The 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.
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.
Abstinence, 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.
In 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.
St. 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.
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.
Little 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.