Saturday, May 28, 2016

U.S. Army Old Guard FD&B Corps at Norwegian Military Tattoo, May 2016

Unquestionably the highest point ever achieved by a FD&B corps anywhere anytime ever. What a treat! It's as if the New York Regimentals were resurrected, bugles added and then brought more than 50 years up to date. I thought the 60's were great for rudimental drumming. Someday we'll look back at this as the Golden Age. I can't imagine a higher level of achievement. Now we need to spread the knowledge, technique and style. I am overwhelmed.


The United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps was live from the Norsk Militær Tattoo (Norwegian Military Tattoo)!

Thanks go to Jerry Whitaker who posted this to Facebook where I saw it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Possible Eli Brown Drum - What Do You Think?

Matt Ailing wrote:

I have a drum in my shop that is perplexing me and so I was hoping that each of you might take a look and give me your opinion. Here is what I know, the drum has an "aftermarket" label with the last date on it of 1937, 100 years after the drum is claimed to have been made by Eli Brown. The drum measures 18 11/16" in diameter and 17.5" in depth, which isn't outside the realm of possibility for a Brown drum. There is an ivory vent grommet which is very similar in style to other Brown vent grommets and the shell is made of tiger maple, which was used on many Brown drums that I have seen.

Having inspected the drum closely and having a couple of other local guys that know quite a bit about Brown drums look at, the initial reaction by everyone is that this is not number "8" a Brown drum for a number of different reasons. The bottom reinforcement ring doesn't quite meet up so there is a small wedge placed in between the two ends so that they match up. The tack design does not look like any other Brown tack design that I have seen to date, I have seen quite a few over the last few years but by no means all of them. The two rows of tacks on the outer edges of the design both have 20 tacks, this is inconsistent with Eli Brown and other Brown tack designs. On classic tack designs on drums of this size, there are between 19 and 22 tacks on the seem side and 13 to 16 on the opposing side, never the same number. The spots where the diamonds in the tacks designs would be (usually with half of the diamonds turned on a 90 degree axis to the rest) are more like ovals and all face the same direction. The tiger maple, while a wood that the Browns used, does not seem like the grain pattern is up to the quality of comparable Brown drums. The scarf seem is about 8.5" wide and comes across the back of the face but is only under about 80% of the tack work but in other drums this size the scarf comes across the back of the entire tack pattern.

This being said, the one thing that is giving me pause on all of this is the size that is hand written on the inside of the drum. The number "8" in the size is in a handwriting that is very much like the numbers written inside of several Brown drums that I have expected. I have included pictures on the numbers inside the drum as well as the numbers from inside of one of Leo Brenan's Eli Brown drums for comparison.

The drum has been refinished, which is common for this area because we have a lot of players here in CT. The back of the tacks look aged as I would expect from a drum of its claimed age and the hoops are definitely not original. Please let me know your thoughts on this when you have a moment, any insight offered would be appreciated.

Matt Alling CT Pro Percussion 203-228-0488 - Phone Calfskin, it's the new plastic!!!

Possible 18th Century Militia Drum

A reader recently wrote with the following information and photos:

I am trying to identify an old drum.  I have George Neumann's book and it shows a picture of a drum almost exactly like mine on page 197.  Neumann dates the drum to 1746.  If this is a militia drum, how rare are they and what could be a ballpark value of it.  Any help would be greatly appreciated.

