Someone sent me a copy of the most recent Ancient Times, Published by The Company of Fifers & Drummers,. Inc., Winter 2012 Issue 135. . . smaller than I remember it.  Am I the only one to miss the center page-spread of photos?  I think most of us would turn to that first to see what’s going on and who’s making it happen (especially since there are only 3 events listed in the calendar). . .only nine-and-a-half fifers and drummers at Jaybird Day 2011? ? ?. . .but I am reminded it’s the quality, not the quantity that counts! . . . I see the First Michigan bypassed the calendar in favor of that impressive full-page ad. . .  lots of pages all about the Downfall. . . in case you haven’t already seen it on his website, it’s a nice piece of work by Robin Engleman. . . a couple of pages on Gettysburg, where the reenactors take a break from history to indulge in a kick-ass jollification, a custom borrowed from their Ancient cousins. . .

Here’s a good place to talk., the Art of the Jollification.  Is it an Ancient custom?  I am thinking of the “rummy parade” that followed the exhibitions and field days of the 19th century, and I want to say “yes indeed, it’s an Ancient thing.”  But musicians everywhere since time immemorial must have felt the need to congregate and share tunes.  What makes the jollification different than a jazz drummer’s jam or the Irish whistler’s session?  Your thoughts, please.

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9 thoughts on “Someone sent me…

  1. The traditional Irish session that we see today, I’m told by my flute teacher who is a researcher in these things, is a recent development and evolved from a more staid “one at time please… play your best song/tune/etc, for all of us to hear” affair where everyone took turns. Ancient Jam sessions are definitely unique, although I have even seen them evolve and change over the years.

  2. So, it was kind of a “show and tell” affair? Like a very sedate “standpiece” thing, but on a smaller scale (and without the uniforms), I guess?

    One of the things that strikes me about a jollification is that it is very much social as well as musical. I don’t think this happens so much in an Irish session–maybe it does, but I just don’t see it.

  3. I was able to participate in a couple Irish sessions in Ireland, when we were there on a hiking holiday in 2000. Sometimes someone would call out a tune, and everyone would play, or somebody would start one, and everyone joined in. There were all kinds of instruments, not just whistles.

    On one particularly misty Tuesday, when we realized as we climbed a large hill that we were only going to see more mist and no view, our main guide, Michael, asked if we wanted to keep climbing or would we rather go to a pub. An auxiliary guide, Tim the Taller (to distinguish from our busdriver who was Tim the Stout), was on hand in case some wanted pub and some wanted hike. All 13 of us on the tour said, “Pub,” so we filed into a deserted pub about 11:30 a.m. Turns out the publican (governer) is known in Ireland for his singing dog, who did indeed sing for us. I had my fife, and one of the tour participants asked me if i’d play Gary Owen on my fife, as he always imagined he’d hear it in a pub. The governer looked happy to hear me play, and i pulled out my fife and played it. I only had a Bb fife with me, so i couldn’t play with others, but i had purchased a D penny whistle the day or so before and was still trying to fool with it.

    When the governer realized we couldn’t play together, he had us go round robin, where we took turns playing tunes. His daughter was a whiz with a penny whistle, and i marvelled as she played. Within a half hour, the place was packed, and a full session was in swing. It was like a flash mob jollification. I put away my Bb and stumbled along with my D whistle. Lots of laughter, pints all around, and pub food. Tim the Stout was enjoying a pint, a plateful of food, and swapping stories, as was Michael and Tim the Taller.

    We were loathe to leave after two and a half hours or so, but we did. The governer nodded and waved to us as if we were old friends. As we were leaving, Tim the Taller turned to me and said, “You just don’t know how rare this is! This sort of thing never happens.” He was smiling and looked incredulous.

    I shrugged, “I guess not. All it took was somebody asking me to play something, and well, it just happened.”

    “That’s just it,” he said. “You can’t plan this sort of thing.”

    “No,” i agreed. “I’m awfully glad we were there when it happened, though.”

