The secret of Fife?

The secret of Fife?

While I don’t consider the pennywhistle my number one instrument, I am very familiar with the fingering and not too shabby a whistler. Some Civil War re-enactment friends of mine have asked me to play a fife in a parade, and I was wondering how big of a transition is this? I’ve played whistles, recorders, and a long stint of clarinet in school…so I guess my question is, is this within reason, considering that 1) I won’t need a massive repetoire…2 or 3 tunes should do, but 2) will i have enough air to both play and march, being new to the fife?

Re: The secret of Fife?

Ketida…That sounds so unique and fun!

My background was flute & piccolo in various school bands: stage band, symphony, and marching in many, many, many long Mardi Gras parades. If you can walk at a comfortable pace through the length of a parade without being winded or needing to stop, you can get through a tune every now and then on the way. And in most parades, you start and stop constantly along the route anyway to keep different groups from piling up on each other…so you get "breathers". I don’t know how similar to piccolo a fife is, but in my experience, piccolo provided more wind resistance than my whistles, and so I could control the speed of air flow and make my breath last longer on the piccolo. I would think it’s too easy by comparison on whistle to "huff and puff" all your wind out quickly. I also found that once I got to marching a bit, my breathing adjusted to a certain even pace, and it fell into a natural rhythm with the phrasing in the tunes and my steps.

Re: The secret of Fife?

Go for it, just get a good fife. don’t waste your time/money/energy with a bad fife - it’s one instrument that truely comes in grades. If you can do whistle, recorder etc you should have no problems making the transition. Fife & Drum musters are serious fun & a tight community as well.

The main difference in technique I’ve noticed is that fifers break up the notes with tounging on almost every note. The rep of tunes is different & not as large.

I went to a the Westbrook Muster once & was sitting around with a few people at a 3am ‘session’. One of the guys was joking about how pipe-bands only know 10 tunes, I replied with "- & you guys only know 11!" However, no one thought it was as funny as I thought it was. Hell, I still think it’s funny.

Re: The secret of Fife?

Cool, Ketida!

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Well, the rest of my message didn’t get printed, Ketida. I must have zigged when I should have zagged!

I was saying that I really hope you have a delightful time experimenting with the fife. Re-enacting IS a wonderful hobby. I’m a Revolutionary War re-enactor, as you may have read in a previous post. And, since the bodhran, my instrument, doesn’t really fit into the time period of Mr. Washington’s Army, I’ve been toying with the idea of trying the fife myself. So, thanks for your post. It is the little nudge I need to help me find the courage (and time) to give it a try.

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Re: The secret of Fife?

And, Brad, I think your joke is funny, too. (Those ‘Civ’ guys take themselves WAY too seriously.

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Thanks all for your input…and by the way, this is for a St Pats parade…2nd largest in the US, in Savannah, GA. Next question: where to find a good fife that won’t break my budget?

Re: The secret of Fife?

Ketida
Try plugging "fife maker" into the Advanced search engine in Googol. There’s about 8 results.

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We have a few fife corps that go back to the 1600’s around where I am. They aren’t really re-enacting as much as carrying on what’s always been there. As far as a good fife get a Healy, there $175 but they’re pretty much the best you can get.
http://skiphealy.com/frames/fr_instruments.htm
Ralph Sweet also makes a fine one as well.
http://www.sweetheartflute.com/fifes.html
This site won’t win any awards for design but it has lots of links into the whole world of fife & drum.
http://www.fifedrum.org/bobbyc/

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I just took a peek at Brad’s sites…the prices I saw were around $80! Not as expensive as I’d imagined they would be. Even at $175, that’s nowhere near what my irish flute cost. Very affordable for so much fun. I guess I’ll be saving up for a new instrument now. 8-)

So who of you plays fife at sessions? Is that done? I’d only seen them played at Scottish Highland events.

Fife

Katie, i don’t expect anyone plays fife at sessions, because they’re tuned in Bb. I do have a fife-like-instrument tuned in D, by Ralph Sweet, which i play regularly, and pretend it’s a piccolo. Whenever i look at the gorgeous "model F" fife at that page i mention above (less than US$100!), i start sallivating and my hand starts going towards the credit card, until i slap myself a couple of times and say "you don’t need more flutes you fool! Learn to play the ones you have first!" :-)

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LOL…and since when does that work, glauber? I was wondering because one of the sites mentioned playing a fife at sessions, and I have NEVER run across one anywhere (except in parade groups with drum corps).

Wow, glauber…that last site would be a great help to katida!

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A friend of mine, an antique dealer, acquired a fife that was owned by a soldier who fought in the Am. Civil War. Someone — presumable the soldier himself — had rigged a fipple onto the fife. It stuck out of the end at an angle, so that he would hold it like a transverse flute, but he wouldn’t have to maintain that cross-blown embouchure while marching over hilly terrain and would be less affected by the wind, etc..

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Not at a session in a pub, but at least two close musical pals of mine are involved with both Irish & Fife & Drum. If the fiddle is tuned to "Eb" (Like Frankie Gavin does alot) you can play along with a fife. You need to fudge around with the keys, if the tune is in A the fiddle plays it as is & the fife plays it as if their playing in the "first postion" (D on a D flute, Bb on a Bb fife). If you’re doing G tunes the The fife plays in the "G" position & plays in D. G tunes don’t work very well & should be played as if in D. You just got to play with it. It’s fun but more between two friends (or a gig)then at a session.

Secrets of fife

Katie, yes, that’s why i mentioned it! :-)

Cuchulain, you can get a fipple like that from http://www.beafifer.com . Apparently, by the end of the war the armies were running out of people who could play the fife (seems that they always aimed at the bodhran player, but often the poor fifer got shot accidentally). So they started rigging these fipples to make it easier for people to play. I suspect the result is pretty horrible, but in war you gotta do what you gotta do.

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This didn’t sound too bad, I didn’t think. Kind of whistle-like, as you can imagine.

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Interesting, yes, i suppose it would be kind of whistle-like. I think the intonation will go crazy on the third octave, because you can’t compensate with the embochure. Looks like these guys play mostly on the second and third octaves, want to sound really LOUD.

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Just to let you know…thanks to glauber! My ultra cheap ($12) learners fife is on its way from the beafifer site. If it works out well I’ll look into upgrading. I guess part of the success will depend on how well my friends can transform me into a young civil war soldier. They have considerably more optimism than I do, and not nearly as many curves ;-)
k.

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lol…are you sure they’d be aimin’ at the bodhran player, glauber? We’re such agreeable folks! Must have been the singers.

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Linda, that’s what they said in the history books.

Ketida, i have one of those $12 fifes. It’s a piece of plastic with holes in it, and copper ferrules on either end. Surprisingly, it plays fine and in tune. I think you will want to upgrade soon, though! :-) I remember mine came reeking of cigarrette smoke; i thought it added to the mistique. If the fingering chart looks weird, remember that D=Bb, and it seems to me you’re meant to play 1 octave higher than what’s written.

Or, to be correct, 2 octaves higher than what’s written (yikes!), or 1 octave above the way it’s normally notated for the whistle or piccolo.