LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – On Tuesday, the sounds of fifes and drums trilled and pounded from the time-worn walls of Fort William Henry. Their players marched to the historic fort all the way from Michigan.
That’s a joke. They took a bus. But the middle- and high school-aged kids were dressed for the occasion, and the lake was just one stop on the journey.
The Plymouth Fife and Drum Corps – based out of Plymouth, Michigan – performed for visiting tourists and locals at Fort William Henry on Tuesday. Inside the fort, around 20 students donned heavy costumes and historically-accurate instruments, and marched into the fort, playing the kind of music one might have heard during the Battle of Lake George in the French & Indian War.
“A lot of kids know nothing coming in. We have great instructors,” said Ryan Burkhardt, president of the fife & drum corps’ board of parent directors. “We really want the kids to get the musicality, and the history, and the comradery.”
The group of kids range from 12 to 18 years old. The music they played under a hot Tuesday sun ranged, in turn, between different historically-accurate pieces played by corps during the Revolutionary and French & Indian wars. In Lake George, that meant opening with “Water Music,” a medley of songs all associated with water – fitting for a performance just a hill and a street away from the lake.
One piece was led by the group’s two lead fife players; another by its octet of drummers. For some students, the ability to explore music in an unconventional way is the biggest draw of all. The comradery marches close behind.
“For me it’s definitely been making friends, and the music – both things have been really inspiring to me to keep going,” said Malorie Hart, a senior and snare drum player. “This is like my core group here. Basically, we all grew up together.”
Hart and her fellows don full regalia mirroring that worn by George Washington’s own officers in 1783. That means 5 pounds of wool, and a lot of heat to contend with while performing. The squad of parents bringing the kids on their journey makes sure to keep them hydrated along the way.
That journey wasn’t over in Lake George. The Plymouth Fife and Drum Corps is making its annual pilgrimage, which every year takes it to historic colonial-era locations across the east coast. Leading up to Lake George, the group has also performed at Fort Stanwix in Rome, N.Y.
After playing in Lake George and taking some time for lunch, it was back to the road for the troupe, headed to Braintree, Massachusetts. On Wednesday, the group is set to play at three different historic sites in Boston – the USS Constitution, Charlestown Training Field, and finally Faneuil Hall.
After a day of R&R, they’ll visit Deep River, Connecticut, for the annual Deep River Ancient Muster, an event that welcomes as many as 60 fife and drum corps across three days. It’s a big reunion for all of them – and every year, a chance for the students to get more familiar with the history they wear on their backs than they get in Michigan, playing for local parades.
“When we’re in Michigan, obviously it’s nice to play for our hometown,” said Kayden Burkhardt, a senior drummer – and son of Ryan Burkhardt. “But the sense of history and legacy that comes with the uniforms, and why we play the music the way we do, is something that can only be found in places like this, in these historic forts.”
The corps takes a different route every year. Other notable locations where the kids have played include Independence Hall in Philadelphia; the Statue of Liberty; the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; and even the White House. Last summer, the corps celebrated its 50th year with a trip to Mount Rushmore.
Although they don’t get a lot of time to enjoy the lake, the students in the corps get a lot out of seeing the beauty present in different parts of the country. Whether they’re in it for the history, the music, or the friendship, they get to see a lot of sights, and grow closer to each other and their nation’s history, along the way.