On Saturday, fife and drum players from the Delaware Valley region will gather at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia to salute the 98th birthday of the beginning of the museum’s collection.
On Aug. 19, 1909, the Rev. Herbert Burk of Norristown, Pennsylvania, purchased Gen. George Washington’s field tent from the general’s descendant, Mary Custis Lee, for $5,000. It was the first piece of a collection that would — a century later — become the basis of the museum.
The birthday pomp starts at noon with military-style songs from fife and drum, favorite instruments on the battlefields of the Revolutionary and Civil wars. The shrill trills of the fife carried the high end, the snare drum covered the bottom, and the united sound would strike any ear over hill and dale.
In addition to stirring morale in the troops’ collective hearts, the instruments were used on the battlefield non-musically, to signal maneuvers and camp duties. Musicians tended to be the very young and the very old — boys and men not of combat age.