A NEW FEATURE - The Company of Fifers and Drummers Museum, an article by Matt Alling, guest blogger.
For those of you that don’t know me, I am Matt Alling, owner of Connecticut Pro Percussion and Charter Oak Drums. I sell new and vintage drum gear and specialize in restorations. I am one of very few people in the country that still hand-make calfskin drum heads and I also make some custom drum related products out of leather. As a third-generation drummer I have had sticks in my hands since the age of two and tinkering with drums for almost as long. As an active member of the fife and drum community I am a member of the Ancient Mariners fife and drum corps in Guilford and routinely service and repair a lot of drums from people throughout the entire fife and drum world.
Over the last several years of working on vintage and historic drums it became clear to me that while there is a lot of information available to the general public on modern drum companies like Ludwig, Slingerland, Gretsch, etc., the amount of information available on rope tension drum makers is both scarce and spread out over many different sources. Most of those sources don’t include pictures and the information is generally limited to drum makers that had military contracts or just limited period. Those sources will regularly reference makers such as Ent, C.F. Soistman, Horstman, Zimmerman, Brown, Lyon & Healy and a host of others that use addresses on labels for dating drums. Unfortunately, many modern drum makers that produced rope tension drums such as Cooperman, Sanford “Gus” Moeller, Buck Soistman, Eames, Atwell and many others are not covered in any of those books. Because of that I decided to embark on a long journey to photograph as many drums and labels as I can and put all of that information in one source.
In preparation for this undertaking I have received permission from a few museums and several private collectors to photograph their collections of drums and labels. The project started in earnest last week when I started photographing the collection of more than 150 drums currently housed at the Company of Fifers and Drummers museum in Ivoryton, Connecticut. After my project is over I will be staying on as caretaker of the collection and will maintain it and repair drums as needed and help to try to fill in some of the information holes on each drum. The first drum that raised such question was one that I emailed Ellis Mirsky and Brian Hill about last week. Ellis was kind enough to post the pictures and my email here on his site to see if anyone might have some useful information. It was a few days later that Ellis asked me if I had considered writing about what I was doing at the museum and offered to host my blog on his site. What I will be doing during this process is to highlight some of the drums and unique finds in the museum as well as the process of cataloging all of the information and pictures. I will start with a few drums and pictures today as well as some information that I found on them. I hope that everyone reading this will enjoy taking this journey with me. Ellis, thank you for the idea and opportunity.
The first two drums at the museum are appropriately cataloged by the Company as drums #1 & #2 in their collection. The drums have a slightly more modern look than anything else in the collection, sticking out in the crowd, so to speak, with their black gloss Slingerland shells, the snare drum have a 16”x16” shell and the bass drum a 32”x14” monster. The museum notes said that the drums were donated by Jim Flynn in 1976 and were played by the Morris County Militia fife and drum corps. The only problem with this is that the drums have black and silver badges on them with a serial number that would indicate they were built in late 1976 or 1977. Additionally, the solid gloss black color was not first cataloged by Slingerland until 1977. So, if those drums were donated in 1976 then they should have looked brand new but the condition of the drums was a stark contrast to that reasoning. Those drums have quite a bit of wear on them with the ears and ropes showing considerable wear and a few small repairs to the bass drum shell. And so with this, my quest for information took off and the journey started.
I posted some pictures of these drums and a few others on Facebook in a page for Fife and Drum friends and the response to some of the pictures and information was almost immediate, receiving numerous replies and private messages within the first 90 minutes of the pictures being posted. Within two hours I had received replies from several members of the Morris County Militia Alumni and was directed to their alumni page and then I was sent a private message by Jim Flynn Jr., son of the Jim Flynn that founded the corps. Jim told me that his father founded the corps in 1969 in their basement and that he and his father were both founding members and Jim Jr. was the only founding member to play with the corps from its inception to their last performance at the Westbrook fife and drum muster in 1981. I was told that the drums on display at the museum were the corps third and final set of drum and were made with Slingerland floor tom shells that were bought off the shelf with no holes drilled into them. The corps bought hoops and made their own ears and fitted them with Ludwig throw offs and butt ends and after the last performance, the drums were given to a lot of the drummers that helped to make them and played them for the last 5 years of their existence.
After the corps completed building their drums they were first used in their 1976 season. Reb Blanchard was the young man that carried the 32” bass drum and can be seen in the above picture [to be provided] circa 1981. The drum was used for the corps competition piece “New World Symphony” for its size and resonance and should be noted that the drum is wide open and free of any muffling. The Morris County Militia racked up numerous championships during their 12 years of existence including New Jersey State Champions for 9 consecutive years from 1972-1981, Northeast champions from 1975-1978 and national Champions in 1977 & 1978, the only two years they competed for national titles. So, for anyone keeping score, these drums were used to win and impressive 11 championships, quite a pedigree for some unassuming modern looking drums in a room full of much older looking counterparts.
The other drum that I want to discuss is a small drum, 14” in diameter by 13.75” tall (shell height), has hooks similar to what you would find on Lyon & Healy, with wheels on them and Civil War style ears. A twelve point star surrounded by 12 five point stars and bordered by tacks on both side. A single five point star to the left of the larger design in surrounded by 10 tacks and another row of tacks to the left of that at the seam on the drum.
A peek through the vent hole is all it takes for the story of this drum to start coming to life. A painted label on the inside of the drum reads: “This drum was made by John Webster of Spencer Town New York State, August 24th, A.D. 1793 . The 17th year of America’s Independence. Carried in the war of 1812 by John Webster and in the war of 1861 by his son Thomas Webster.” The shell also has some writing on it that is, for the most part, faded and gone but what is visible is the date of 1793. As someone who is a bit Obsessive Compulsive when it comes to drums it is driving me crazy not knowing what the rest of the words were and what was scratched out on the inside of the drum.
With that information alone this drum is already a grand slam find for any collector or museum however: there is one additional tag on the drum that just puts the drum into a league by itself. Not only is the maker known on the drum as well as the names of the people that carried it during two separate wars but sometime after the Civil War the drum found its way into the hands of the Tower family in New Haven Connecticut and around 1955, Roy Tower gave this drum to Earl Sturtze! For those of you not familiar with Earl Sturtze then he is worth looking up and reading about. In the fife and drum world, Mr. Sturtze is legendary and has more than 100 group and individual drumming championships to his name and only ads to the pedigree of this small drum.
I know there are some of you that are thinking the drum should be returned to as close to original condition as possible, I know I pondered that very thought myself but, the Company of Fifers and drummers museum is about preserving the history of Fife & Drum and the fact that this drum was played by Earl Sturtze is just as important as the rest of the history of the drum. If I am able to find pictures of Earl playing this drum I will include them in a future post.
For more information on the collection or to make a donation to the museum please contact the museum through their website or you can contact me with questions about the drums as well.