“They were furnished with a complete band of music, which operates like enchantment:” Part 1

Back in March, I promised a series of posts on bands of music covering the years leading up to the American War for Independence and the war itself. Well, when I was first looking at what I had in April, I definitely had enough for a couple of postings. A lot has happened since then and I now have enough information for a honours thesis. For the purposes of this little series, we’re gonna scale it back and start at the basics. Part one of this series is going to answer one of the most common questions I get asked: What is a band of music (BoM) and how are these musicians* different from fifers and drummers?

Martial music in the 18th century usually conjures up an images of drummers and fifers but they’re only half the equation. The British, French, Hessians, and Continental Armies all had bands of music with them. Unlike the fifes and drums, these bands are playing harmoniemusik. Harmonie is German in origin, meaning an ensemble of usually 5-8 wind instruments playing music for outdoor or recreational purposes. Music composed for harmonie is called harmoniemusik.

 

J Boydell, HIS MAJESTY REVIEWING THE VOLUNTEER CORPS ASSEMBLED IN HYDE PARK June 4 1799, Artillery BOM, ASKB Military Collection

Detail, His Majesty Reviewing the Volunteer Corps Assembled in Hyde Park, 4 June, 1799, J. Boydell, ASKB Military Collection

So right off the bat, the music the bands are playing is separate from that of the fifes and drums. Bands of music are purely for recreational or ceremonial purposes unlike drums and fifes, used for military duties as well as ceremonies.

Interestingly, bands of music are not official entities within regiments and instead are a luxury. British regulations allowed for one drummer per company, two drummers for the grenadiers (other drummer could be a fifer;  a majority of regiments still recruited fifers anyways). The Continental Army’s regulations stated there was to be one drummer and one fifer per company. If a regiment were to have a BoM, it would have to come (theoretically) out of the officers’ pockets, though some snuck them in on the roll as enlisted men.

So if Bands of Music aren’t playing fifes and drums, what are they playing? Well, it varies by band. John Hancock’s elite militia unit, the Corps of Cadets, had their own band. When the instruments went missing after the Siege of Boston was lifted and the army marched out, Hancock wrote General Schuyler in September of 1776 saying that he was missing “…French horns, Bassoons & other Instruments of Musick.” Hautboys (Oboes), serpents, clarinets, and percussion instruments like the bass drum, cymbals, and jingling johnny are also common to find in returns and descriptions.

Band of Music Regiment of Guards in front of St. James Palace Circa 1790.jpg

Changing of the Guards in front of St. James Palace, Circa 1790. Note the turbans and Eastern instruments. Anything Turkish or Janissary is incredibly popular in the latter part of the 18th century. There are countless songs on fife called “Turks/Turkish March” or “Janissary’s March.” Having black musicians/fifers or drummers is also considered another showpiece for the regiment.

 

Band of Music Regiment of Guards in front of St. James Palace Circa 1790- Detail.jpg

Detail from above. Note that the band and the fifes and drums are two separate entities, not massed together.

In summary, bands of music are groups of musicians belonging to a regiment (unofficially) that play pieces vastly different than fifes and drums. They are not used for martial duty but instead for pleasure and ceremony. Their instrumentation is vastly different from their drum and fife counterparts.

In the next segment, we’ll take a look at bands of music in America before the outbreak of hostilities.

 

*For the purposes of this series, musicians will refer to members of a band of music and not drummers and fifers.

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“The music of the army being in general very bad…”

Perhaps a quote every Continental fifer or drummer is familiar with can introduce the impending grievances. It was issued by our pal George Washington on June 4th, 1777 in Middlebrook, New Jersey.

The music of the army being in general very bad; it is expected, that the drum and fife majors exert themselves to improve it, or they will be reduced, and their extraordinary pay taken from them.

It always seems that Fort Lee is the event that gets me all in a tizzy afterwards. Over the year, I had been stepping away from the military scene with events like Eastfield and Stamp Act. As Kitty said it best, gun shows aren’t fun anymore. Well, at least shoot-em ups aren’t fun anymore. I like the small events with people of like mind gathered to do living history, not burn powder. Eastfield was definitely one of those where the marriage of guns and purpose merged nicely.

Changes to improve gun shows aren’t that hard, from my perspective. Being a musician, my focus always tends to be on, surprise-surprise, music.

The great thing about being a musician is:

  1. No dirty gun to clean.
  2. So much easier to bring to an event and carry around.
  3. Any changes for authenticity in regards to music tend to be free or cheap in comparison to soldiers.

