WILLIAMSBURG — One of the most iconic traditions kept alive by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CWF) is the Fifes and Drums, and that tradition continues this year as enrollment has opened for a new group of recruits to join the program’s ranks as part of its Fall 2022 Recruit Class.
Fifes and Drums at CWF began in 1958, and it’s a tradition that pays homage to soldiers of the American Revolution.
“It started out with just four guys in high school who learned how to play a fife and learned how to play the particular style of drumming that we do here which is 18th Century Rudimental Drumming,” Lead Drum Instructor for Fifes and Drums Brodie Adams said.
The Fifes and Drums was a communication system that soldiers utilized while in conflict during the 18th century. Typically, during the American Revolution, two boys wearing a non-combatant uniform and armed with their instruments were paired with a company of soldiers. When the group went out to fight, these 10- to 18-year-old boys played their instruments to help convey messages to the soldiers on the battlefield. They also played military tunes that helped organize soldiers while at the encampment.
Fast forward to 2022, and the CWF Fifes and Drums Program is continuing to teach kids how to play those same types of snare and bass drums as well as the small wind instrument known as the fife.
Recruitment is open to rising fifth-graders, and both boys and girls can sign up.
“People can go to the website and they basically submit a form giving us their information so we know who to contact and how to contact them,” said Adams. “We start contacting folks typically in April, and for that initial contact, we’re basically just inviting them to come and observe what we do, beyond just a performance. So they come in typically for a Saturday class time.”
Many kids who have joined the program in the past have stayed in it from the time they were ten years old until they graduate high school.
“It’s set up in such a way that it sort of mimics the military,” said Adams. “We have a rank system. Everybody starts at the bottom. As you gain proficiency in the music, in marching, music theory, and just general knowledge. You move up through the ranks.”
The ranking system in the program splits up participants into two groups. The juniors and the seniors. The new recruits will fall in the junior group.
“Those who are older, those who’ve been around longer, and who are higher ranking, end up actually teaching the younger kids,” said Adams. “They end up learning a lot of personal responsibility and how to work well with a team because when we go out there we’re usually performing in a fairly large group of 15 or more people at any given time. So they have to be able to play together and march together.”
Right now, there are 45 members of the Fifes and Drums. In most years, the new recruitment class size would be about 12-16 kids. However, for the next recruitment class of fifes and drums, Adams says they are planning to recruit about 24 new members.
While there is a time commitment of a couple of days per week to be involved in the Fifes and Drums, there isn’t a requirement to have prior musical training.
“So whether they come in and they’ve been taking piano lessons for 5 years, or if they’ve never held a drumstick in their lives, we are going to teach them everything that they’re going to need to know,” Adams said.
Regular performances for the fifes and drums start on March 15 at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Saturday performances will be at 1 p.m.
Parents and kids can find out more information about the Fifes and Drums and how to register by heading over to CWF’s website.