On 1st July, we had the opportunity to speak with Katie Long from Fort Ticonderoga. In this interview, Katie shares her fife preference, her favourite tunes to play in Fife and Drum Corps, and some valuable advice for anyone considering taking up fife playing.
To read the first half of our interview with Katie, please click here.
Moving on from uniforms a little bit, but still equipment wise, what about the instruments that are played? Do the fifers and drummers own their own instruments?
The drums are borrowed. Drummers typically have a drum pad for practicing, whilst the drums stay onsite. You have to be very careful with them, and maintenance can be tricky – you don’t want to leave the tension up on the heads, and you want to make sure they’re loosened before storage, so they aren’t stretching and pulling. The fifers have their own instruments. I personally own three fifes – I feel like I’m starting to become a collector at this point. We all have our own fifes. Some people have a preference, some people don’t, and some people buy what they can find, but I certainly have a preference.
What is your fife preference, if you don’t mind me asking?
In terms of sound and intonation, I really liked the Model F fifes. I would highly recommend them to anyone because they tend to be more in tune with themselves. When you’re working with an instrument with just holes, you’re going to have to adjust your embouchure in order to keep the instrument in tune, note to note. The Model F for the most part does that for you. The first fife I owned was a Cooperman Traditional which I also absolutely loved. The drummers tend to use Cooperman sticks actually. Their fifes are really nice quality, and the size of a Cooperman fife is really nice too. It has a smaller bore, which makes it slightly more ergonomic. I don’t think that the intonation is quite where the Model F is though.
So there’s no kind of demand for people to be playing historical fifes at Ticonderoga?
Not really, but the modern instruments are really recreated to reflect the historical quality and look already, such as little brass metal pieces on the end of a fife called ferrules. They used to be shorter in 18th Century, whereas they were longer during the American Civil War. So you wouldn’t probably find, in terms of historical accuracy, someone at Fort Ticonderoga playing a fife with very long ferrules.
Speaking of playing, how do you choose which music to play?
The music is chosen based on the time period we’re portraying. Fifes and Drums were historically used to regulate soldiers’ day in camp, as well as on the battlefield, and ceremoniously. They were used to wake the soldiers up in the morning. We use music that has been printed in fife tutors or manuals, and books from the 18th century that we have surviving records of, or modern reprints of. We use records of pieces based on actual surviving documentation. I enjoy learning about the history of the different pieces as we learn them, as they vary so much between the American, British and French army.
Do you guys have to learn the music off by heart or do you use lyres at all?
We actually memorise all of the music, so no lyres at all. All winter we have our Winter Quarters, which we use to practice once a week with the whole group together, learning what we call the duty music, which are the songs that regulate the day. Then we have marches that we learn, which are part of our daily interpretation demonstration. We do a quick talk through of the typical pieces, so there is an educational component to it. It’s not just a concert.
So how many performances would you normally do throughout the season?
In the winter quarters, we typically have one event each month. We don’t have a specific year that follows us throughout winter, so these monthly events could be anything. Other than these events, we spend this time working on the music for the summer. We typically open in May, and the Fife and Drum Corps join us in late June when they get off school. People ask us all the time whether we live at the Fort, and we do not. Certainly, for events people do stay there, but we don’t live there so don’t do the Reveille [a bugle call, trumpet call, drum, fife-and-drum or pipes call most often associated with the military; it is chiefly used to wake military personnel at sunrise] in the morning for real. We do play the assembling though when we start our workday. This is just for the staff, so we all get together for the morning parade, like the soldiers would have. We make sure that everyone’s dressed appropriately, and ready for work.
So what does a typical day look like for you in the summer once the visitors have arrived?
Once the visitors arrive, typically we will do a short march out to the flag. We’ll play a song like Coronation March or Rule, Britannia!, to raise the flag, then play something different to march back. Our big performance is our demonstration, where we talk about the songs and kind of go through a day in the life of a soldier, songs that they would hear, what they would do when they heard these songs, and essentially the importance of Fifes and Drums in relaying these commands to the troops.
We also do a march down to the King’s garden, which is really beautiful, where the visitors can follow behind us. We do that twice a day and get to play a few songs in the course of that march which we can pick ourselves – Fifers and Drummers choice!
Do you have any favourite tunes to play on fife at all?
I have a few. I really like York Fusiliers, that’s a good one. There are some really fun ones from the Fort George Muster in Canada that we all like to play together, like Road to Boston, Country Dance, which is also the same as a duty tune. Grandfather’s Clock is also one of my favourites!
We started a new kind of social media campaign when we had to go digital. So we started a “name that tune” Tuesday. So I would play like a little snippet of a song and see if some of our followers could guess the song based on the snippet, and the next day, we would reveal the whole song. The drummer would, record his part from his home, then I would add my part from my home. That was a fun experiment in both music and technology!
Do you have any particular highlights from across your whole fife playing career, or any particular moment or memories that that you’d like to share with the BBICO News readers?
Oh my gosh, I don’t know. I think the easy answer for me is the Fort George Muster – one of my favourite weekends in the entire world! It’s a lot of fun to get together with other Fifers and Drummers, and other reenactors. You spend the weekend in the barracks and it’s really fun, and so beautiful up there. The energy when all of the Corps play together is really cool.
Another big highlight for me was the first time I attended the Westbrook Muster in Connecticut with the Village Volunteers. It’s an invitational muster, attend by usually 40 different Corps. It’s not a competition, it’s a performance. We start off the day with a parade around town, and then we all gather on a baseball field and watch each Corp take their turn. I don’t want to say that it’s low pressure, because certainly when you’re out there, it’s terrifying. There are so many people, but it’s a really cool experience, you really get to truly perform.
Another really cool thing about that muster is that the US Army Old Guard participates too. The Old Guard Fife and Drums are just incredible and seeing them perform in person for the first time was really cool. I got to meet one of the fifers and on top of that, they played my maybe all-time favourite tune, Merry Men Home From the Grave. It’s actually a very, very upbeat little tune for the title, and it’s really fun to play.
Thank you so much for sharing those Katie, I know it’s a bit of pressure to pick on the spot, but they both sound like amazing experiences. Just to round things off, would you have any advice for anyone who’s looking to start playing fife and joining a Corp?
Do it! That’s the best advice! I would have had no idea in high school that fife would become such a big part of my life. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would actually get to play my fife for a living. You know when you’re a senior in high school, and you’re getting ready for college, and they make you write that paper about your dream job? I wrote mine about being a professional fifer! Did I think that actually existed? Absolutely not! But here I am, and I think it’s a great experience.
It’s a great way to get involved with other musicians, a fun way to get involved with other musicians, and a great way to engage with history. There’s just something about it that’s different than my experience in marching band and concert band and jazz band and all the other music things that I’ve done in my life. I think there’s just something really unique about it. I would encourage anyone who wants to learn to learn. There are resources out there, such as the Village Volunteers’ Music Library, but the best way to learn is to join a Corp. Don’t be intimidated. Fifers and drummers tend to be very friendly…maybe overly friendly! There will probably reach a time when it’s a dying art and we want to see people getting into it, no matter what their age. So, yes, do it!
Perfect, what fantastic advice – it’s so great to hear that this is something you always wanted to do, but didn’t think was possible – now look! Thank you so much for giving up your time to do this Katie, we can’t wait to share this with all of our BBICO News readers!
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