Field Music, Then & Now
“Field Music” was the collective name given to the fifes and drums of each regiment when they were gathered together to play. While the fifes and drums could provide music for military ceremonies and marching, their most important function was as signalmen. In an era before radios and telecommunications, the fifes and drums relayed signals and commands to the troops. These signals and commands usually took two main forms: Camp Duties and battlefield signals.
The Camp Duties were signals that regulated the soldier’s daily life. This included tunes like Reveille to wake the soldiers up, Troop and Retreat for morning and afternoon inspections, The Pioneer’s March to call out work parties and Taptoo to put the soldiers to bed. On the battlefield, signals like Prime and Load would tell the soldiers to load their weapons, The Point of War would order a bayonet charge, The Parley called for a truce to speak with the enemy, and Cease Fire could stop the shooting. Members of the field music not needed for signaling during a battle helped to take care of the wounded.
Despite popular belief, drummers and fifers were not always young boys. The ages could range anywhere from 8 or 9 for a fifer to 32 for a drummer. Most fifers and drummers tended to be in their mid to late teens or early twenties. Each company of soldiers in a regiment had one fifer and drummer assigned to it, so a regiment of 500 men could include 10 drums and 10 fifes within its ranks.
Like their historical counterparts, the BVMA Field Music is not a separate group within the organization, but is composed of the fifers and drummers of the various member units. These fifers and drummers serve with their units unless gathered together to play specific signals or for music practice. The goal of the BVMA Field Music is the same as that of their predecessors 200+ years ago, to provide the signals and communications that will allow the troops to carry out their daily duties in camp or on the battlefield. An additional duty for the BVMA Field Music however, is to educate the public about the soldier’s life, the role of the fifer and drummer in the armies of the Revolutionary War, and the importance of the duties they carried out.
Anyone with an interest in military music is welcome in the BVMA Field Music and while some prior knowledge of and ability on the fife or drum is helpful, it is not mandatory.
Contacts for Field Music:
7 Old Valley Road
Whitesboro, New York 13492