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Plastic Fife in C

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Continued from product description on Folk Instruments' Page Two...

Historical Background: The fife is a wind instrument that is believed to have originated in China as early as 800 B.C. Also known as a "cross flute," or "traverse flute," the fife was introduced through Byzantium to Europe sometime during the 1100s. The fife soon became an important folk music instrument in the region east of the Rhine River.

The name "fife" came to be when German and Swiss peasants adopted this instrument into their cultures. Germans called their wind instrument "zwerchpfeiffen" (or "cross fife"), while the Swiss called it "schweitzerpfeiffen" (or "Swiss fife"). From these two countries, the fife's popularity spread to the rest of Europe during the later part of the Middle Ages.

Since Swiss army troops began using fifes in the early 1500s, they have been closely associated with military music. In wartime, Swiss military units used fifes and field drums for control and command purposes during military engagements. In 1534, the French army made a regulation that there would be two fifes and two drums for each company (1,000) of troops. By 1539, fifes and drums were being used in England at Christmas festivals. The use of fifes and drums were eventually adopted by the English army during the 1550s and 1560s. By this time, one could hear them played on theatrical stages in London as well as elsewhere in England.

Michael Praetorius described the Swiss fife in the 1600s as being two feet long and had a range from G1 of the 1st octave to C3 of the 3rd octave. During his reign, King James II (1685-1688) prohibited his English army from using fifes. The fife had other critics in England during this period. Oliver Cromwell called the fife a "profane instrument" and William Shakespeare -- in his plays "Othello" and "The Merchant of Venice" -- referred to the fife's "vile squealing" and "ear-piercing" qualities.

Even though it fell from grace in England, the fife continued to be a popular instrument with the German and French peoples. In 1745, the fife was reintroduced to the British Foot Guards by a young German fifer. No matter what an Englishman thought about the fife's sounds, it was still a very good instrument for helping soldiers march in cadence. Eventually, the fife was being used by other British army units. It was one of these British army units that brought fifes to Colonial America and introduced fifers to the colonists.

By 1764, fifes and "fife tutors" (instruction books) were being advertised in Boston newspapers. One of these newspapers would four years later report that "British troops landed and marched to the Boston Common with colors flying, drums beating, and fifes playing." After the Boston Tea Party on the night of December 16, 1773, the "Indians" marched home to "the spirited sounds of the fife." This historic event launched the fife's destiny that would not only make it a symbol of the American Revolutionary War, but also an icon of American independence.

The American Revolutionary War began in April, 1775, at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. The colonial "minutemen" who engaged British troops then had with them their fifes and drums. At Concord Bridge, a militia fifer played "The White Cockade." Later at Bunker Hill, colonial fifers and drummers played "Yankee Doodle" during their battle with the "redcoats."

In April, 1775, the newly appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, George Washington, issued orders that every militia company have one or two fifers and drummers. However, there was a shortage of these instruments in the Continental Army -- at least until the Continental Congress authorized fifes and drums for the army.

As a musical instrument, early American-made fifes were inferior due to the crude craftsmanship used to produce them. The superior fifes found in America were produced in Europe and usually came from England. One factor was American-made fifes often had burned (instead of drilled) blow holes and finger holes. Another was the fact that there were not many musical instrument makers in America yet. The instrument makers that did exist in America often chose to make flutes rather than fifes.

The fife that was usually used in early American drum and fife corps was the 17-inch "BO fife."

Fun Fact: When Benjamin Franklin was a militia colonel in Philadelphia, he had his regiment pass in review with "hautboys" and fifes -- as early as 1756!

Fun Fact: To "combat" the shortage of fifes and drums during the American Revolutionary War, Major Jonathan Goselow established a factory and delivered 163 fifes and 54 drums to the Continental Army on August 23, 1780.

Not-So-Fun Fact: "Yankee Doodle" was often played by British military units to ridicule the American colonists!

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Plastic Fife in C
Plastic Fife in C
Item Number 5104

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