    The other sessions were already going on when we got to the other pubs. I pulled out my D whistle and jumped in as well as i could. Played with other whistle players, guitarists, fiddlers, and ullean pipers.

    I went to an Irish session here in the US, but it had a completely different feel. It seemed more staged and stuffy, although i think it merely reflected the person who was running it, truth be told.

    I also participated in an all day jam at a pub in England. That was very fun, too. A mix of different instruments, and sometimes we sang, too. I started Girl I Left Behind Me, and nearly everyone joined in.
    The man sitting next to me said, “Now that’s an old tune!” A young American woman playing a guitar later sang a John Denver tune. We joined in singing with her, although that song felt out of place. Great fun.

  4. I never heard the term “Jollification” when I was in the Portland Ancients. We had some terrific musters back in the day, and there were always back-and-forths where one corps would play their best, then the next corps would present, and so on. I miss those days, and I have no idea if the Portland Ancients still exist, having moved north long ago. I still dust off my fife a couple times each year and play for my family. The fingering memories are long-lived, it’s been 35+ years since I was in the corps.

    • It was revived a few years ago (perhaps in the ’90s?) but lasted only a couple of years. Some of the former members are now in the Moodus corps and some went to East Hampton, but I am sure there are many others like you who remember the “good old days”. . .hopefully, if you are still in CT, you might think of joining one of the local corps, but if not maybe there is a corps near you — I am sure they would love to have you!

      “Jollification” was a term invented by the late Ed Olsen, co-founder of The Company of Fifer and Drummers in Ivoryton, CT. It is his collection of papers, instruments, uniforms, and other paraphernalia that are displayed at the Museum of Fife and Drum and housed for research in the Drum Corps Archives, both located at the headquarters in Ivoryton. Actually, he didn’t really invent the term, he sorta stole it. 🙂 He saw it in an advertisement and thought it would be best adopted to describe all the “jamming” that occurs at musters and other get-togethers. . . Ed always thought the term “jam” was unsuitable for Ancients and really belonged to jazz musicians or maybe Irish sessions.

      Not sure if you ever had the pleasure of meeting Ed back in the day. He was a wonderful person dedicated to fife and drum, having joined his first corps at the age of 9 out in Bay Ridge (Brooklyn), “which is why I never learned to ride a bike,” he always used to say. When he “discovered” the Ancients (this was way back in the late 30’s, early 40s) he was forever hooked. . .moved to CT in 1950 so he could be closer to them, and the rest is really Ancient history. . .we would have no musters had it not been for Ed and his collaboration with Carl Emmanuelson, who together conceived of and put on the first muster in 1953, which, of course, was in Deep River. . .looks like I better stop here and maybe save the rest for an essay to post on the blog.

      Thanks for taking a look at the blog.

      • I left CT ten years ago, am in northwestern MA now and not a corps in sight. Unfortunately. I’d join in a heatbeat if there was one. It’s all that blasted contradancing up here, doesn’t seem to leave room for anything else. 😉

      • ah, Blandford…years ago someone turned up an old fiddle. In the case was an old manuscript of fiddle tunes that probably dated from the mid-t-late 19th century. I might have a copy of that around here somewhere.

        Didn’t there used to be a fiddle fest up there? Again, this might be something from 10-20 years ago that I recall..

        Are you near Albany? There are a couple of corps out there that would love to meet you!

      • Blandford is quite a bit to the south. I’m in Greenfield, MA. Too far from Albany, I’m afraid. Pretty close to Brattleboro, VT, though. There is an annual fiddle thing here in Greenfield, it’s called the John Putnam Fiddlers’ Reunion, typically held sometime in September for the past decade-ish.

      • Greenfield is nice, a lot of history up there, but I join you in a “nice place” (near Lake Ontario) that is pretty much devoid of fife and drum activity, save for one or two valiants who have ventured out of the reenactment field to carry on the music in a corps-type setting…it’s not easy, but hopefully we will plant the seed…

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