MOODUS DRUM AND FIFE CORPS
Established in 1860
The origins of the Moodus Drum & Fife Corps date back to 1821 when Hezekiah Percival learned to drum from Samuel Wilcox of Middletown, Connecticut. The open stick "ancient" style of drumming, a hallmark of the Moodus Corps, has been reverently handed down from those ancient times to the present. When combined with the early 1800's Eli Brown drums, which are still used by the corps, this style creates a truly unique sound.
The corps strives to maintain a tempo that is considerably slower than that used by most corps today, which is representative of the values instilled by the cadre of Moodus drummers that have gone before. It is this magical sound that has brought the Moodus Drum & Fife Corps a long and honored history of playing before several U.S. presidents, numerous commemorative events, and musters from Maine to Michigan.
HISTORY OF THE CORPS
As our country entered into the 1800's, a noticeable lull in the public's interest in martial music had occurred. Without the excitement and patriotism motivated by war and politics, this proved to be a time of rest and complacency for America. It was during this time, in 1821, when a young Moodus man named Hezekiah Percival completed a course of study in rudimentary drumming. Upon receiving his certificate, Hezekiah returned to Moodus and began to teach some the local men to drum in the style he himself had just mastered. Eyewitness accounts from this time tell us that within ten years a small group of local men began to show up at town events and celebrations throughout East Haddam and East Hampton. These men continued on in this manner until 1860 and the start of the Civil War.
With the start of the war, the country's thirst for martial music in both military and private settings created a demand that would see this group travel up and down the East Coast, participating in celebrations and competitions throughout. During this time numerous articles were written about the Moodus Corps and their powerful style of drumming. Many were from newspapers based in the towns that boasted rival fife and drum organizations. These article's authors were all too willing to give their accounts of the boys from Moodus and the thunderous beat they played.
As the drum was the first instrument to give life to the Moodus Corps (thus the reason for the name), the drums chosen by the early group were made by the Brown Drum Company of Bloomfield, Connecticut. These large, un-baffled rope tensioned drums were played with the heavy, open-stick style of drumming that Percival had mastered in 1821. This slow, methodical beat distinguished them from other musical groups of the time.
THE DRUMS OF MOODUS.
We have no idea why Hezekiah first chose to play a drum made by the Brown Drum Company, or why the rest of the original members chose to follow suit. What we do know is that the drums played by the 1800's musicians were as special to them as they are to the musicians who wear the uniform today. We can find accounts from those days that involve young men traveling great distances on horseback to buy or barter for a Brown drum. We can find newspaper clippings from those times that give accounts of the Moodus Corps' unique style and magnificent drums. These men of the old world treasured these beautiful instruments as one would care for a cherished and prized possession. Even the manner in which one was obtained was a source of pride.
The Brown Drum Company built rope tensioned drums throughout the early to mid 1800's in Wintonbury Parish (now Bloomfield), Connecticut. Although several Brown family members seem to have been involved with making drums, the quality and craftsmanship remained constant. Brown drums were built as most drums were in this period. While plywood and glue are shortcuts of the modern day drum builder, drum shells from this era were made of solid, choice pieces of timber. This quality, sturdy construction, along with the large shell size, quickly earned these drums a reputation for superior sound and durability. We have little to tell us how and why individual musicians might have modified or customized their drums to suit their own needs, but it is obvious why the early Moodus group chose to not only acquire these drums, but to promote their use for future generations of Moodus drummers.
Over the years these drums have been handed down from Moodus drummer to Moodus drummer with strict instructions to value them above all else. These drums are as much a part of the life and soul of anyone who believes they are worthy of this caretaker's role today, as they were to the ranks of ancient drummers that have gone before.
We, the members of the present group, have no desire to hide or shelve these beautiful instruments. Instead, we preserve their sound and enjoy every chance to take them out on the street at a parade, muster or even just to jam. The next time you are enjoying a great day of fife and drum and find yourself standing next to a Moodus drummer, don't be shy about asking to see their Brown drum, because we sure won't be shy about showing it to you.
Hesketh, Frederick A. THE BROWNS OF WINTONBURY, MAKERS OF BROWN DRUMS, Wintonbury Historical Society, Bloomfield, Connecticut, 1999.
The Company of Fifers And Drummers, Ivoryton, CT.
Moodus Drum and Fife Corps, Moodus, CT.
THE FIFES OF MOODUS.
The story of the fifes played by the Moodus fife line is not as straightforward as that of the drums. Through the years the corps seems to have used a mix of locally-crafted instruments by corps members as well as fifes from the major makers of the period.
Exact records of the early years have not been found but we have enough clues to piece together an interesting, if hypothetical, picture. Corps founder Hezekiah Percival, as well as his brother Orville, have both been identified as fife makers - examples of instruments attributed to them are on display at the East Haddam Historical Society.
In a corps photo from 1879 we can see fifes which appear to be by the Cloos Company of Brooklyn. Cloos fifes were more sophisticated than earlier American fifes and played more easily, louder and better in tune. They were popular and widely sold and so they likely found their place in Moodus.
In 1889 the story gets a little better documented. We learn from the written records of the Corps' Secretary, W.G. Comstock, that on January 21, 1889, the position of Fife Major "was created by unanimous vote of the corps, and G.R. Buell was chosen by acclimation." That's important because present-day members of the corps have in their possession fifes attributed to George Rinaldo Buell (another is on display at the historical society). Those fifes were played by past generations of Moodus fifers, up through perhaps the 1950s. So from some point quite early in Moodus' history up through as late as the 1950s, Buell fifes were played, and perhaps were the corps' dominant fife. They are to this day impressive instruments, neatly finished and producing excellent volume - important for balancing with the Brown drums. In tuning they are easily compatible with the corps' later instruments.
In the 1950s Ed Ferrary of Essex, CT, began producing traditional 6-hole cylindrical fifes. Ferrary created his instruments with a process he developed, using a specialized tool that heat treated and burnished the bore. This simplified the finishing of the fifes, and it may have contributed to its excellent playing characteristics. In the fife & drum community, the Ferrary became the popular fife, admired for its consistent and focused sound throughout its entire range, and for its easy playability. In the 1950s and 60s the Moodus Corps adopted the Ferrary as their own, and Ferrary fifes remain the instrument of choice for the Moodus Drum and Fife Corps. Ed Ferrary passed away in 1990, but his reputation has only grown stronger.
In 2000, Ron Peeler and his daughter began to study fife with the corps, and Ron decided to make his own. Armed with a background in precision optics (his profession) and experience as a woodworker, Ron gathered rosewood blanks, a drill bit and brass ferrule...and the Peeler fife was born. His first efforts were met with skepticism but Ron had created an instrument very similar to the traditional Ferrary fife in both look and playability. He had also made for himself a link to distinguished earlier generations of self-reliant Moodus members - the Percivals and Buell, who created their own instruments.
Some of the musical pieces included on this recording are known affectionately as "Old Moodus Pieces" and are played only by the Moodus Drum and Fife Corps. These pieces have been handed down from teh generations of Corps members who have gone before us. We hope that you enjoy them.