Book Review (sort of): The Company Books as a Source of Reenacment Music

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.’ “

The Doc and The Duke in later years. Photo courtesy of Bob Castillo,

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,  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:

  • Chester
  • Road to Boston
  • White Cockade
  • Seven Stars
  • Baltimore
  • 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
  • Guilderoy
  • 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.

A landmark that once catered to Yalies but attracted lots of attention from the well-known and the unknown, The Doodle has been closed since 2008.

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,
  • 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
  • Downshire
  • Kenderbeck’s
  • 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
  • Tatterjack
  • 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).

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5 thoughts on “Book Review (sort of): The Company Books as a Source of Reenacment Music

  1. Sue,

    Jefferson and Liberty is mentioned as one of the tunes played by the drum corps in History of the Seventeenth regiment, New Hampshire volunteer infantry. 1862-1863 by Charles Nelson Kent. It’s also in Howe’s 1862 United States Regulation Drum and Fife Instructor.

    • Yes it is, and it’s also one of those that circulated a lot by ear, so you were bound to run into it one way or another.

      Interesting thing, those “ear” tunes. I think the presence of them in such books and Howe and Winner made them much more salable than books like Bruce and Emmett (during the war, that is). Successful publishers knew how much of the old stuff to mix with the new stuff to make their books appealing.

      • What do you make of all those quadrilles, schottisches, and polkas in Howe and Winner? Don’t seem to find them too much in the fifers’ aural tradition.

  2. Well, there’s one or two that floated in, Rochester Schottische being one such. But that was mostly band repertory, and I think the fifers knew that. A nice example of how recycle/reuse/reappropriate is nothing really new. I think they just slapped new covers on books, “Self Instructor for the [insert your favorite instrument] without much regard for how appropriate the repertory would be for that particular instrument.

    I guess that’w why I like the 18th century so much. Much more handwritten stuff, which is a lot more revealing about what the fifers actually played. The mid-nineteenth century music books exposed fifers to a lot of music but they don’t really let on as to how much of it was played. . . unless you go to the really focused publishers (Keach, Burditt, Nevins, people like that, and of course my favorite Col. Hart) 😉

  3. Have you seen Klinehanse’s Manual of Instruction for Drummers (1853)? Nevins borrowed heavily for it. Probably 90% of Nevins’ is straight from Klinehanse. The similarities between Howe’s 1860s publications and Keach-Burditt-Cassidy are pretty remarkable too. I like Hart too, but have some reservations. It is a mix of old standards, popular music of the time, and stuff that was floating around regionally, but also some unique (i.e. not well-known in general) contributions by Collins (Gen. Grant’s Troop), Lydecker (Gen. Bank’s March), and Baldwin (Col. Terrye’s Q.S). Reenactors tend to want to pick one as their “bible” but you kind of have to go through through them all individually to separate the wheat from the tare. They all have their strong and weak points.

    Yes, I wish there were more manuscripts. One with drumbeats would certainly be nice!

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