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crowley_greene
10-11-2006, 12:31 PM
Following a weekend of some hearing some rather impressive musicians at Perryville, a friend of mine has begun to egg me about purchasing a fife and learning it. The captain of my company also has told me that it would be a welcome addition.

So, yesterday I spent some time doing some research toward that end. First, I have no intentions of purchasing one of those $13 maple instruments. At the same time, I can't see my way clear to shelling out the hundreds of dollars I saw some military B-flat six-hole fifes going for. I wish I could stay under $100, even under $80 if that's realistic.

Do any musicians on this board have any strong opinions about, say, the Cooperman fifes in persimmon or rosewood? Are they suitable for field music?

Oh, I'm a professional musician (bachelor's and master's degrees in music, violinist and fiddler), had some amount of woodwinds methods in studying for my music degrees, and am guessing that I could teach myself some of the basics.

I mentioned prices above. I've taught violin and viola before, and I take a strong stand in suggesting to people that they don't go the "cheap" route for a first instrument to learn on -- if an instrument cannot inherently produce a decent sound, it's not going to be fun to practice on. That's what I'm trying to keep in mind on this fife idea.

So again, any suggestions, opinions, or recommendations on Cooperman fifes or other brands?

Murray Therrell
Paragould, AR

madisontigers
10-11-2006, 01:49 PM
Hi:

Glad to see another person taking the steps towards music. To answer your question, let me first ask a few. My fellow musician is a fifer, and he has put quite a bit of study into fifing. He spent months just picking out a fife that suited his needs. I will confer with him tonight, and after obtaining more information will follow up with a post. Military fifes of the period were in the Bb .

I. Would you prefer a traditional (authentic) fife with same size holes, which are smaller? Or, would you prefer a fife with varying hole sizes?

II. Are you primarily concerned with accuracy, or ease of playing?

If you are looking for a all around excellent fife, and one that is museum quality, I would suggest purchasing a fife from Ron Peeler. Now, having said that, keep in mind that the prrice will be close to $100. There are some Cloose & Crosby(hope I spelled it right) out there, but I don't believe they are period correct. Cooperman's fife's seem to be good as well, but I understand that the fingering holes are of the more modern style. You might also consider trying to find a nice fife in Nickel silver. In order to find a fife that meets the needs of authenticity, I would try to find one made from Rosewood, Cocoa, and even pear.

I hope this helped a bit.

crowley_greene
10-11-2006, 02:30 PM
I. Would you prefer a traditional (authentic) fife with same size holes, which are smaller? Or, would you prefer a fife with varying hole sizes?

II. Are you primarily concerned with accuracy, or ease of playing?


I hope I don't pull down heaps of burning coals on my head, from those of more authentic ilk on this board, with what I'm about to say.

I don't mind some compromise with authenticity here.

Let me hasten to say that being a classical violinist I have numerous CDs of violin music of the Baroque period (1685-1750), that are performed by virtuoso violinists who are not playing on Baroque "period correct" instruments -- violins of the 1700's had slight differences from those that evolved later and that we see today. I don't discredit these artists one bit for choosing 1800's instruments for their masterful performances of 1700's musical literature.

So I hope my willingness to compromise here might not be looked down on any.

But now your questions have opened up another can of worms. Now I ask myself should I indeed go with something like a plastic beginner's instrument ($7.95 on www.beafifer.com) until I get comfortable with some rudiments and maybe get a better idea of just what I'm looking for?. Could it be that I might not run so much a risk of an uninformed decision in purchasing, just not knowing?

Hmmm.

Murray Therrell

sumter_guard
10-11-2006, 03:06 PM
Hi,

I worked for Cooperman and also was the Chief Musician for the 5th Alabama Field Music. We played Cooperman instruments exclusively and never had any cause to change that. If you're looking into Cooperman fifes I believe the one piece rosewood is the way to go. Common wood for the most common of military instruments.

Have fun!
Andrew

crowley_greene
10-11-2006, 03:37 PM
If you're looking into Cooperman fifes I believe the one piece rosewood is the way to go.

Do the Cooperman fifes also include instructions on how to make adjustments for tuning?

They're six-hole fifes. I presume the fingering patterns are the same as period fifes (thinking in terms of repro period instruction manuals)?

Murray Therrell

sumter_guard
10-11-2006, 04:37 PM
The cooperman six hole rosewood is as faithful to originals as anything. You just need to check into them. I can't remember what tuning they come in but it is fairly standard (I keep thinking b flat but I was never a fifer). All our fifes came from cooperman and we worked out of the Bruce and Emmett's Drummers and Fifers Guide which is THE period manual out there (cooperman also sells this manual).

andrew

madisontigers
10-11-2006, 08:02 PM
Mr. Therrell,

I don't think anyone is going to snub you for the choices you make. Being that you are a professional musician, as well as a reenactor, I am going to assume that you have made your mind up on becoming a fifer. If so, I would just go ahead and purchase a good fife to start with. Eventually you will have to discard the plastic fife, and in turn purchase a more expensive one made of wood.My friend is always telling me about how much he loves his Peeler fife. I hope you can find one that best suits your needs.
BTW: the 5th Alabama is still my favorite group of field musicians. I only wish I could find another one of their cd's to purchase.

