Our local Fife and Drum Corp was founded by Mr. John Moon in 1958. The corp is comprised of boys and (now) girls between the ages of ten and eighteen. Once they become a member, they spend the rest of their school life practicing several times a week and giving performances all over the world. Many continue on to become members of the International Tattoo and join with nations all over the world to present goose bump producing performances.
I was delighted to attend a special presentation of the Williamsburg Fife and Drum along with two guest bands. It was held at the old Williamsburg Theater (now renamed The Kimble Theater) on DOG Street, (the local name for the Duck of Gloucester St.). Before the presentation we were treated to a presentation out on the street by the alumni, men and women who have remained devoted to the Corp, though some of them are now a "bit long in the tooth" as my friend murmured.
The theater itself is a trip into the past, an elegant reminder of days when going to the movie theater, at least that one, was a dress up occasion. I saw 'Gone With The Wind' there many years ago, and it was like walking into the movie itself, with its red velvet drapes and chairs and private boxes for the well to do patrons.
Lance Pedigo, director of the production, introduced the narrator for the evening, Mr. John Moon himself. He was a delightful mix of starchy dignity and cleaver quips, with a wonderful Scottish accent to lend authenticity to the evening. He explained the origin and meaning of each piece the performers played and how important the musicians of the military were in age before radio contact. I found it fascinating that even the uniforms were meaningful. The musicians wore uniforms that were just like the soldiers, but the opposite color, telling the opposing armies that they were unarmed and most likely just boys between the ages of ten and fifteen.
Alexandria, June 12, 1775
The Subscribers would willingly learn any Number of Boys the Military Musick of the Fife and Drum; and also supply any Persons with Musick for the said Instruments. Gentlemen desirous of having Pupils instructed may depend on the greatest Attention being paid to them. Our Terms are half a Guinea Entrance, and a Guinea per Month for each Instrument.
- Thomas Sterling
- Thomas Hookins
The musicians were the voice of the commanders, relaying what to do next, advance, retreat, whatever, and each command had a particular musical arrangement. They were as well trained as the soldiers, as armies moved to their music.They played their instruments for other occasions, as well, to wake the troops in the morning, call them to meals, call them to order, all the things we now do in an instant with modern technology. Mr. Moon explained how the music itself had named the groups we now call "Tattoo". The word tattoo comes from and old dutch phrase, "doe den tap toe" which translates (rather loosely) to "turn off the taps". The musicians played a piece called "tattoo" at night as they marched through the town, directing the local pubs to turn off their taps and let the soldiers go to bed.
I was disappointed that I couldn't attend the rest of the festivities that weekend. Joe Mantagna from Criminal Minds spoke about the Wounded Warrior Project, a cause he is deeply involved in, and there were many presentations through out the Colonial area. I would have so liked to hear Reveille and Taps played in the open air.
It was impressive to see how much pride each group displayed. You could just imagine them on a battle field playing their heart out as bullets and bombs exploded around them. While this was but a small group of men and women preserving a little history, it made me think of all the wars down through the ages, and how many people served in so many ways. Next time you read a Scottish novel with bag pipes mentioned, or hear of Fife and Drums, think of the youngsters who gave their lives, who in their own less glorious and remembered way, did an important service to the warriors who fought everyday for the freedoms we enjoy.