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Brass Fife in B Flat


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Historical Background: Music has been used to signal soldiers and regulate an army for centuries. Fifes and drums were used to instruct soldiers in war as well as in peacetime. They told soldiers when they should awake, fall into formation, eat, go to bed, and signal movements before battle or during military ceremonies.

During the American Revolution, the Continental Army adopted 21 beats and signals. These were standardized by a Prussian-born assistant to General George Washington, Baron Friedrich von Steuben. Von Steuben's regulations listed nine beats: The Assembly, The General, The March, The Parley, The Retreat, The Reveille, The Tattoo, The Troop, and To Arms. These regulations also prescribed 12 signals: Adjutant's Call, Church Call, Drummer's Call, Fatigue Call, First Sergeant's Call, Front Halt, Front Advance Quicker, Front March Slower, Go for Provisions, Go for Water, Go for Wood, and Noncommissioned Officers' Call.

Since the American Revolutionary war, melodies were changed. Some beats and signals were added, others were modified, and some were dropped from the army's regulations. While field drums were mostly used to convey signals and commands to troops, fife music accompanied the beats and added a musical quality that boosted the morale of the soldiers. During the American Revolution, beats and signals were accompanied by such tunes as "Chester," "On the Road to Boston," "Washington's March," and, of course, "Yankee Doodle."

Contrary to popular belief, fife and drum signals were rarely given during battle, with the exception of Cease Fire and similar signals. Battlefields were far too noisy and chaotic. Besides, the enemy could always hear the signals and adjust their battle tactics accordingly. And while fifers and drummers marched in front of their army to encourage the troops (and taunt the enemy), they were always a safe distance from enemy fire.

When the Continental Army was disbanded in 1784, those fifers and drummers who were mustered out of the army were allowed to retain their instruments. This helped fifes and drums become popular in civilian life. Military use continued as the United States expanded westward and the army was used to "settle" numerous conflicts.

The U.S. Army established a school for fifers and drummers in 1809 at Fort Columbus on Governor's Island, New York. It remained in operation until after the American Civil War. In 1841 or 1842, a drum major named Crosby at the school asked local instrument makers to create a lower-pitched fife than the English military BO model, which was pitched in the key of C. This fife became known as the BO Crosby Fife and had a distinctively superior tone.

After the Civil War began in 1861, brass military bands started to become popular. Fifes and drums continued to be used after the war until the adoption of the bugle in 1875. Army regulations, however, permitted the fife as a substitute for the bugle until 1917. After the army discontinued using fifes, its popularity declined. Eventually, Field music was no longer needed by the army. By the start of World War Two, radio and telephone technologies made the need to communicate with musical beats and signals obsolete. And since then, brass bands have been used mostly for traditional military ceremonies.

In 1862, Drum Major George B. Bruce and Daniel Decatur Emmett wrote "The Drummer's and Fifer's Guide." According to Robin Engelman, "This great work has never been surpassed as an example of the perfect blending of melodies and drum beatings. Emmett, who later became a famous minstrel musician, wrote "I Wish I Was in Dixie's Land" in 1860. "Dixie Land" would eventually become closely associated with the Confederate Army.

During the 1880s, Confederate and Union veteran musicians began making pilgrimages to Civil War battlefields. At these gatherings, they reminisced and played music together. With funding from veterans' organizations, they published collections of the music they played during the war. The organization of civilian fife and drum corps began at this time in Connecticut. Today, the northeastern region of the U.S. continues as the center of Fife and Drum music in North America.

Fun Fact: When the United States Marine Corps was established in 1798, Congress also authorized 32 drums and fifes.

Fun Fact: The Marine Band played only drums and fifes until other instruments were added in 1800.

Fun Fact: Fifes were used by the Marine Corps until the bugle replaced the fife for field calls in 1875.

Fun Fact: During the Civil War, George and Frederick Cloos were the largest suppliers of BO fifes in the U.S.

Fun Fact: More than 100,000 young men and boys played fifes and drums during the Civil War. About 2,000 were twelve years old or younger!

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Brass Fife in B Flat
Brass Fife in B Flat
Item Number 5201

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