What does life look like for those who grew up in the fifes and drums?

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Group Shot - 60th Anniversary of the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes & Drums, May 2018. (WYDaily/Courtesy Bryce Williams)
Group shot – 60th Anniversary of the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes & Drums, May 2018. (WYDaily/Courtesy Bryce Williams)

Bryce Williams was just a newborn when his parents put his name on a list that would determine much of his future.

At a couple months old, Williams joined the wait list for the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes & Drums, a group of children and teens that represent Revolutionary War field musicians and perform in Williamsburg’s Historic Area.

It was a choice he said made a lasting impact on both his childhood and adult life. At 30 years old, Williams said his life has been shaped by his years in the corps, teaching him structure and how to prioritize his responsibilities.

“It kind of forced you to grow up quickly,” said Williams, who attained the highest fife and drum rank of sergeant major, leading the corps during his senior year of high school. “I had to learn what responsibility was… Those things have consequently been very applicable to my career.”

Williams has been a firefighter and medic for the City of Williamsburg for six years. The area where Williams once played the snare drum is now the area he works to protect.

“Now I get to give back to those people and businesses by providing emergency services and fulfilling my career on the other side,” Williams said.

Williams is not the only person who used his experience with the fife and drum corps to shape his adult life.

Four of Williams’ close friends and colleagues are part of the 69-member U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, the only fife and drum unit in the armed forces. The corps performs at all armed-forces arrival ceremonies for visiting dignitaries and heads of state at the White House, according to the corps’ website.

“Lots of alumni also go to college for music,” Williams said. “Many alumni are also extremely proficient at drum sets and play in their own bands.”

Sacrifices

Being a part of the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes & Drums is serious business, even though its members are still children.

Williams officially joined the fifes and drums when he was 10 years old. He was able to multitask and balance sports and other extracurricular activities for several years, but the fifes and drums became the priority after his freshman year in high school.

Williams stopped playing sports, including soccer, when he realized as a freshman that he could obtain the rank of sergeant major in the fifes and drums.

There is only one sergeant major leading the corps each year, meaning Williams is one fewer than 60 sergeant majors in the corps’ entire 60-year history. Williams said there are likely even less than that, though, because some sergeant majors have served multiple years.

RELATED STORY: The Fifes & Drums at 60: What does it take to make it?

After high school, Williams graduated from the fifes and drums and went to college at James Madison University. He still worked in both full-time and part-time capacities with the corps until about 2015.

Keeping it alive

Williams is the current president of the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes & Drums Alumni Association.

There are almost 1,000 former members of the fife and drum corps, but the alumni association has about 200 or 300 members. There are 60 to 100 members who are active and participate in annual performances, including in the Williamsburg Christmas Parade and Drummers Call in Colonial Williamsburg.

The alumni association aims to perform three or four times a year as a group. 

“We’d love to have 100 people playing in an alumni capacity in a group,” Williams said.

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