George Naviskas


Date: c. 1770
Dimensions: 16" high x 14 1/2" wide
About this artifact
The most important military musical instrument of the 18th century was the snare drum. It not only provided cadence, but also transmitted the basic orders to troops in camp and on the battlefield with specific beating which the soldier was trained to recognize. The drums were fashioned from wood with skin heads, catgut snares, and ropes for tension that required leather pull-down "lugs" to help tighten the heads. When marching, the common step was about 75 per minute. (Modern marching cadence is 128 steps per minute.)  Source:

Saturday, March 19, 2016

CFD - Charles “Shang” Wheeler, A Different Kind of Champion
by Matt Alling
CT Pro Percussion
203-228-0488 - Phone

What would you say if I told you that the man who played this drum won so many championships that he stopped competing? Okay, the truth is, the championships in question had nothing to do with the drums but it makes for a great story which we’ll get to in a minute. The drum in the picture is one of three drums on display at the Company of Fifers and Drummers Museum that was used by The Cupheag/Stratford Pioneers fife and drum corps in Stratford CT, from 1938 to 1946.

The drum itself has no maker's label inside and has a mahogany shell that is 32"x 12" with a single-ply mahogany shell. The calfskin heads read "Cupheag Pioneers, Stratford CT," and one head is painted with an Indian wearing a head dress. There is no visible artist signature. There is a single point-of-carry eyebolt on one side of the drum and rope hooks that are screwed into the rims. The heads on the drum have recently been repaired to prevent further splitting and to preserve the artwork on the head.

This drum was played by Charles “Shang” Wheeler and, if you are like me, you have no idea who he is, or at least I didn’t until I started to research the drum and the drum corps. After a bit of research I learned that “Shang”, who was born in 1872 and died in 1949, wore a lot of hats in his lifetime, including prize fighter, accomplished artist, political cartoonist, CT state senator, Native American rights activist and, as a hobbyist was a wood carver. As a wood carver, Shang carved duck decoys and birds and it is my understanding that he carved at least one of every bird on the Eastern seaboard, from Maine to the Florida Keys. He never took money for his carvings, liked to give them away as gifts and is revered in many circles as the greatest decoy carver to date. It is not hard to believe this, knowing that he also used to enter decoy carving competitions and won so many times that he stopped competing and started to only display his carvings in exhibition at competitions.  In recent years, some of Shang’s decoys have sold at auction for over $100,000.00. 

“Shang” played with the Cupheag Pioneers which, according to the Stratford Historical Society, was formed by members of the now defunct Cupheag Social club. There is also a bass drum in the museum that is painted with the words Stratford Pioneers, which are believed to  be the same corps because they were both active from 1938 – 1946 in Stratford Connecticut. It is my theory is that the drum head on the Cupheag drum was painted by Shang, this is supported by several sketches and political cartoons done by Shang that depict Native American Indians, for which he was a big rights advocate for. Additionally, although there is less evidence to support this at this time, I believe that it is possible that Shang had a hand in making both bass drums. Both drums are of very similar construction, have no maker’s labels and have very good construction but also have a distinct homemade quality to them as well. It is not uncommon for fife and drum corps to have made their own drums and with Shang’s ability as a wood worker and artist; it seems entirely plausible that he was involved in making the drums.
Recently, as you can see in the final picture, there have been repairs done to the heads to help preserve them for future generations to enjoy.

For more information on this drum and the rest of the collection, please visit The Company of fifers and Drummers museum in Ivoryton Connecticut. Also, watch for the new Company of Fifers and Drummers museum website which will be going live very soon.
If you would like more information on Shang Wheeler, contact or visit the Stratford Historical Society in Stratford Connecticut. 
Note – Pictures 3 and 5 are taken from the book, "Shang. A Biography of Charles E. Wheeler," Merkt, Dixon MacD., published by Amwell Press for the National Sporting Fraternity Limited, 1984.

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Word About Separate Tension, by George Burt Stone

Courtesy of Lee's Boston Drum Builders Blog, an extension of

A Word About Separate Tension, by George Burt Stone

One hundred years ago, separate tension drums were still something of a new thing. Single tension drums were perhaps slow to fall out of vogue because they had more in common with the traditional rope tension instruments used by drummers for the past century or two. In the case of rope tension drums, the simple pull of a leather tug tightened both heads simultaneously. The same principle was true of early rod tensioned drums, the only difference being the use of metal rods and claws rather than rope and leather to tighten or loosen the heads.

