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Connecticut's Fife and Drum Tradition

James Clark

Publication Year: 2011

The state of Connecticut boasts an extensive and active community of fife and drum groups. This musical tradition has its origins in the small military bands maintained by standing armies in Britain and Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries--the drum was especially important as it helped officers train soldiers how to march, and was also used to communicate with troops across battlefields. Today fifers and drummers gather at conventions called "musters," which may include a parade and concerts featuring the various participating corps. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest muster ever was held in Deep River, Connecticut, in 1976. Musician and historian James Clark is the first to detail the colorful history of this unique music. This engaging book leads the reader through the history of the individual instruments and tells the story of this classic folk tradition through anecdotes, biographies, photographs, and musical examples.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Series: The Driftless Connecticut Series & Garnet Books


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pp. vii-viii

This book is very much a history of my extended family, for the fifers and drummers of the Northeast have been a family to me. I would like to thank Paul Cormier for his friendship and for the endless string of drum corps stories and history that he has related to me during many a late night that turned too soon into dawn. I also owe a great deal to the late Ken Lemley, ...

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pp. ix-xiii

In the fall of 1963, nearing my ninth birthday, I was given a purple-inked, bureaucratic form offering me a choice among musical instruments that I could choose to study in East Hampton’s public school music program. I have no idea why I chose the snare drum, but I did. This set in train a series of events that has largely shaped my subsequent experience. No sooner, it ...

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1. Origins of the Fife and Drum

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pp. 1-21

The early colonists were not Americans but adventurers, pioneers, sometimes outcasts from Europe, establishing settlements in a new, vast, and strange land. Familiar customs and folkways provided continuity and reassurance for colonists isolated from their homes in Europe. Both the fife and the drum were simple to make from materials ready to hand, and ...

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2. A New Nation

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pp. 22-40

For nearly two hundred years, many Americans believed the War of Independence had been the defining moment in our common cultural history. The stories that were told about the revolutionary days and the morals drawn from them shaped an important set of ideas about American society. The fife and drum, in their own small way, formed part of that cultural self- ...

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3. The Early National Period and the Civil War

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pp. 41-64

Following the establishment of independence, the citizens of the thirteen states had to establish a correct relationship between state and federal powers. It was during this period that Connecticut became more of a manufacturing center, as population began to move toward the factory towns. Some of our nation’s earliest industrial achievements were those of ...

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4. The Connecticut Fifers and Drummers Association

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pp. 65-110

The civil war ended in April 1865, and thereafter the fife and drum rapidly diminished in importance in the United States military, to be replaced by the bugle and the military band. But the mass mobilization of the Civil War had broadened the public’s interest in all things military, including field music. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, fife and drum ...

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5. The Connecticut Ancient Corps of Moodus and East Hampton

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pp. 111-141

The lower Connecticut river valley even today consists of small towns interspersed between generous patches of woods, and sheltered from modern life by the river. Crossing the river was not casually undertaken in the nineteenth century, and even today there are only four crossings between Long Island Sound and Hartford. Haddam, Higganum, Deep River, ...

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6. The Contemporary Tradition

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pp. 142-166

For those who began playing fifes and drums as young people in the 1960s and later, the old reference points of American patriotism and local tradition were weakened by rapid changes in our culture and the increasing geographic mobility of the population. The Vietnam War and the Watergate scandals severely damaged the reflexive patriotism most Americans felt ...


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pp. 167-172

E-ISBN-13: 9780819571427
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819571410

Page Count: 196
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: The Driftless Connecticut Series & Garnet Books
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OCLC Number: 728176428
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Connecticut's Fife and Drum Tradition

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Subject Headings

  • Fife and drum corps music -- Connecticut -- History and criticism.
  • Fife and drum corps -- Connecticut -- History.
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