And that list is barely even all the benefits. For the purpose of this post, let’s take a look at #3. Cheap usually isn’t a word heard when describing this hobby but changing how you play costs only the time of practice.

For example: We know the British marched at two tempos when on parade. A common step of 60 beats per minute (BPM) (one step per second) and a quickstep of 120 beats per minute (two steps per second).* Improving the authenticity of a song means playing at a faster or slower tempo. Even better, you can march the common step while the music plays at a 120 tempo! Just watch the guards do it at Buckingham Palace as they play Duke of York’s March, a tune played by fifers and drummers in the 18th century.

(Yes, in this video their quick march is really at about 105 BPM. To see a true 120, take a gander at this. Though the bagpipes then drag the tempo down to 110)

Often times, people complain how fast 120 BPM is. The newly formed 17th Regiment of Foot does a steady 120, sans drum! Marching to it can be difficult for an extended period but take a look at the length of their steps at 120. They’re not taking gigantic leaps. They’re taking relatively small, measured steps.

So if we have documentation saying the British played at this tempo and that’s what they marched to, then why aren’t we doing it? Because people complain. When I suggested we do it this past weekend, I got told, “Well 120 is authentic, but it’s a bit much.”

The other problem is that there are musicians not practicing the songs at that speed. Men with muskets drill. A lot. It’s kind of expected of the soldiers to be able to perform their respective army’s dill at events and dare I say, perform it well. So why is it that there are musicians out there that think it’s okay not to practice their “drill”?

On to the next problem: accurate instruments. For the most part, I don’t see a whole lot of plastic drum heads that say “REMO” on them anymore and it’s nice to see that most drummers are using calfskin heads. For new fifers, I totally understand cheap fifes. I started off on a cruddy plastic fife from Cooperman. Everybody has to start somewhere. I can understand not wanting to invest in a decent instrument until you know if you’re going to be any good or not. I tell all the new musicians, don’t buy anything more than $100 until you’re absolutely sure you want to be a musician.

But if you’ve been in the hobby now for a substantial amount of time, have established yourself as a musician, you should really get an accurate instrument. Bringing a Civil War fife to a Revolutionary War event is just as bad as bringing your Springfield Model 1861 to Yorktown. Yes, both the Model 1861 and a Brown Bess go “BOOM” when you shoot it, but it isn’t the same. Both fifes serve the same job as fifes but they sound and behave differently.

Steve Dillon makes excellent copies of the Cahusac fife in his collection. You too, can have an exact copy, made of boxwood, in the key of C, in the correct pitch, for a nominal fee. (BAR members even get a discount! I got mine for $65 I believe.) The fife not only plays great, but it looks great! So why play those expensive, incorrect ones when the good stuff is available? Because fifers complain that instead of open fingerings for a C#, it requires two fingers down on the 3rd and 4th holes.

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Touting my pride and joy at the School of the Soldier this past April.

Did it take some retraining on this fife to get the new fingering and the slightly tighter armature? Yeah, it did. But trust me, it’s beyond worth it to be able to say to your audience that you’re playing an exact copy and this is how the music would have sounded to the original listeners. Besides the teaching tool, the Dillon fife sounds amazing and is without a doubt the best fife I’ve ever owned.

My final piece of dirty laundry is documentation for music. Similar to how the uniforms we wear have to be documented with period sources, so should the music we play. It’s impossible to know what songs were played at each battle or each day but there are plenty of sources out there.  For those willing to look on sites like IMSLP, you can find both Thompson and Aird’s tutors for fifes. The BAR has published a lovely book with period fife and drum music taken from primary sources. The drum notation was even “translated” into modern notation for those that read sheet music.

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You can even make a trip to your local university’s special collection! I went to Brown University’s special collection and got to look at RI fifer’s William William’s manuscript. All I had to do was ask.

But even within the BAR book, stuff has to be taken with a grain of salt. For example, would the British play songs written by Americans? Probably not as they don’t show up in British tutors until after the war. Did the Americans play British songs? All the time as evidenced by repeats of songs in American sources that were in British sources.

One of my favourite songs to play is Stony Point. It’s found only in American fife books so it’s pretty safe to say this piece was written after the Continental Army’s victory there on July 16th, 1779. So here’s an example of a period song from the Revolution that shouldn’t be played at events that take place before this battle. The context just wouldn’t make sense. It would require me telling visitors, “Well mam, that last piece was called ‘Stony Point.’ It’s a song about a battle the Americans won in 1779 but we’re currently at Trenton in 1776 so we don’t know about that battle yet.”