George B. Stone & Son - Catalog H, ca. 1915

George B. Stone & Son - Catalog H, ca. 1915

Catalogs of the 1910s often listed single tension drums and separate tension drums side by side making little suggestion as to which was preferable for any particular reason. A query posed to George Burt Stonein a 1915 magazine column then doesn't seem quite so uninformed. In response to a reader's question published in Volume 6, Number 1 of Jacobs' Orchestra Monthly, Stone chose to reprise his own article from the same publication in August of 1913. This topic was evidently so timely that he also reprinted the article in Geo. B. Stone & Son "Catalog H". The 1915 question and answer are transcribed here.

Q. What is your opinion regarding single and duplex strain on drum heads? I notice that many of the late drum makers are straining with a single rod from rim to rim instead of each head separately. This is, of course, in keeping with the old principle of rope strain but I have had much better results from duplex strain because you can use a heavy batter and a thin snare head.

A. In answer to your question, and to many other questions which I have received within the past month or so concerning the relative merits of separate and double tension, I will reprint below an article, entitled "A Word About Separate Tension." This article appeared in the August, 1913, issue of J. O. M. in the Drummer department.

     "There is at the present time considerable discussion among professional and amateur drummers as to the relative merits of separate and of double tension for tightening snare drum heads.

     "Personally, I think that separate tension is much the better for the following reasons: In a snare drum, the snare head should be comparatively thin, the tension being loose enough for it to vibrate freely against the snares. The batter head should be a certain degree thicker, for this head must receive the beating of the sticks and must necessarily be strong in order to stand it. The batter head should be considerably tighter than the snare head in order to properly transmit the concussion of the sticks to the snare head, also to properly rebound the sticks.

     "With ordinary rods (straining both heads at once), the snare head, being thinner and weaker, is strained much tighter than the batter head, which is the reverse of the correct adjustment.

     "In rainy weather or in a damp theatre pit where heads are bound to slacken, ordinary rods cannot begin to take all the looseness from the batter head without at the same time pulling the snare head to a high tension. Result - a drum with a "tubby" tone that "plays hard" because the batter head is loose; so loose that it will not rebound the sticks to the player's satisfaction.

     "Another point, suppose one of the heads begins to pull down on one side (this is possible with the most even heads obtainable) an attempt to correct the unevenness by tension with ordinary rods invariably results in the other head being pulled out of shape, which makes retucking necessary.

     "Separate tension rods control each head independently. These rods allow the correct relative adjustment of the batter and snare heads, giving the user the exact combination of head tension that he has found in practice to be the most satisfactory for tone and playing qualities. In damp weather, provided he is using separate tension rods, Mr. Drummer will find it very easy to strain the batter head up to a sufficient tension to rebound the sticks without even touching the snare head unless he thinks it necessary. If one of the heads starts to pull down on one side more than on the other, it is a simple matter with separate tension rods, to adjust the strain so that one head will be evened out without disturbing the other.

     "And last, but not least, if while playing on a separate tension drum, his stick goes through the batter head, the player simply turns his instrument upside down, and finishes the engagement playing on the snare head. If he has had the forethought to buy an extra head, tucked, stretched and dried on a flesh hoop, it is a matter of but a few moments to put the drum into first-class playing condition once more."

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Chandler Peabody Drum with Upside Down Eagle

Dave Pavlick ( of Woodbury, Connecticut wrote to us recently:

Attached are photos of the Chandler & Peabody drum that I acquired this summer.  It is 16" diameter X 13 1/2" deep with matching red hoops, 1-1/2" wide.  Both hoops have the same nail pattern.
The tack pattern looks the same as the  other two Chandler & Peabody drums that are on your website.

The painted Eagle has age, but was probably done later (100 years ago?). The Eagle is painted upside down on the drum body, obviously by someone that knew nothing about drums.

