WILLIAMSBURG — The heartbeat of a nation was seen and heard as people enjoyed Duke of Gloucester Street during colonial times, and that heartbeat continues to live on today with the Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps.
Originating in the 18th century, fifes and drums were widely used as a signal for battle and other military communications. During the American Revolution, a fifer and drummer were regularly deployed with military companies. They marched with troops and were used by both the American and British forces.
Started in 1958, the Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps helps honor that history. Men and women from the area, some as young as nine years old, make up the corps, starting as junior corps members before moving up the ranks to the senior corps.
Drum instructor Brodie Adams and fife instructor Rebecca Sterner combine their passions for history, music, and education as they instruct new corps members. The history of their predecessors is not lost on either of them.
“We always try to inspire the kids by reminding them that they aren’t just representing Colonial Williamsburg, but also the memory of the people who actually did this in the 18th century. We have a duty to these people that we are representing,” Adams shared.
Adams, a lifelong Williamsburg resident, was put on a waiting list at two weeks old to be eligible to join the Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps. While the waiting list is no more, fourth graders interested in joining the corps are welcome to fill out an application.
Adams said he loves teaching the next generation of talent.
“I really love the teaching aspect of this program. Seeing kids come in who have maybe never played an instrument at all or another instrument entirely, and helping them develop as musicians and humans is really important,” Adams said.
Corps members are outfitted in traditional period costumes and are taught about the history of the corps from colonial times. As corps members rise from the junior rank to the senior rank, they start to become instructors for the newcomers. Corps members march throughout the Colonial Williamsburg historic area and participate in various demonstrations and performances throughout the year.
Sterner, who thought her passion was biochemistry, switched gears and found a fond interest in the local history of Colonial Williamsburg. A re-enactor for much of her life, the chance to enjoy history and play music was an easy yes.
“I’ve always had an interest in fife and drum and 18th-century history. Music has always been a part of my life, so much so that I chose flute in fifth grade because I wanted to be a fifer for my reenacting group eventually. I adored baroque music and I just always had this intention to learn fife and I enjoyed the music that I had when I had it,” Sterner said.
According to Sterner, the kids in the corps learn many important leadership skills that they can apply to the rest of their lives.
“Our corps members get the opportunity to learn leadership skills, whether they are helping each other, instructing the junior corps, or teaching each other. We are merely just the advisors, while they all really teach each other,” Sterner said.
Never seen the fifes and drums in action? This weekend is an opportunity that is not to be missed.
May 19 and 20, Colonial Williamsburg will once again host its annual Drummers Call. The weekend brings visiting fife and drum corps from around the country to Williamsburg for a celebration of 18th-century military music.
During the weekend, guests will be able to see demonstrations of military music in different areas of the historic district. On May 20, from 8:30-9:30 p.m., the Williamsburg Military Tattoo will march down Duke of Gloucester Street where all visiting corps will perform for the crowd. The event is free and open to the public.
Interested in getting started? The Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps is always looking for the next generation of talent. Interested families can fill out an application for their fourth grader (2023-24 school year) for a spot in the Fall 2024 corps class.