On 1st July, we had the opportunity to speak with Katie Long from Fort Ticonderoga. In this interview, Katie shares her journey to learning the fife, her experiences with different Fife and Drum Corps, and discusses her current role as Fife Major.
The second half of this blog will be posted on 31st July. Make sure to keep an eye on the BBICO News Page!
Thank you so much for agreeing to take part in our “Behind the Lyre” Series, Katie. Would you like to briefly introduce yourself to our BBICO News readers?
All right, so my name is Katie, and I have been playing the fife for about 15 years. I began in High School and have participated in various Corps and groups throughout my time as a fife player. I currently work at Fort Ticonderoga as the Museum Education Coordinator and the Fife Major.
Okay, fantastic – you’ve already mentioned plenty of things I’d love to talk to you about. Do you want to start by just explaining briefly how you got into music in the first place?
Sure, I started with music kind of by default – my dad is a musician, he’s a piano player. I got involved with music at a really young age, starting with learning the piano. Maybe regrettably, I never went anywhere with it, but as I got into elementary school I had the opportunity to start learning an instrument, and I picked the flute. My mom had been a flute player actually, so I quite literally picked up her instrument and started learning. That was in around fourth grade, and I started playing in band all through middle and high school as well as college, and even graduate school! I also played in marching bands in my middle school, high school, college (Kutztown University of Pennsylvania), and graduate school (The University at Albany).
What really got me into fife playing was that my High School band had an associated Fife and Drum Corps, which was really cool. Anyone who played the flute had the option to join the Fife and Drum Corps – you would play piccolo for marching, and you’d also play the fife.
So, I have been almost a lifelong flute player, and I’ve been a lifelong marcher as well.
You mentioned that you would play fife and piccolo in marching band, was this in the same march?
Yes, so you have these little pouches and you could switch out your instruments. So, in the same parade and the same march, you could just switch – it was great. For those who maybe played other instruments, like clarinet, they had the opportunity to learn the fife too. They would use their clarinets to march with and join the Fife and Drum Corps on fife for their independent events. We were not a re-enacting Corp, we were a High School Corp, so primarily a parade group. However, we did participate in a few events and festivals in Philadelphia in addition to the parades that were just uniquely for the Fife and Drum Corps
So how long had you been paying, playing flute before you started fife?
Probably about seven years.
Right, so you had a decent number of years under your belt as a flautist beforehand. Could you perhaps briefly explain the main differences between playing flute and playing Fife for our readers?
Sure. As for the similarities, they’re both transverse instruments that you hold them out to the side, and they both have a similar embouchure. You blow over the hole in the same fashion, rather than like a recorder where you’re blowing into the instrument. As for the differences, the flute has keys, and the fife has holes, six in fact. There are actually a few different types of fife – most have six holes, but there is also a ten hole fife. The fingerings are going to be different just based on flutes having a lot of keys, and a lot of different combinations. The intonation on a flute is much better by virtue of having more options for keys and changing that column of air. The flute has a lower range, while the fife is more in line with the piccolo – it’s a lot higher in pitch, very piercing!
Great, thank you for outlining those key differences, Katie. So I understand that you were playing both flute and fife throughout High School. Did this continue into college and graduate school, or did you ever focus on one over the other?
When I was in college there wasn’t a local Fife and Drum Corps, so that was just something I did independently. We needed to play the flute in marching band for American football, of course. However, I was in a music fraternity, Sigma Alpha Iota, who put on recitals every semester. We happened to have a lot of flute players, so as you can probably imagine, a lot of flute recitals too! So, I decided to play the fife for something new and different that our organisation hadn’t had before. It added a little bit of variety to our recitals, and gave me a chance to keep up with the fife.
It was when I started Graduate School that I really got into it heavily again. I moved to Albany, New York, and one of the first things I did was Google search ‘Fife and Drum Corps’ in the area! There had to be some, given the historic area. I found a really great group, The Village Volunteers of Delmar New York, which I am still kind of on the fringes of. Since then, I’ve moved about an hour and a half away from that location, so I try to make what I can, and still keep in touch with a lot of the members. I was an active member with them for about four years. And then when I moved further North, that’s when I started working at Fort Ticonderoga.
Fantastic. Just quickly before we move on to Fort Ticonderoga, could I quickly ask whether you studied music at college? Was music your Major?