There was enough of the label left showing Peabody and [S]alem to attribute this drum to Chandler & Peabody.

Jim Ellis and his crew at Cooperman Drums, figured out that Chandler & Peabody made the drum, and did the new heads, rope, and ears on it.

When I found the drum, it had a Ludwig calf head, a pigskin head, and was missing ears.

The Eagle is ... painted upside down.

If you are looking at the photo of the Eagle side of the drum, the snare beds will be under the top head of the drum.

In other words, to play the drum with the  snares at the bottom of the
drum, the Eagle would be upside down.

As soon as Jim Ellis disassembled the drum at Cooperman's and we saw where the snare beds were on the drum body we knew the Eagle was painted upside down.

I decided to keep the Eagle on the drum, because the patina of the drum was so nice, I didn't want to destroy it by removing the Eagle.

Thank you for your informative website.


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Need Info - James W. Drake Drum

A reader asks:

Looking for some guidance on getting an appraisal on a civil war drum that has been handed down through the family.

The owner user was James W. Drake. There is a handwritten note from his immediate family on the skin. The drum manufacturer is A.G. Peters & Sons (stamped on the inside of the drum).

We have researched James Drakes military records through the U.S. National archives.

Thanks for any guidance you can offer.

Regards, Kevin

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Swiss and Basel Drumming - What's the Difference?

05FEBFFrom Robin Engelman

 Swiss and Basel Drumming

by Robin Engelman


Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Mss.h.h.I.3
Parchment · 472 ff. · 38 x 27.5–28 cm · Bern 1478-1483,
Diebold Schilling, Amtliche Berner Chronik, vol. 3. Swiss Halberdiers and Pikemen approaching the Battle of Morat (Murten),1476. photo courtesy Markus Estermann, STPV.
Click on photo to enlarge.

