From the colonial era to present day, the rich musical fife and drum tradition has thrived in Connecticut more so than in any other state. Connecticut’s tradition is unique. It is home to a related museum and archives, and more fife and drum corps than anywhere else in the United States; among them is the Connecticut Valley Field Music fife and drum corps.
CVFM is trying to drum up interest (pun intended). In particular, the corps is recruiting fifers. Members play rope-tension snare and bass drums and 10-hole wooden fifes. The uniform and instrument are supplied by the corps. CVFM is open to musicians of all levels from beginners to advanced. The corps would be a great fit for people who may have been part of their high school marching band, musicians looking for an outlet for their talent, those looking for a hobby, and those who have an appreciation for and desire to preserve fife and drum music.
“There are a lot of related skills,” fifer Kate Sheely of Vernon said of former marching band participants.
New members need not feel intimidated. “I never played the fife before joining,” said Kelsi Harmon of Portland, the newest and youngest member of the multigenerational group, which ranges in age from 20s to 70s.
This is a very welcoming group, said Mike Orenstein of Mansfield, a member of CVFM’s color guard.
“We don’t rehearse in a negative way. We try to create an environment where people want to do the work, and have fun doing it,” said James Clark, the founder and director of CVFM and author of
Connecticut’s Fife and Drum Tradition (2011, Wesleyan University Press). For 31 years CVFM has put its own unique twist on this musical heritage playing traditional fife and drum music, folk tunes, spirituals, Irish reels and jigs, contemporary pieces and Clark’s original compositions.
CVFM has a vast repertoire. “The music spans the period from the Civil War era to early blues when America was coming into musical maturity. That’s special about our group. It’s a unique musical entity,” said Sean Carroll, a drummer from Simsbury.
Clark established CVFM in his living room starting with only five amateur musicians. The corps has grown in numbers and respect to 15 volunteer fifers, drummers, and color guard who have marched in myriad parades and countless musters, performed in many free and ticketed concerts, and recorded their own CD. “We perform in 20 to 25 parades (from St. Patrick’s Day through Veterans Day) and special events annually in Southern New England and occasionally perform outside of New England or outside of the United States,” Sheely said.
The music ensemble’s credits include performing twice in Basel, Switzerland – the birthplace of the fife and drum tradition, Colonial Williamsburg, the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg National Military Park, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, Conn.
“There’s something special about this group and about making music together whether it’s a 19th century march or an 18th century folk dance,” Clark said.
But “It’s not just about the music. It has a social element built into it,” Carroll said.
“This is like a family,” said drummer Pete McDougall of Portland. That is evident by the distances from which members travel to weekly rehearsals in Marlborough, Mondays at 7 p.m. Members come from almost every corner of Connecticut.
Kaitlin Lindhardt, a fifer from Coventry, said it’s a great family activity. She has played fife since she was three years old. Lindhardt, Clark, and several other members teach junior corps in Connecticut.
Winter is a good time to learn the instrument in preparation for the upcoming marching season, Sheely said.
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