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Published: Monday, 7/24/2006

Fort Meigs re-enactors bring back music from 19th century

BY ERIC LUND
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Eric Wallace plays the fife backed up by Tim Schulte on the drum. They wear period U.S. Army uniforms. Eric Wallace plays the fife backed up by Tim Schulte on the drum. They wear period U.S. Army uniforms.
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If a 19th-century American soldier had been at Fort Meigs last weekend, he would have found at least one thing that was comfortably familiar: the music.

Four fife and drum corps from across the Midwest gathered at the historic fort, with several hundred spectators looking on, to perform and listen to historic martial music and explore period life, from dancing to military demonstrations.

"[Soldiers] were signaled from the time they got up in the morning until they went to bed," said John Hunter, a member of 1st Michigan Colonial Fife and Drum Corps, adding that music was used for everything from calling soldiers to meals to giving orders in battle.

"It's a component of military life that isn't showcased enough," said Rick Finch, Ohio Historical Society site manager for Fort Meigs. "A lot of times, when you come to a re-enactment, the focus is almost exclusively on the battle."

One performing group, U.S. Field Musik 1812, walked spectators through some of the tunes soldiers would hear throughout the day, such as what they'd wake up to and what would call them to breakfast and other meals or drills.

"The drums and the fife [are] the same as the commander's voice," John Oien, an Omaha, Neb., native who is the group's leader, or drum major, told a crowd of onlookers.

"I'm glad we stopped by here, the drummers are very good," said George Hunter, a Louisville, Ky., resident visiting his mother in Toledo.

Drum major John Oien, foreground, rests while Rob Trumbull smokes a pipe at Fort Meigs. The men were part of the weekend-long Drums Along the Maumee re-enactment at the fort, which featured four fife and drum corps. Drum major John Oien, foreground, rests while Rob Trumbull smokes a pipe at Fort Meigs. The men were part of the weekend-long Drums Along the Maumee re-enactment at the fort, which featured four fife and drum corps.
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Mr. Hunter, who also is a drummer, added that the performers were even using drums with skin heads, which are more authentic than the plastic heads used today.

The fife and drum corps also wore authentic uniforms, with many made by the unit's own seamstresses. Some of the performers even camped at the site.

Shirley Lonsdale of Redford, Mich., a member of 1st Michigan, camped out with her son and husband, and called her tent "as close as it can be in modern times" to what a military tent would have looked like in the 19th century, joking that inside, of course, it was a different story.

"If we could drop them through a hole in time onto an 1812 battlefield," they'd know what to do, Mr. Oien said.

"It's unique to hobbies because you actually get to live your hobby," said Scott Coombs of Lincoln Park, Mich.. "In its own unique way, you get to experience history."

Living history may not have been the first thing on the mind of 10-month-old Evan Skolmowski, who went with his parents.

"This is the first one we've been to," said Jina Skolmowski, of Perrysburg, as her son bobbed his head along with the music.

Mr. Finch estimated about 300 people showed up to the event, which is held annually. Also performing was Janesville Fife and Drum.

Contact Eric Lund at: elund@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.



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