Until recently I was unaware of the existence of more than one side drumming tradition in Switzerland. I had believed Dr. Fritz Berger to be the preerminent Swiss drummer who during the 1930’s consolidated disparate Swiss styles into one. The presence of his solo Rudimenter Good Luck (Basel-America Mixpickles), in the National Association of Rudimental Drummers book, America’s N.A.R.D. Drum Solos, a.k.a. The Green Book, precipitated this belief. Later, the fame of Basel , Switzerland’s Fastnacht Festival and its drummers became well known to me and many other North American drummers.
Alfons Grieder of Basel, Switzerland was reputed to be Dr. Berger’s best student and disciple.  His early visits to North America and stunning performance with the American Basel ensemble Americlique during the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in 2002, further enforced my belief that Alfons’ drumming was the drumming of Switzerland.  I may have subconsciously wanted its unsettling bar line hesitations to be a national trait, uniquely Swiss as Scots drumming to Scotland and our straight forward anglo style of military drumming to North America.
And then in July of 2014, an e-mail arrived from Mr. Markus Estermann of the Swiss Fife and Drum Association intended to convince me that Swiss and Basel drumming were different entities. Below I reprint a few pertinent correspondences between Mr. Estermann and myself, all edited for clarity and continuity. As well as providing a context for this article, they contain information that may well be of interest to the general public and drummers in particular.
Finally I enclose an e-mail sent to me by Mark Reilly after he read this article.
26 August, 2014
Hello Robin
I studied your homepage. Under the chapter “snare drum notation” you wrote about Swiss notation. It is the hieroglyphs are used only in a few Basel drum and fife groups. The Swiss notation has nothing to do with hieroglyphs. You got from me all known Swiss military music scores actually known.
Alphons (sic) Grieder is unknown in the Swiss drum and fife association. (Italics by R.E.)
I hope we stay in contact.
Kind regards
Markus Estermann
26 August, 2014
Dear Mr. Estermann,
Thank you for your e-mail and notation downloads. I believe you refer to my postings titled “Examples of Snare Drum Notation” from 1589 to 1869 arranged chronologically. The example is the early Swiss drum notation you mention in your mail.
1860 ca.- Swiss,with modern notation below.
1860 ca.- Swiss,with modern notation below.
This score appears in your downloads as well as the booklet I referenced for my article, a booklet accompanying the three CD collection titled Trommeln und Pfeifen in Basel.
This collection, as well as the LP recording 100 Joor VKB were presented to me by Alfons after his appearance in the 2002 Drummers Heritage Concert in Columbus, Ohio, USA.
I have not been able to find an article of mine that uses the word hieroglyphs in connection with Swiss drumming notation.
Kind regards,
Robin Engelman
Dear Mr. Engelman
Thank you very much for your e-mail.
Unfortunately Alfons Grieder is not known in Switzerland and he has no influence to the Swiss drumming.
He was talking in the USA about Basel drumming not Swiss drumming.
Basel drumming is an element of Swiss drumming. So he put a lot of mythos in his publication. Georg Duthaler was historian and he has a correct view of the matter.
Swiss drummers used more than 200 years music scores and not hieroglyphs. Dr. Fritz Berger adapted the Swiss drummers music scores to the Basel-/French style. All typical Basel rudiments came from France.
I hope to give you some input and we can stay in contact.
Kind regards
Markus Estermann
Comment: Alfons passed away in 2003 and I don’t know the publication to which Mr. Esstermann referred. Nevertheless, it was now clear that Swiss Drumming, in a nutshell, is an altogether different discipline from Basel Drumming and had been long before Dr. Berger’s work.
While preparing this article I contacted some of my North American drumming colleagues and found they too had assumed Basel drumming to be Switzerland’s only military style of Drumming.
27 August, 2014
Dear Mr. Estermann,
I am sorry to hear Alfons is unknown in Switzerland and among Swiss drummers. He was a gentleman of great dignity and an exceptionally gifted musician and performer.
Thank you for making the very important distinction between Basel and Swiss drumming, a distinction I was unaware of and misrepresented because of personal ignorance.
I appreciate you taking time to write me and I have begun searching my articles in order to correct any faults relating to this issue.
My sincere best wishes,
Robin Engelman
27 August, 2014
Dear Mr. Engelman
Thank you for your e-mail. I am sure that we have a lot to exchange.
Kind regards
Markus Estermann

Mark Reilly’s clear and informative response to this article is reprinted below with his permission and my sincere gratitude.
Hey Robin,
Thank you for the email. I hope you had a wonderful holiday and a fantastic New Year. It is an honor for me to read through this. Markus is a good friend. We met a few years ago and spent time together here in DC this summer. I will see him again next month in Basel for Fasnacht.
As for the article, I believe this to be a beautiful write up delineating the two divided but connected drumming worlds present in Switzerland. There was one spelling error (Nark instead of Mark). I am also not sure if you would like to include some of the realities of this event regarding the Swiss trip this summer. The STV, now called the STPV only brought 60 members over for their US tour. I am not sure what the entire reason was for the smaller numbers.
When it comes to the differences between the Basel style and the “Swiss” style there are many differences that may seem subtle to our “American” ears but to those immersed within these cultures the differences are not only found within the music but also their customs.
The Basel style certainly became extremely popular around the world when Dr. Berger connected with the NARD in the 1930s and even more so when Alfons came to the States. The Basel style as it stands today certainly contains several localized dialects that vary from clique to clique, similarly to that of the Ancient fife and drum corps in the Northeastern portion of the United States.
The Swiss style that Markus refers to is also new to me as well. The research that Markus has shared focuses on the other fife and drum traditions prevalent in cities like Zürich, and the Wallis (Swiss Alps region), and Geneva. The Wallis fife and drum tradition is a very old tradition and still uses 6 hole wooden fifes with rope tension drums unlike the piccolos used in Basel.
I am not sure how far you would like to dive into this topic. It is expansive due to the depth of the cultural divide between Basel and the “other” parts of Switzerland. To compare it to American sports… The Basel / Zürich rivalry is similar to New York / Boston. A great example of this is Ivan Kym who is a Swiss national champion that lives outside of Basel and has begun to really push the envelope when it comes to technical demand of Rudimental drumming in Switzerland. He blends Basel drumming techniques with a myriad of other influences to include snare drum ensemble pieces that include several layered parts, comparable to the feel of a percussion ensemble.
It is my opinion that the shear number of drummers in Basel and the size of the Basel Fasnacht is a large reason why most of us have only heard of Basel when it come(s) to Switzerland’s drumming history.
I hope that this helps… Please let me know if there is anything else I can help with.
Cheers and best regards
SFC J. Mark Reilly
Snare Drum Section Leader
3d U.S. Infantry Regiment “The Old Guard”
Fife & Drum Corps
Official Ceremonial Unit and
Escort to the President of the United States
Comment: Mr. Estermann kindly provided me with  a recent example of Swiss drumming: Click on link to view:

