Colin, one of our employees who grew up in Granby, Connecticut, was telling us the fyfe and drum corps he was a member of when he was a kid was celebrating their 50th Anniversary this month!! “What is a fyfe and drum corps?”, Kristie asked. While I had heard of fyfe and drum corps, I was really curious to learn more about this type of corps with children members. Colin explained that his corps was a marching band which consisted of all young people playing fyfes, bass drums, and snare drums. There were also members who carried flags. They had their own bus to travel in and participated in parades and other community events all over New England and occasionally other areas. Colin also explained that this corps, created half a century ago, has a really unique history. We all found it so unique we decided to share. First is a summary about the history of Fyfing and Drumming, and then are some of the details about the Marquis of Granby Ancient Fyfe and Drum Corps, which Colin was a member of for close to 8 years.
The History of Fyfing and Drumming
In colonial America, between 1771 and 1786, boys between the ages of nine and thirteen were drafted to serve as fyfers or drummers in a fighting unit. These boys did not carry guns or swords, but fought with their music. The armies of our nation would not have succeeded without these young musicians, as every command was sounded through their instruments, whether on the battlefield or marching down a country road. One called the men to assemble, or summoned the doctor to a wounded solider; another gave the order to advance, retreat or shoot; and yet another called the weary troops together for meals, such as they were. At the end of a long day of battle, the sound of “taps” rang through the night.
A fife (ancient spelling is fyfe, the spellings are used interchangeably here) is a small, high‐pitched, transverse flute that is similar to the piccolo, but louder and shriller due to its narrower bore. The fife originated in fourteenth century Switzerland, and its use was spread throughout Europe by Swiss mercenaries. In medieval Europe, it was used in folk music and dances throughout all social classes. It is often used in military and marching bands. Someone who plays the fife is called a fifer. The word fife comes from the German Pfeife, or pipe, ultimately derived from the Latin word pipare.
The fife was one of the most important musical instruments in America’s Colonial period. Fifes are made mostly of wood, although Military and marching fyfes have metal reinforcing bands around the ends called ferrules, which protect the wood from damage. The fife is loud and piercing, but also extremely small, light and portable. By some reports, a military fife can be heard up to 3 miles away over artillery fire. This makes it very useful for signaling on the battlefield and it’s military use can be traced back to European armies as far back as the 1400s in Switzerland and southern Germany. By the 1500s, the fife was a standard infantry instrument in Europe. Accompanied by a snare drum, the company’s fifer was responsible for conveying orders in battle. These included order to fire, retreat, advance and so forth. The fifers and drummers also gave signals at camp such as the call to arms. While the infantry company marched, the drummer and the fifer set the cadence. During marches, fifers improvised tunes, creating variations on a theme while keeping the rhythm of the march. While the unit rested or camped, the fifers and drummers played music to entertain the soldiers. By the 18th century, military use of fifers was regulated by armies throughout Europe and the American colonies. The rank of Fife Major was introduced as a noncommissioned officer who was responsible for the regiment’s fifers, just as a Drum Major was responsible for the drummers.
By the late 19th century, warfare was changing and fifes were no longer practical as combat signaling devices. British armies stopped using fifers in the 1890s and the United States stopped in 1904. The fife can still be heard in some Appalachian folk music, playing lively dance tunes. American slaves adopted fifes in their musical traditions, which derived from African music. African‐American fife‐and‐drum music was one of the many sources of Blues music. The center of the fife and drum community today is in New England, and most notably in Connecticut. Here there remains an active and enthusiastic group that continues to play fife and drum music in a folk tradition that has gone on since just after the American Civil War. Internationally, the fyfe’s military legacy lives on primarily through historical reenactment Corps in Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
The Marquis of Granby Ancient Fyfe and Drum Corps is an all-volunteer managed, youth corps composed of young men and women between the ages of 8 and 21.
The Marquis (pronounced “mar-kwiss”) is a historical recreation of a military unit of the 18th century, and has maintained historic accuracy with few exceptions. Founded in 1969 in Granby, Connecticut, the Marquis’ goal was to create a corps that could add both music and pageantry to community events.
The original founders sought to demonstrate the sound and presence of a pre-revolutionary colonial militia sponsored by a titled Englishman, John Manners (thus the English pronunciation of Marquis) who was the titular head of a militia in the colonies before the Revolution. The Connecticut 18th Militia was located in the area we now know as The Granbys, with Joseph Forward as Captain of one of the companies in the militia. Thus, the official name for the present day corps is: The Connecticut 18th Militia, Captains Joseph Forward’s Company, The Marquis of Granby’s Regiment. Captain Joseph Forward is buried in East Granby, CT. One of the ninety-six corps registered with The Company of Fifers and Drummers (headquartered in Ivoryton, CT), the Marquis of Granby is one of a few whose drum major and flag line follows the Von Steuben manual of arms. Von Steuben was the Prussian officer who taught Washington’s troops at Valley Forge the necessity of following precise drill and maneuvers in order to obtain the discipline necessary to be victorious in battle. Each new Marquis member must learn and become proficient in the musket drill before marching or advancing further. The same street discipline of our colonial troops is seen today when one observes the unique marching style of the Marquis with their “high-stepping” and “trooping”. You will not see a member of the Corps talk, smile, or look around while performing (well… hardly ever) as that would not have been allowed in a well-trained military unit in the Revolutionary War
The Marquis of Granby is dedicated to patriotism, honoring veterans and the military, and providing youth members an enriching experience of music, history and leadership. They take pride in bringing pageantry to events, both large and small, public and private.
It is hard to imagine that children as young as 8 are able to play instruments as they march and remain so disciplined and focused. If you want to see video of this fabulous group of young men and women, visit www.marquisofgranby.com!! Look under Gallery! Oh, by the way, in case you were eager to know, Colin played the bass drum and even participated with the Corps one year playing and marching in Switzerland!