So why this rant? Because I’m growing tired of the nonsense.

I’m tired of hearing made-up parleys on the battlefield when we have one from an original source that’s in the BAR Music Book used by all 3 of the umbrella organisations in the hobby.

I’m tired of seeing videos of battle reenactments where musicians are playing concerts of marches on the battlefield when we know musicians were essentially stretcher bearers doing the occasional signal.

I’m tired of officers in battle telling me to stand behind the line and just twiddle my thumbs when I want to stand behind the sergeant to hear the orders so we can play the signal if necessary or take away the wounded because there’s documentation for that.

I’m tired of marching at 100 beats per minute as a quickstep.

I’m tired of hearing 19th century tunes (I’m looking at you, Men of Harlech) at 18th century events.

I’m tired of going to events, knowing all the camp duties fifers and drummers played from sunrise to sunset and never playing a single one of them besides Drummer’s Call and Assembly.

I’m tired of playing cease fire a crap ton of times because officers don’t know what it means and they then continue to have their units burn powder as if the battle was their last reenactment ever.

But most of all, I’m tired of my suggestions/complaints falling on deaf ears. It’s disheartening to share this information with people to have them not put it to use. It sucks trying to teach a regiment the signals (making recordings so they can listen to them at home, giving them music lessons, etc.) and them never implementing them into the camp. It sucks telling the people in charge of you this, armed with all this documentation and they still won’t budge.

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You don’t even have to carry a heavy guy! We chose a very tiny 13 year old. Photo credit to Suzanne Shaw Photography.

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You don’t even need more than one musician!

These fixes aren’t hard. I’m not asking folks to go out and sew all new outfits out of $75 per yard wool. I’m not asking anybody to sleep on wet hay on the ground. I instead challenge others to put some effort into their impression. Practice your fife or drum a few times during the week. Think before you play a piece, “Is there documentation for it?” You’ll be amazed at just how far the authenticity for the unit and the event will improve when you use music correctly.But most importantly, question what you’ve been taught. I started learning the ways of the Spirit of ’76 and when I began to question what I was doing, everything fell into place. I no longer play undocumented songs on a replica civil war fife during battles.

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So, where does all this leave me? Part of me sees the mess that the state of music is currently in and desires to stop playing at events. Things were so much easier three years ago when I just showed up at events and fired a musket and was ignorant to everything. However, it seems that a few of us are splintering off and forming our own “band”, both of fifes and drums and of music. A group of like minded, dare I say, progressive, individuals getting together to do martial music the right way.

Even the Continental Army music improved after some hardcore practicing. Washington put it best when he said in that same order:

Nothing is more agreeable, and ornamental, than good music; every officer, for the credit of his corps, should take care to provide it.

*See Camus, Raoul F. Military Music of the American Revolution. 1st ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1976. 7-9.

What I learned in Soldier School is…

As a child of the Spongebob Era, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this clip from the show as I attempted to come up with a title for this post.

I arrived at New Windsor after 5 hours on the road around 9:30 Friday night. But reader, no tent had to be set up, no fire pit had to be dug. I was quartered in the lap of luxury. Though a slight downgrade from the Hilton Garden Inn last year, I got to sleep in one of the smaller rooms of the temple, complete with a fireplace AND bedding! It was darn chilly that first night but the fire kept the room quite comfortable and provided a good night’s sleep. (Besides the pesky raccoon scratching loudly at the wall at 12:40 in the morning)

5:30 AM was wake up time for me for some odd reason on Saturday and so it was for my roommates. My apologies for that but it did give us time to get the fires going again and cook. First lesson of the weekend: Oatmeal needs some sort of sugar, cinnamon, or fruits. Just oats aren’t my favourite.

I spent most of the day with the musicians and not attending the lectures. There was a bevy of new drummers and fifers all in need of lessons. All younger boys but they show promise. The fifer I was teaching was having difficult hitting the low notes but was able to hit the high notes with no problem. Most beginners are the opposite so kudos to him.

Don Hagist's presentation on his latest book is about to begin!

Don Hagist’s presentation on his latest book is about to begin!

 

Music wise though, a lot was definitely accomplished. We discussed interpretation of ceremonies, practiced marching, and there was some more talk about the pipe dream to form our own Band of Music.

I may have "captured" a British drummer to play for the Continental side.

