Blowing Hot Air about 18th Century Fifes

When I joined the hobby about 10 years ago, I took on the same position in the recreated 2d Virginia Regiment that my ancestor William Dillon did as a fifer. As a new member of the hobby, I noticed a lack of knowledge regarding the type of fife used during the period, thus I started on a journey to correct this problem.

Over the past decade I have collected fifes from all time periods, amassing a collection of over 400 historic instruments dating to the mid 1700’s including a fife on loan displayed at the Museum of the Revolution in Philadelphia. I have also spent countless hours researching not only the fifes, but the fife makers. All of this has made one thing painfully clear: The fifes used by most of the hobby are not period correct.

FullFife

FifeFurrelHow do I know? Because I own 10-12 period correct instruments and have examined as many held in museums and found that reproduction fifes used in the hobby share few characteristics with extant fifes from the period. Most period fifes are in the pitch of C or D, whereas most reproduction fifes are made in B flat because it sounds better, and construction details such as the fingerholes and ferrules are much different.

Based on my research, I’ve tried to do my best to dispel the misinformation and myths pervasive in the fife and drum world and accepted as “facts”. I created The Fife Museum as an online resource with photographs, background and detailed specifications of the fifes in my and other collections and short essays based on documented evidence about fifes and their makers.

Several years ago, I started to produce copies of period fifes in my collection in which I sold to Brigade members at a very reasonable price. Unfortunately, since then demands on my time forced me to stop making the instruments myself, but worked with another fife maker so they will stay in production.

These period correct instruments are now available from Musique Morneaux in both a British and American style, though of course the British fife can be used by both sides if desired. They are made of period correct wood with period correct fingerholes and period correct seamed ferrules. All are perfect examples of what a fifer from the Revolution would use.

As a “progressive” I’ve done all I can do researching, sharing my findings and creating resources for others. Does it take a little time to learn a few period correct fingerings? Yes! Does it cost a little money to purchase a period correct instrument? Yes! In the end, it is worth it? Yes, because now you are period correct.

Would one of you show up at an event with a modern M-16 and show it to the public as an example of a weapon from the period? Of course not, so why do we let it slide with the fife?

Again, the research is done, the manufacturing is done, now the rest is up to you.

P.S. We also should be using the music as it should have been used and not as an excuse for a bunch of musicians to get together and jam. But that’s a story for another day…


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Steve Dillon is a fifer in the recreated 2d Virginia Regiment like his ancestor William Dillon was during the American Revolution, and owner of Dillon Music.

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