by Matt Alling
CT Pro Percussion
There is always a starting point for every project or idea, that one thing that sets the ball in motion and eventually leads to that idea becoming a reality and then growing from there. For the Company of Fifers & Drummers Museum, this drum is that piece. In my opinion, this is the most important drum in the museum because it was the drum that got the ball rolling. In 1976, this was the first artifact purchased by the Company. The photograph in the museum’s archives taped to a piece of paper says only “How it all began” but it speaks volumes. It was this drum that eventually lead to the opening of the museum a decade later.
This is a 16" x 16" drum with natural maple shell and hoops. The drum has an ivory vent hole grommet surrounded by a star tack design with 17 tacks in it. There are 8 tack diamonds on the top and bottom of the star with half diamonds to either side connecting them to the flanking rows of tacks, each containing 13 tacks. The rope is hemp and there are 10 rectangular, riveted leather ears held on by hooks. The top and bottom heads are calf with gut snares. There is a badge on the hoops the reads "Odell M. Chapman, the builder of quality drums, Willimantic, Conn, U.S.A." The badge on the inside indicates that it is Drum #625 and was built in 1918.
This drum is one of many that, after just a quick glance. have surprised me because of the lack of information known about the drum. In the museum's master list of information, this drum is listed simply as an Odell Chapman drum. Looking through the drum’s vent hole I was astounded by the information displayed inside the shell. In the center, there is the Odell Chapman label in pristine condition, to the immediate right is a Label from Cooperman Drum Company indicating refinishing in 1992 (date in pencil) by Ken Lemley, a name well-known within the fife and drum community. The shocker for me however was the picture to the left of the label and the caption under it.
The picture is of a man in a colonial uniform with a drum next to him on a step and he is surrounded by a bunch of trophies. The writing on the original photograph reads:
182 1st Prize cups and medals
Frank Fancher, Wizard of the Drum
World’s Champion Rudimental Drummer
The caption below the picture reads:
This Snare Drum made by Odell M. Chapman, year of 1918 and used by Frank S. Fancher, World’s Champion Drummer and Chief Musician of Odell M. Champman’s Continental Drum Corps of Willimantic Connecticut. Mr. Fancher won 186 first prizes for individual snare drumming on this drum during his association with the Chapman Corps.
For those of you not familiar with Frank Fancher, he was the first true rock star (for lack of a better term) of rudimental drumming. In his life Frank won more than 200 1st place prizes for solo snare drum competitions and that number does not include championships won with the corps with which he marched. Let that sink in for a moment and ask yourself what other drummer can match that number? Frank regularly competed against other rudimental drumming royalty such as J. Burns Moore, Earl Sturtze, Dan English, Sanford “Gus” Moeller, and many others.
Frank was the very first endorsor for the Ludwig drum company in the early 1920s and was later wooed away by Slingerland and was given his own signature model snare drum that was produced for only two years. Francher model Slingerland drums come up for auction every so often, are highly sought, and usually fetch very good prices. They are signature snares. I can imagine that there will interest by vintage drum buffs who learn that this drum actually exists and was Fancher’s personal drum used for competition. I’m hoping that a few of them would like to come check it out in person.
I have seen the picture on the inside of the drum many times, as it has been used by Ludwig and Slingerland drum companies when providing information about Frank Francher. This very drum is the drum in the picture affixed to the inside of the shell after Francher’s tenure with the Chapman Corps. As a lover of rope drums, it is a drum that I have looked at in the picture many times and wondered to myself “What ever happened to that drum?” So realizing that I was holding that very drum in my hands was a special moment for me on a personal level. The drum is one of my favorite pieces in the museum’s collection.
The Fancher drum and all of the other drums and many others are on display at the Company of Fifers and Drummers Museum so come out to see this extraordinary collection of very special drums, fifes, uniforms and related fife and drum corps artifacts. Until then, keep watching here to see what other treasures I uncover as I take my next look through the vent hole.
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Calfskin, it's the new plastic
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