I may have “captured” a British drummer to play for the Continental side but he can play really well and it wasn’t fair the Brits had 7 musicians and I had none.

On Saturday night, I was honoured to receive the Fifer’s Achievement Award from the BAR Board and a standing ovation. Really though, none of it could have been done without everyone else. I’ve learned more in this past year of reenacting than in my 8 years of doing it. Without people sharing their knowledge, I would not have been able to or be inspired to progress as far as I have.

A rare sight indeed, me quiet.

A rare sight indeed, me quiet.

Day two was held at Knox’s Headquarters which was a site I had never been to. I got to see Christmas AND a funeral all in one house on the same floor in one day! I also got to see friends I hadn’t seen since July which was really great and got to march over a 1740’s stone bridge that was part of the King’s Highway that our regiment marched over. Despite not doing our own funeral demonstration, the day was pretty good. Even better, the car ride home.

Ignorance Truly is Bliss

I’m off to some “Reenactor Professional Development” this weekend at New Windsor Cantonment. The site is small and quaint but it still ranks as one of my favourite places. The home to the semi-permanent encampment for Washington’s army at the end of the war. It was here where Washington’s men heard that the war was over and were sent home. Complete with a recreated Temple of Virtue, a small room with a fireplace, and an original officer’s hut, the site just about equals with Saratoga and Yorktown in my books.

Outside the Temple of Virtue waiting to assemble the troops for the Trooping of the Colours

Outside the Temple of Virtue waiting to assemble the troops for the Trooping of the Colours

Besides looking at nice buildings, the goal of the weekend is to learn; to improve your impression. The BAR’s School of Instruction often presents new information. Last year, the main talks focused on haversacks and hunting frocks. This year it’s a back-to-basics kind of weekend as I’ve dubbed it. On the schedule is how to start a fire, write with a quill, play 18th century games, and food for camp. These are things (besides the quill thing, though I did write a letter once in camp last season) that reenactors do at almost every event but still get wrong.

Learning about military musicians at the school in 2014. It got pretty rowdy when 2 fifes and a drum blasted away in a hollow, wooden room.

Learning about military musicians at the school in 2014. It got pretty rowdy when 2 fifes and a drum blasted away in a hollow, wooden room.

Folks in the front row had to cover their ears. Was our playing really THAT bad?

Folks in the front row had to cover their ears. Was our playing really THAT bad?

I honestly don’t like knowing something I’m doing is wrong. I recently left a regiment for that reason. When I first joined, I knew practically nothing about British musicians besides it was a damn nice uniform. As I talked to more people about what they knew, I found out what I was wearing was wrong. Then I found out our camping situation with a dining fly and tons of furniture was wrong. If I had not known what was incorrect, I probably could have gone on living in that unit. When I confronted the unit about wanting to improve, they said they were comfortable with where they were at. And that’s perfectly fine. Every unit has its own standards and acceptable levels of comfort. With that unit, the fit of the clothes and quality was generally pretty good. Research into the clothing and camp situation wasn’t their strong suit. That’s simply what they wanted and that’s great for them.

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But wanting to improve can often be a difficult and drawn out process, besides costly. Now that I’m in a new unit, I’m attempting to put together a new kit. I’m in need of a new pair of overalls and a hunting frock but my blue suit is taking up all my time and money. There’s nothing egregiously wrong with my old stuff. My wool overalls fit well and judging by the temperature this weekend, they should work well but my frock is a bit too white and the research has shown the shape should be a little different.

I’m already having pre-event guilt thinking about wearing it. I feel like I’m not doing my best to represent the people who fought the Revolution. Not only that, I feel like I’m letting my new unit down. They’re known for their attention to detail, their coat of the month, and dirt stew so falling in with them adds some further pressure and awareness to clothing. Coming out in something not quite up to snuff goes against the School of Instruction’s idea yet it goes along with it. Just acknowledging that it’s wrong and wanting to improve is a step in the right direction.

 

 

 

“After Valley Forge, What?”

Yesterday, I attended a lecture at my university titled, “After Valley Forge, What?” by Dr. Bethany A. Morrison of Western Connecticut University. I first noticed the poster Tuesday. My eyes perked up at the sight of Valley Forge. It’s not often my college, which likes to focus on dates after 1854 (It’s founding), has talks on periods before it, let alone the Revolution. Fortunately for me, I had no plans or classes from 12-2 and decided this would be a great chance to do some “professional development”, if you will.

