Despite my failed attempts at a songwriting career, I remain a good, if largely unknown, song poet. It sounds a little grandiose, but it’s a craft I have taken seriously for many years. Some of my friends have, indeed, made careers of it. But what I did as a teenager still overshadows my later musical endeavors. I was the Sergeant Major of the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums for four years, from age 13 through 17. The last six months or so of my tenure was spent as Fife Sergeant, having been demoted to the top fifing position to accommodate the changing adult leadership of the corps.
Our music master, George Carroll was leaving. Under Carroll’s tutelage we had become one of the pre-eminent fife and drum outfits in the world. In 1960, before coming to our corps Carroll had founded the Old Guard Fife and Drum, a part of the 3rd U.S. Infantry stationed at Ft. Myer adjacent to the Arlington National Cemetery. In 1961, Carroll took over leadership of the fledgling fife and drum corps of Colonial Williamsburg. Three years later, I joined the corps at age 9.
In 1967, shortly after turning 13, I was promoted to Sergeant Major of the corps. Promotion was largely a matter of proficiency on your instrument, and nowadays one might wait years for an opening in the ranks. In my case, the corps was growing, and the first generation of players was leaving. So, a spot opened quickly.
In April of 1967 the corps travelled to Washington, D.C. to perform on the Mall in an evening “Great Tattoo.” The program featured the Old Guard Fife and Drum, the Marine Corps Band, and the U.S. Air Force Pipe Band. George Carroll had been asked at the last minute, as I recall it, to narrate the program, and earlier in the day he handed the drum major’s stick, or mace, to me and told me I was to lead the corps onto the field. It was a moment I will never forget, and I am still dumbfounded that Carroll had confidence in me to lead us in what was, up to that point, the most important performance in the corps’ history.
Weekend before last, the alumni of the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums–many of us participants in the tattoo in 1967–once again took to the field with the Old Guard Fife and Drum, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, this time to honor George Carroll. It was not on the Mall in Washington, but on a baseball field in Deep River, Connecticut, the location of the Deep River Ancient Muster, the largest fife and drum gathering in the world. Fortunately, Lance Pedigo, the current CW Fifes and Drums leader was available to drum major. I settled in comfortably among the fifers.