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    Finger Lakes Fife and Drum Corps Keeps American History Alive

    “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is a song often associated with the birth of America, with the fife and snare drum guiding soldiers to battle. In Ithaca, children aged 8-18 are learning these instruments and reviving American history and music at the same time.

    The 13 members of the Finger Lakes Fife and Drum Corps meet every Tuesday at the Ithaca VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars).

    Tanya Morrisett, the director and one of the fife instructors of the Finger Lakes Fife and Drum Corps, created the organization with her son, John, in 2015.

    “My family moved here about three years ago from the Boston area, and at that point, there was no fife and drum corps,” Morrisett said. “My son was a fifer in Boston and he was very upset about having to leave that part of Boston behind, so I said ‘let’s form our own corps!”

    The Corps has allowed Morrisett to pursue her passion with history while spending quality time with her son. Together, they have had the opportunity to travel and perform in England, the 250th Anniversary of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Walt Disney World.

    Tanya Morrisett shows off the rope-tension base drum at an open house event. (Photo/Danielle Lee)
    Tanya Morrisett shows off the rope-tension base drum at an open house event. (Photo/Danielle Lee)

    “Some of this music has been around since the 1600s,” Morrisett added.

    “One of these songs from the Civil War, ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me,’ is actually an older song from Ireland. I think that if someone doesn’t play it, we’re going to lose a song that was really important in the Civil War. We keep that alive by having the kids learn and play it.”

    The fife is a six-holed, wooden, small-like flute that was paired with the snare drum, a percussion drum with ropes on the bottom, to create a staccato-like sound, in the Revolutionary era.

    The children who participate in the group learn how to read music and to play the wooden fife, rope-tension snare drum, and the rope-tension base drum. They also have the opportunity to play in parades and at historical events, sporting costumes similar to those worn during the Revolutionary era.

    Members line up and learn how to march. (Photo/Danielle Lee)

    Operating as a nonprofit, the organization receives donations from the nationwide fife and drum community, as well as Morrisett’s own music collection and personal funding.

    Morrisett tries to keep membership costs affordable for local families. Members pay monthly dues of $25 in order to cover weekly lessons, instruments, and uniforms.

    “One of my favorite things about Fife and Drum Corps is the opportunity to dress up in uniforms and play a musical instrument,” said Josiah, a member of the Corps. “I love dressing up – always been into that.”

    Revolutionary-era costumes that members wear during parades and events. (Photo/Danielle Lee)

    Jay Healy, a history major and music minor at Ithaca College, is a fife instructor with the group. Healy joined the Finger Lakes Fife and Drum Corps after meeting Morrisett in his hometown of Lexington, Massachusetts.

    “Without the younger generation and without people playing this [music], it would actually die out,” Healy said. “It’s one of these enriching activities that helps expand a child’s understanding of what music is and how it’s come so far.”

    “They just have fun with other kids,” Morrisett said. “That’s what we’re all about, having fun with other kids.”

    Fifers and drummers play a song together. (Photo/Danielle Lee)
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