I arrived in the room about 5 minutes early. There were about 9 people in total, all were professors. A bit intimidating to be the only student but I sat myself down and waited anxiously.

The talk was on archaeological exploration of a winter encampment of the Continental Army in Redding, Connecticut from November of 1778 to the Spring of 1779. The main camp is now Putnam State Park. The other in Redding proper was developed on before any digs could be. This camp, known as Middle Encampment, had never been touched since the army left. After they dismantled the cabins, the land had been turned into pasture so nobody had done any heavy farming or developing. The neighbours kept a close eye on who was going in and out of it and guarded it as their little secret. This was the perfect place to find artifacts.

As a history major, my view of archaeology is pretty narrow. Just the mention of it and Indiana Jones comes to mind. No Ark of the Covenants or Holy Grails were found here, but a different treasure was to be had.

Numerous firebacks (the stone portion of the wooden chimneys of the huts) were found. Some in a row pattern like General Von Steuben ordered after the training at Valley Forge, some…not so much. The army had a particular problem with this location. It was on an incredibly steep hill. They still tried to follow Steuben’s orders though. They faced the encampment to the South and put it behind a stream with running water. Interestingly, they carved out sections of the hill to make it level enough to build their huts which goes against the theory that the Continental Army did not do any planning or floor prep before building. They may have been ordered not to do it but this encampment, like the rest of the army, was a bunch of rebels.

The layout for an encampment as dictated by Baron Von Steuben in his orders from 1778.

The layout for an encampment as dictated by Baron Von Steuben in his orders from 1778.

The thick redline is the land the researchers had access to. The red dots are clusters of artifacts. The blue line running near the "Enlisted Man" circle is the stream. There is also a road north of the "Kitchens and Suttlers" section. Note the two neat rows in the "Enlisted Men" section. Questions to ponder were: Where's the Parade Ground? Where are the camp followers? What's up with the outliers to the left?

The thick redline is the land the researchers had access to. The red dots are clusters of artifacts. The blue line running near the “Enlisted Man” circle is the stream. There is also a road north of the “Kitchens and Suttlers” section. Note the two neat rows in the “Enlisted Men” section. Questions to ponder were: Where’s the Parade Ground? Where are the camp followers? What’s up with the outliers to the left?

An FTIR (An infrared scanning of absorption and emission into an object) of some fireback rocks from the huts were even able to tell them what the army was eating in late winter/early spring. What’s on the menu you ask? Malnourished goats, acorns, wild asparagus, and cattails. All available in the wetlands and the nearby farms of the encampment.

What stuck out the most to me was the layout of the camp. Here was a group of four regiments (3rd, 4th, 6th, and 8th CT Regiments) that tried their very best to follow Steuben’s orders but ended up having to modify them to suit their needs. They even built their cabins to the exact dimensions set forth in the General Orders.

Artifacts were found all over the place. Metal detecting showed that these men were 1. Losing shoe buckles left and right. and 2. Used a lot of nails. The nails struck everyone in the room by surprise. The myth has it that enlisted men would not have used nails in construction of their huts but the quantity, location, and the size of the nails surprised everyone in the room. These were long nails and were plentiful. This lead to speculation of would these huts have had a wooden flooring?

In the top right corner is one of the many shoe buckles found in the Middle Encampment. On the bottom is one of the hundreds of nails. Dr. Morrison said that every time a student found one, they would say, "Great. Another nail." in a rather sarcastic tone.

In the top right corner is one of the many shoe buckles found in the Middle Encampment. On the bottom is one of the hundreds of nails. Dr. Morrison said that every time a student found one, they would say, “Great. Another nail.” in a rather sarcastic tone.

The layout also left some questions. Where in the world was the parade ground? There’s orders for the camp that the regiments paraded but there didn’t seem to be any suitable land to parade 1500 men. Would it be across the stream? Where were the camp followers? Were they in a separate camp? Were they sharing the huts?

Unfortunately, money for the project has run out and they barely scratched the surface. But thanks to their research, the land is now protected so nobody can go in with their own metal detectors and scavenge for artifacts. Fortunately for me, I was able to harass Dr. Morrison with a ton of questions afterwards and she was even so kind to give me the print out of her slideshow with her notes (both typed and handwritten.) It just goes to show that the woods behind your house with some weird piles of rocks may not be just woods.

The "and..." leads off into a slide saying it got protected by the state, in case you were wondering.

The “and…” leads off into a slide saying it got protected by the state, in case you were wondering.