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May 13, 2008

"Drummers Call" honoring 50th anniversary of Fifes and Drums of Colonial Williamsburg to webcast live from Historic Area May 17

The Fifes and Drums of Colonial Williamsburg formally launch the celebration of their 50th anniversary this weekend at Drummers Call, the first of several signature events this year, which brings fife and drum corps from across the country to Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area May 16 –18. Their performances and parade will be webcast live on Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site,, from 12:30 – 3 p.m. May 17.

“This is the first time Colonial Williamsburg has attempted to reach a worldwide audience through streaming a live Historic Area programming event,” said Bill Wagner, director of productions for Colonial Williamsburg. “The webcast marks a new direction in rich media for Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site and may lead to other events being webcast. Streaming video of the event also will be archived on the site for later viewing.”

In celebration of the anniversary, Colonial Williamsburg has produced a documentary chronicling the story of the historic and modern traditions of fifes and drums in America. The program will be available in a two-disc set, available May 17, including the 56-minute documentary and an audio CD of Colonial Williamsburg fife and drum recordings from the past 50 years. The documentary will air on Norfolk’s WHRO television May 25 at 7 p.m. The Pentagon Channel will also broadcast the program at various times beginning May 23 and continuing through July 4.

Fifes and drums played an important role in the history of America. Music was used to encourage troops for battle in the Continental Army in the early days of our country. Soldiers lived their lives to the beat of the drum and the call of the fife. Recognition of certain pieces of music on the battlefield could mean the difference between life and death. Today, armies try to destroy the enemy’s communications network, but in the 18th century, a code of honor protected the fifers and drummers, who were usually young boys.

Fife & Drum Tradition Strong in New England

When producer/director Michael Durling set out to create a visual story of the diverse groups across the country that preserve the traditions of the fife and drum today, he started with Drummers Call weekend in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area in May 2007, where alumni of Colonial Williamsburg’s Fifes and Drums gathered along with fifers and drummers from across the land. Durling also headed to the Deep River Ancient Muster in July 2007, an event that has brought fifes and drums to Deep River, Conn., on the third Saturday in July for more than 100 years.

“When we started the project, I was familiar with how Colonial Williamsburg fifes and drums are played,” said Durling. “But I had no idea of the diversity of the musical styles and traditions in the fife and drum community across the country.”

“We also visited Cooperman Fife & Drum Company in Bellows Falls, Vt.,” said Durling. “They make the fifes and drums for Colonial Williamsburg’s Fifes and Drums and still make drums with a single piece of bent wood and natural calfskin heads and rope tension, which creates an ‘earthy’ natural sound.”

Music from 50 Years of Fifes and Drums of Colonial Williamsburg Preserved

The compact disc of fife and drum music included with the DVD is called “A Half Century of Quarter Notes.” The music was taken from the archives of the past 50 years of the Fifes and Drums of Colonial Williamsburg and was carefully moved from original reel-to-reel tapes to digital recordings. It concludes with one track recorded by alumni who attended “Drummers Call” in May of 2007.

“The performance we videotaped at Drummers Call 2007 was recorded in surround sound,” said Todd Judge, sound supervisor and producer for the CD. “The use of multiple microphones allowed us to capture the experience of the Fifes and Drums playing in the Historic Area. Part of the listening experience is hearing the music echo off the buildings and through the alleyways of our living history museum. The final mix for the DVD was encoded in Dolby® Digital Surround Sound so listeners can bring the acoustics of the town into their living rooms.”

The DVD special features include rare photos and footage of the fifers and drummers and interviews with members of Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums across the decades, including the corps founder George Carroll, also instrumental in the beginning of the Army Old Guard. The two-disc set will be available for sale in Colonial Williamsburg stores during Drummers Call weekend and also online at or by calling 1-800-446-9240.

“Drummers Call – America’s Fife and Drum Tradition” will be broadcast on WHRO, PBS channel 15, Sunday, May 25 at 7 p.m. for the Memorial Day weekend. The program will also be broadcast on the Pentagon channel to more than 2 million viewers serving in the Armed Forces worldwide. Check listings for times.

Also in celebration of the 50th anniversary and available online beginning that weekend, the Web site will offer a free Fife and Drum screensaver, wallpaper and a Fife and Drum game for children in the popular Kids Zone section of the Web site,

Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Within the restored and reconstructed buildings, historic interpreters, attired as colonial men and women from slaves to shopkeepers to soldiers, relate stories of colonial Virginia society and culture — stories of our journey to become Americans — while historic trades people research, demonstrate and preserve the 18th-century world of work and industry. As Colonial Williamsburg interprets life in the time of the American Revolution for its guests, it also invites them to interact with history. “Revolutionary City®” — a daily dramatic live street theater presentation — is a 2008 Rand McNally Best-of-the-Road™ Editor’s Pick. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at

Media Contact:
Barbara Brown
(757) 220-7280