So it wasn’t music and it wasn’t history…I’m a sociologist by trade! My bachelor’s degree is in sociology, my master’s degree is in Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, and I am working on my PhD in sociology at the moment. So music is very much a hobby for me, not my profession. Although I suppose it is in some ways as Fort Ticonderoga is my full-time job? It’s part of my profession, but is not what I’ve been formally trained in.
How did you hear about Fort Ticonderoga and kind of get involved in the first place?
So I had heard of it before having studied you American history throughout school. When I moved to Albany, I thought that I was much closer to Ticonderoga than I actually was. I had thought I’d try and work there over my summers, but then I realised that it was just too far away.
So I played with the Village Volunteers, and every year we would go to a Muster. A Muster is essentially a gathering, of different Fife and Drum Corps from different areas. The Village Volunteers would attend a particular Muster at Fort George in Ontario, Canada, every year. It’s a really nice weekend of re-enacting groups and music and fifes and drums. We do all kinds of performances, and even one where all the Corps perform together. The Fife and Drums Corps of Fort Ticonderoga go every other year. I got to know some of the people from Fort Ticonderoga through going to these musters.
When I finally moved further North I thought “You know, Fort Ticonderoga is actually close now!”. It was within an hour, as opposed to when I was down in Albany when it had been two and a half hours. So I spoke with the Drum Major to learn a little bit about their Corp. Traditionally it had been mostly High School students from the local districts. Myself and the Drum Major are the exceptions. It’s an interesting dynamic, especially because the Corp in Albany was very diverse in terms of age (we had a few members who were around 14 or 15, all the way up to around 70, if I had to guess!)
So, what was your first role when you started at Fort Ticonderoga? Am I right in understanding that you’re Fife Major now?
So I started as a Fifer, and the Fife Major position came about more so as just a product of taking on a full-time position as Museum Education Coordinator. Once I started full time, it made sense to have someone who would be a fixture rather than one of the rotating high school students that filter through as they graduate and go off to college. We have always had Fife Sergeants, roles typically given to High School Seniors, but the Fife Major tends to be an older member.
As a fife major, what kind of additional responsibilities do you have?
So it’s more so a teaching role. So new fife players don’t necessarily have to have any experience to join the Corp – we are happy to teach! Teaching sometimes is as basic as how to read music, how to make noise out of the fife, the different fingerings, learning the music, how to march…and encouraging them! It’s being there as a role model. We make sure they’re all dressed appropriately too – there are a lot of parts to the uniforms!
Do you want to tell me a bit about the uniform at Fort Ticonderoga actually? That would be really interesting!
Sure. So this year, we’re portraying the year 1774. In this year in history, Captain William Delaplace commanded a small guard of about 29 soldiers at Fort Ticonderoga. We’re portraying this year at the moment, and the uniforms for the fifers and drummers are reverse colours from the enlisted soldiers. So enlisted soldiers in the 26th Regiment of Foot would be wearing red wool coats with yellow facings. The coats would be red, whilst the lapels, collar and cuffs on sleeves would be yellow. The reverse of that, of course, would be the fifers and drummers wearing yellow coats with red facings.
The coats are actually very ornate, because of their lace. It’s not lace as we might think of it now, but more of a patterned ribbon. The drummers have lace that goes down the sleeves in a Chevron pattern. There’s no mistaking a drummer, as opposed to an enlisted soldier! The historical interpreters will also wear wool breeches, shirts with ruffles, wool waistcoats, etc. It’s good that we have lots of layers, as we can just shed a layer if it gets too hot!
Who makes the uniforms then? And you mentioned that Fort Ticonderoga focuses on a different year of history each year, so does the uniform have to change according to that?
So we actually make the uniform ourselves! We have a tailor, Joseph Zea, although he goes by the name Gibb, who works for the Fort, and he’s really very good. We’ve become friends since I started working at Ticonderoga, and fortunately I have a background in sewing. I learned from my grandmothers, so was able to pick up on it relatively quickly. Everything is hand-stitched, it’s done in the way that it would have been done in the 18th century. Everything is based on surviving artifacts and images from the 18th century. We’re able to recreate these things as authentically as possible. Part of our daily interpretation is showing visitors how we make the uniforms. While we’re doing this interpretive work, we’re actually making uniforms and pieces that people will actually need to wear!
…this blog will be continued on 31st July – keep an eye on the BBICO News Page!
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