prompt this old Swamp Yankee to part with that much money and own this lovely piece of Ancient History.

Actually, listings like these sadden rather than frustrate me.  The seller deserves commendation for finding the primary source documentation to support his theory on which “Ben W. Ash” might have owned this fife.   His problems arose when he presented his vague and unsupportable “history” of the Cloos musical instrument manufactory, none of which he made up and none of which is intentionally misleading — after all, he relied upon a trusted museum for that information.  Unfortunately, it is the Library of Congress, not the seller, who needs to do some homework.

For more information about this interesting set of woodwinds, see

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=251284700622&ssPageName=ADME:B:SS:US:1123

And, for more information about the Cloos manufactory, see the entry “Everybody Loves a Cloos Fife” here on this blog.

 

P.S.  Since writing this back in July, I note that today (October 28) the fife is still for sale, with a more reasonable buy-it-now price of $550.   Let’s see what happens now!

Blood-Stained Bargain

I can’t even begin to comment on this seller’s description of this fife.  The Arthur Ott Shields collection is well known, but the “blood stains” are a stretch.

Blood-stained bargain-1

Blood-stained Bargain-5

Image courtesy ebay seller, Redheadronald (see URL, below).

Image courtesy ebay seller, Redheadronald (see URL, below).

Blood-stained Bargain-2

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Civil-war-rosewood-fife-/271217182356?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item3f25cdc694