Revolution museum teaches how fife and drums were tools of war

The sounds of the fife and drum filled the air outside of the Museum of the American Revolution Saturday with standards like “Yankee Doodle” and “The Liberty Song.”

Before taking the tour, a few dozen visitors at a time stopped in the courtyard to learn about the music of the Revolutionary War. The day’s event was part history lesson and part demonstration. Recorders and small drums were given out to children who were encouraged to play along.

“It may come as a surprise, but fifers and drummers played a vital role for the armies that fought in the Revolutionary War,” said Matthew Skic, assistant event curator at the Museum of the American Revolution.

Skic and drummer Keith Henning demonstrated marching beats, as well as orders given with the drum that would dictate to soldiers when to move, gather firewood, and gather water.

“These military musicians played loud drums  and shrill fifes (small wooden flutes) to communicate officers’ orders over long distances and to large groups of soldiers.” said Skic. “The specific tunes they played regulated daily life in military encampments and conveyed commands to troops in battle.”

“An officer would give a command and the fife and drummer would play it and that way 300 men could hear the officers command,” said Skic.

The tunes were pivotal in regulating a soldier’s day, keeping them in step during marches, and even telling them what to do during battle, said Skic, noting the practicality of a loud instrument’s ability to carry much further than the human voice — making communication easier in the heat of battle.

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