When I was about 12 years old I joined a fife and drum corps. I hadn’t intended to join anything really, so it just sort of happened. The last several years I’ve questioned whether my parents set the whole thing up with the power of suggestion and I fell into it. Not that I mind. Since I started this hobby, it’s been a very important part of my life and who I am so I’m grateful.
So the whole thing started back in the summer of 1983. My mother was sitting on the couch reading the latest issue of Yankee Magazine when she looked up and said “Do you want a fife?” Not such a weird question since I had been playing flute for a few years by then, but I had no idea what a fife was so I asked. After showing me the picture in the magazine and having a little chat about it, I learned that my dad just happened to work with a guy who was the founder and director of the 1st Michigan Colonial Fife & Drum Corps and he lived not 5 miles away. So before I knew it, my butt was riding shotgun in my dad’s car and we were headed out to Mark Logsdon’s house where I could get a fife that day rather than having to mail away to New England for one. Within the hour I had a plastic fife, a handful of sheet music, and an invitation to attend a corps practice the following Sunday.
And that’s where this 25+ year odyssey began. Having read this now, I’m sure you can see how the turn of events seemed to occur so seamlessly and conveniently. Both my parents (Mark, too) swear to this day that it was not a set-up, but I still have to wonder. I don’t believe in fate and “it was meant to be” I suppose if it really was not a set-up, the stars must have aligned somehow to make it all happen. Again, not complaining, just sayin’.
When I was a kid the corps was everything to me and I wanted it so bad. My parents claim that they’d sometimes check on my while I was sleeping and they’d see my fingers fifing in my sleep. It was all consuming, terribly fun, educational, and offered so many interesting opportunities and friendships and travel experiences.
I was fortunate to have joined the corps at the same time several other kids my age had joined so we became fast friends and enjoyed the experience together. As I got older and friends started to leave for college it was no longer the same welcoming place so I moved on. I never forgot or lost the love of the music so I came back to the corps twice more but it didn’t feel right and my work schedule, health, and family commitments were not in line with being able to participate as much as they’d like so it didn’t work out.
My friend, Cathy, from the RCCB joined 1st Michigan for a while and it didn’t work out for her either and she left a few months later. So it was very coincidental that she and I even started talking about fife & drum and I was able to connect her with some friends who started another fife and drum corps in the area called Great Lakes Ancient Field Musick (GLAFM). She was soon playing with them and they talked me into joining as well. Because you see, it’s not just a hobby for me. It’s who I am. So I can’t stay away. The music and what it stands for are a part of me; they call to me wherever I am. Etched indelibly into my heart and soul so we are inseparable.
GLAFM is a really great group and I’m so proud to be a part of it. I’ve known most of them from our 1st Michigan days so we know each other from way back, but they’ve been so friendly, welcoming, and easy going. Cathy and I are both very happy to be part of the group.
So I’m back in the fife & drum world, no longer keeping it alive just in my head, heart, and living room. After 25+ years, it still gives me chills to think about the living history I’ve participated in and how amazing it was and is. If I close my eyes I can picture myself standing on Lexington Green with the muskets and cannons going off and the horses running around. Approaching the Old North Church and looking for the lanterns lit, one if by land 2 if by sea. Marching the 7 miles of the Battle Road between Lexington and Concord, crossing the Old North Bridge. Marching the streets of Williamsburg, playing on the shores of Ft Niagara and sleeping in the haunted castle. Recreating the midnight ride of Paul Revere and his companions. Touring and playing all over England.
And when I think of those awesome events I recreated, I have to wonder if the people who originated these events in the 18th century and beyond can see us today. Do they know that they know that they have not been forgotten? That 21st century men and women (yes women, yay) picked up their flags and muskets, their fifes and drums, and will not forget what they gave the ultimate sacrifice for. It’s not only great fun but also an awesome responsibility to do it right. To not mess with the music, to accurately recreate the clothing of the period, to educate the public about what we’re keeping alive.
This past Saturday I attended an event here in Michigan called Freezer Jam. It’s a one day fife and drum event started 15 years ago for midwest fife & drum corps to get together during our slow season to hang out, jam, learn from one another, and put on a big concert at the end of the day. This year was the first one I attended since 2002 and it was really nice. I had intended to stay Friday and Saturday night with Cathy and GLAFM at the hotel near the venue but ended up with a terrible cold and was only able to participate the one day. Didn’t want to expose anyone to my cooties or force them to listen to my sinusy snoring so I just drove down on Saturday morning and left after the last jam session. Still had a really nice time but wish I would have been able to party with my corps and some of the other corps who went out after.
Cathy and I were so tired at the end of the day we sat in silence during the hour between dinner and the concert. After a while I heard her say that she doesn’t want to hear another fife or drum for at least a week. Too tired to speak, I rolled my head to the side to catch her eye and simply nodded in agreement.
I drove home in silence. No radio, no CD, just the sounds of the rain hitting my windshield and splashing under my tires. Three hours before I didn’t want to hear another fife or drum for a week, yet they were still ringing in my ears. The vibrations of dozens of drums on the wooden stage. Not there physically or on the radio or CD player. Just phantoms in my head.