New Ulster-Scots Fife & Drum Corps Needs Rope Drums

A reader writes seeking donations of playable rope drums for a new fife & drum corps in Scotland.  Can you help?

Let's see if we can send these guys some of our unused old players to spread the joy of drum corps to Scotland.

If you're interested, contact me at  I'll look for a non-profit organization with this kind of thing in its charter to assist in the cause.  And I'll see if FedEx or UPS will help out with shipping.



Dear Sir,

I am the Chairman of Cambuslang Ulster-Scots Society in Scotland. We are a voluntary non-profit society with the aim of furthering our Ulster-Scots (some call us Scots-Irish) Heritage, Culture, History, etc .As you will be aware there is a great deal of the history of the USA which is directly linked with the Ulster-Scots from early settlement until the present day, Hence this request to your good self.
We are forming a small Fife & Drum Corps but cannot source any rope tension drums.  These can be bought new but we are unable to pay commercial rates for them. We are therefore trying to source any old or unused drums.  Maybe a band with spares or defunct or stored away out of use. 
I realise this is an unusual quest but would appreciate if you can help us if you know of any way to obtain some. I can give you more details about the C.U.S.S if you require, Hope you can help
I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this.

Yours Sincerely

Robert Totten


Who are Ulster-Scots;


Hello Ellis
Thank you for your reply and interest in our group
Cambuslang Ulster-Scots Society was formed in Dec 2009, The group was formed to explore and further the links between Scotland and Ulster.There are many connections between the countries (more so the West of Scotland), for hundreds of years . One of the main events was the Ulster Plantation in the early 1600,s this brought a lot of Scots to settle in Ulster. A lot of the History, Culture and Heritage starts from round about this time. In my case my greatgrandfather and great grandmother came from Ballymena but I was born in Cambuslang Scotland. 
We raise funds from small raffles and social fundraisers.
At present I am at home in England but as soon as possible I will send you a copy of our Constitution set up for the Society probably take 2/3 weeks.
During the famine of early 1700 hundreds of U/Scots left Ulster to settle in America,these people were instrumental in the forming of the USA,without going too deeply in to history the influence of U/Scots has been immense .
The plan for the Corps ,is to demonstrate and play the traditional Ulster-Scots-American music that has been part of our culture for many years. A lot of this music has developed in to marching melody flute bands.We wish to go back to basic Fife & Drum. 
At present our youngest member is 14yrs old ranging through to myself (unashamed 70)
Instructors will be brought in from local flute bands we have some very experienced people at hand 
Our music as stated will be traditional tunes from our culture
At present we will only be wearing shirts and uniform trousers as any performances will be indoors .
We will be using 5/6 key Bb flutes as most of us already own these instruments or can borrow them ,we have several makers over here but ours are mostly Mull Wicks and Peter Worrell. The intention is to change to Fifes when we are fully established.
Hope this gives you enough information to be going on with and once again thanks for you time and interest
Bobby Totten