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February 1, 2008

CW Fifes and Drums celebrate 50th anniversary in 2008

Colonial Williamsburg’s Fifes and Drums have celebrated the history of 18th-century field music for decades and now are making history of their own in 2008. The Foundation’s musical ambassadors celebrate their 50th anniversary.

“Through the Fifes and Drums guests not only see a part of our nation’s history they hear it,” said Tim Sutphin, director of historic events. “The corps demonstrates the importance of and the role of field musicians in the 18th century. This milestone anniversary celebrates the popularity of military music that captures the American spirit.”

Founded in 1958, the Fifes and Drums perform in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area nearly 500 times during the year in daily programs from mid-February through December and during special programs observing major holidays.

To celebrate this milestone anniversary, several signature events are scheduled:

  • Drummer’s Call, May 16-18. Colonial Williamsburg’s musician interpreters and guest fife and drum units from across the country perform military field music during special programs this weekend.
  • July Fourth. On Independence Day, old and new members of the Fifes and Drums will meet for a reunion. The alumni will perform alongside the current Fifes and Drums in a concert prior to the fireworks on Friday, July 4.
  • Grand Illumination, Dec. 7. Guests to this holiday celebration will be treated to a special concert by the Fifes and Drums.

    The Fifes and Drums 50th anniversary celebration affords the corps an opportunity to travel and perform at concerts nationally and internationally, including:

  • Fife and Drum Muster with First Michigan Fifes and Drums, Monroe, Mich., June 20-22. Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums was the inspiration for the formation of the First Michigan Fifes and Drums after its music master visited in 1975.
  • Basel Tattoo, Basel, Switzerland, July 15-19. Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums will perform with international military bands.
  • Air Combat Command Annual Tattoo, September, Langley Air Force Base, Hampton, Va. This annual event is an adventure in time travel, reminding both military and civilian audiences of the contributions and sacrifices made by those who served the nation in Air Corps brown and Air Force blue. The Fifes and Drums will perform with the U.S. Air Force Heritage of America Band.

    Colonial Williamsburg guests can enjoy Fifes and Drums concerts throughout the year. “The Art of Fifing and Drumming” explores the life of an 18th-century military musician during the American Revolution. The history of the Foundation’s Fifes and Drums and the colonial history of field music also will be presented. This program is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 21, April 11, May 2, 23, June 6, June 27, July 25, Aug. 15, Oct. 24, Nov. 7 and Nov. 28 at the Museums of Colonial Williamsburg. A separate ticket for each event is required. Cost is $12 for adults and youth ages six-17 and $6 for children under six. For reservations, call 1-800-HISTORY.

    For those who want to take the sounds of the Fifes and Drums with them, ring tones for cellular phones can be downloaded from Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at

    In honor of the 50th anniversary of Colonial Williamsburg’s Fifes and Drums is the spring release of a two-disc set that includes a 60-minute documentary for broadcast chronicling the story of the historic and modern traditions of fifes and drums and an audio CD of fife and drum recordings. Carefully moved from original reel-to-reel tapes to digital recordings, this CD of music of the fifes and drums is from the archives of the last 50 years and concludes with two tracks recorded by alumni who attended “Drummer’s Call” in May 2007. The DVD special features include rare photos and footage of the fifers and drummers and interviews with members of Colonial Williamsburg’s Fifes and Drums across the decades.

    The Fifes and Drums are comprised of boys and girls from the local community aged 10-18. Nearly 100 youths perform as members of two units: a junior and a senior group. Junior group members train while waiting for a “front-line” vacancy in the senior group. Each member on average receives two periods of instruction and participates in two full rehearsals each week. The senior members enjoy a busy travel schedule as well, performing at special events outside the Historic Area.

    A quasi-military unit, the present Fifes and Drums follows 18th-century practice by recruiting youth with the exception of the drum major. Members pass tune and
    marching requirements to advance through the rank system that begins at recruit. Field musicians were vital to commanders as the sole means of relaying orders during battle. Whenever companies were mustered into regiments, company musicians were similarly massed into Field Music. In this formation they were responsible, under the drum major’s direction, for marching the regiment in proper cadence and for beating daily ceremonies – Reveille, the General, the Assembly, the Retreat and the Tattoo.

    The world-renowned military musicians have represented Colonial Williamsburg throughout the country, including performances at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Lexington and Concord 225th Celebration in Boston and the New York Historical Society. In addition, the Fifes and Drums performed for several events commemorating America’s 400th Anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, including Landing Party Festivals at six ports of call during the Godspeed Sail, the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and His Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and America’s 400th Anniversary Weekend.

    Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Within the restored and reconstructed buildings, historic interpreters, attired as colonial men and women from slaves to shopkeepers to soldiers, relate stories of colonial Virginia society and culture – stories of our journey to become Americans – while historic trades people research, demonstrate and preserve the 18th-century world of work and industry. As Colonial Williamsburg interprets life in the time of the American Revolution for its guests, it also invites them to interact with history. “Revolutionary City®” -- a dramatic live street theater presentation -- is a 2008 Rand McNally Best-of-the-Road™ Editor’s Pick. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at

    Media Contact:
    Penna Rogers
    (757) 220-7121

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