Monday, April 15, 2024

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

The Williamsburg Fife and Drum program will celebrate its 60th anniversary this May. The program takes students from the age of 10 and teaches them music and teamwork in a quasi-military fashion, according to Steward Pittman, director of the Fife and Drum Corps. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)
Colonial Williamsburg’s Fifes & Drums program will celebrate its 60th anniversary in May. The program takes students from the age of 10 and teaches them music and teamwork, according to Stewart Pittman, the journeyman supervisor. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)

For Clare Provoncha, 18, life in the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes & Drums began when her mom signed her up. She was 18 months old.

As Provoncha approached the age of 10, when students can begin the program, she realized how much she wanted to be part of it.

“Our elementary school class would run along next to them while they were marching and I remember pushing my brother in his wheelchair and seeing just how much he loved the music,” Provoncha said.

Until 1998, parents could enroll their children at birth, before they knew how to hold a drumstick or what a fife was. But now, members of the Fifes & Drums have to be at least 8 years old to sign up, according to Stewart Pittman, the journeyman supervisor of the Fifes & Drums program

The program takes students through an eight-year regimen that teaches them how to play an instrument, and aims to instill values of respect, leadership and teamwork, according to Pittman.

“I think people leave this program with a head start on becoming good citizens,” Pittman said.

Clare Provoncha, 18, is a senior at Walsingham Academy and has been a part of the Fife and Drum program for eight years. She has risen through the ranks to become the lead drummer and will finish the program in July when she graduates and plans to pursue a career in the U.S. Air Force. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)
Clare Provoncha, 18, is a senior at Walsingham Academy and she’s been a part of the Fifes & Drums for eight years. Now the lead drummer, she’ll finish the program in July. When she graduates, she plans to pursue a career in the U.S. Air Force. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)

Pittman’s involvement with the Fifes & Drums dates back to 1990, when he entered at the age of 10 after having been registered at birth. Since then, the program has grown to allow women, in 1999, and only recently got rid of the office typewriter, according to Pittman.

The program teaches leadership by instilling it, said Pittman. Older students teach the younger classes.

For Provoncha, watching students in leadership positions inspired her to become a role model herself. Now, after eight years, she has risen through the ranks to become lead drummer.

“As I was tasting that leadership experience that I saw peers above me excel in, I made a choice to work hard and become a leader myself,” Provoncha said.

Life-long connections

Students in the Fifes & Drums spend their middle school and high-school years with their original recruit groups of approximately eight or more 10-year-olds. They spend around eight hours per week together until they graduate from high school.


As part of the program, they take classes in music theory, colonial history and military commands. They’re also encouraged to help each other through challenges, in order to build a more team-like atmosphere, according to Pittman.

Thomas Kellogg, 16, has been in the Fifes & Drums for five years. He already knows that when he leaves, he’ll miss his friends from the program, since they grew up together.

Pittman echoes that view.

“The best man at my wedding was in my recruit class,” Pittman said. “You grow up with these people and you get to know them on a personal level that you can’t really find anywhere else.”

Getting started

The Fifes & Drums experience isn’t all friendship and music, though. It requires a lot of work — from the moment students enter the program.

To register, potential members must first attend an information session, then observe a class and go through an interview.

Each potential member must also watch the daily roll call, where 10-year-olds go from chatting and laughing with their friends to standing still at attention, Pittman said.

According to Steward Pittman, the Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps spends eight years building musicians through teaching music theory, history, and providing an intimate understanding of their instrument. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)
According to Stewart Pittman, the Fifes & Drums program builds musicians by teaching music theory, history and an intimate understanding of their instruments. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)

“Working in a group and as a team takes everybody doing their job, so you really have to have the dedication,” Kellogg said.

Still, members have to put in their weekly hours to the Fifes & Drums, on top of any other extracurricular activities they might have.

For Provoncha, this meant balancing being on a varsity sports team, being the lead in two musicals and becoming a recipient of the Williamsburg Aviation Scholarship — in addition to her requirements for the Fifes & Drums.

“Eventually, I had to decide what I wanted to put the most effort into,” Provoncha said. “I could do the sports, I could do the musical—but fife and drum, there’s nothing like it.”

Returning home

The Fife and Drum Corps operates under a militaristic regime that teaches students leadership, respect, and responsibility according to Stewart Pittman, director of the Fife and Drum Corps. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)
The Colonial Williamsburg Fifes & Drums program teaches students leadership, respect, and responsibility according to Stewart Pittman, the journeyman supervisor. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)

The Fifes & Drums will kick off a three-day 60th anniversary celebration on May 25, with events slated to include a grand march down Duke of Gloucester Street, a BBQ picnic at Billsburg Brewery and a Market Square performance, according to an agenda posted on the alumni website. 

The program began in 1958, with four high-school students, and has grown into a network of hundreds of alumni, according to Pittman.

While alumni come back every year, according to Provoncha, the reunion this spring will resonate.

“When you join the alumni corps you never leave that group of people, it’s like gaining a second family or getting a third arm,” Provoncha said. “To come back to these people and this place, it’s coming home again.”

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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