Fifer26
10-12-2006, 09:12 AM
Not every period fife had the finger holes all the same size, though most did. See original fifes with measurements at www.dillonmusic.com/historic_fifes/historic_fifes.html

Bill Bynum

Army30th
10-12-2006, 09:46 AM
Coopermans come, well at least the one I have, with instructions on how to play it, and how to make breath patterns to produce the sound. It is of one standard pitch, either C or Bb. As far as I know there is no provision for pitch change.

madisontigers
10-13-2006, 07:19 AM
Bill,

I have looked at that site, and it is wonderful. Just like you said, not all had the same size finger holes, but most that I have seen did have them. Electricity was in existence at this time as well, but not evryone had it in their residences. Let's try and stick to what was most common, rather than the item that was used more infrequently.
Bruce and Emmett's is a little bit late to use for Civil War. Although a good many of the tunes in it are old, some have been tweekd by the author to his own liking. It was written in 1862, but was not officially released until 1865. I sugest that you check out www.beafifer.com. This guy has done his homework on Civil War music.

tompritchett
10-13-2006, 07:42 AM
Let's try and stick to what was most common, rather than the item that was used more infrequently.

I think the choice should be left up to Mr Therrell about finger-hole size. After all, he is the one that will be playing the instrument. Are you seriously arguing that Mr. Therrell should not be playing a period-correct fife that he finds the easiest to play and learn just because it is not PEC? While the PEC argument has plently of merit in regards to uniforms and soldiers' general equipment, I really don't think it is applicable to this situation. It is not like we have such an abundance of skilled fife players out there that we can afford to play obstacles in the paths of trained musicians who want to take up the instrument at reenactments.

Rob Weaver
10-13-2006, 08:17 AM
Most reproduction fifes are in B-flat (although the music is almost always written in D or G major due to the peculiarities of the instrument. It also sounds an octave higher than it's written.). I would recommend a B flat fife first. I have a lovely original that's in C. I can rarely find someone to play with. There is no real way to re-tune a fife. The key is set with a stopper in the end where the blowhole is. A certain amount of sharp or flat tweaking can be done by pushing it in or out a little with a stick, but I've never been able to get more that a half-step or so. It's also very inexact, so I recommend not messing with it at all. A lot of "tuning" with the fife is done with the way you hold it and the air-flow production. Like most primitive flutes, it's not a very precise instrument, and the player does a lot of active listening while playing it.

crowley_greene
10-13-2006, 09:27 AM
Most reproduction fifes are in B-flat (although the music is almost always written in D or G major due to the peculiarities of the instrument. It also sounds an octave higher than it's written.). . . A certain amount of sharp or flat tweaking can be done by pushing it in or out a little with a stick, but I've never been able to get more that a half-step or so.

Yes, both my undergraduate and graduate music degrees are in composition, so I'm quite familiar with transposing instruments, and some instruments that actually sound an octave higher or lower than written (to save the composer the grief of having to write all those ledger lines in the manuscript).

When I asked about tuning the fife, I was thinking in terms of tuning with any other musician(s) I might play with -- probably tuning no more than a quarter-step, if that much. Out-of-tune instruments just go all over me, make me wince.

Murray Therrell

tompritchett
10-13-2006, 11:44 AM
When I asked about tuning the fife, I was thinking in terms of tuning with any other musician(s) I might play with -- probably tuning no more than a quarter-step, if that much. Out-of-tune instruments just go all over me, make me wince.

Tell me about it. I am not a musician but I have been listening to all types of music for many decades. Or to paraphrase my wife's college choral director, just because your audience is composed primarily of non-muscians does not mean that they do not have experienced ears.

madisontigers
10-13-2006, 02:06 PM
Tom,

When it comes down to it I really don't care what he purhcases. I was only offering my suggestion, as I want the guy to be happy with his purchase. Of course it is up to him in regards to what he buys, but I think that he was asking for opinions. If he doesn't like mine, fine, I'm cool with that. My opinions can be geared in the wrong directions, not unlike other peoples opinions.
I'm going to have to argue with you on the "pec" theory. If there are fewer fifers out there, than that should be more of a reason to go pec. The fewer the fifes...the smaller the ratio of same sized finger holes, versus different sized finger holes becomes. so...whereas if you had, let's say 2 different sized finger holed fifes, for every 10; then you could figure that out of 5 fifes only 1 out of 5 would have different sized finger holes. So, in actuality, the low number of fifers out there should make this equation even more important.

I'm not trying to start a flaim-bait war. I totally respect Mr. Therell's decision in purchasing whatever fife he chooses, as it is really none of my business. However, having said that, I always like to offer people the option of listening to some of the things I have learned, both good and bad, from decisions I have made in regards to purchasing musical instruments. I'm not even going to get started on drums, as that is even more discerning.

Mr. Therell, I only suggest that you SHOP AROUND, AND ASK THE DIFFERENT MAKERS AS MANY QUESTIONS AS YOU CAN THINK OF.

tompritchett
10-13-2006, 06:05 PM
The fewer the fifes...the smaller the ratio of same sized finger holes, versus different sized finger holes becomes. so...whereas if you had, let's say 2 different sized finger holed fifes, for every 10; then you could figure that out of 5 fifes only 1 out of 5 would have different sized finger holes. So, in actuality, the low number of fifers out there should make this equation even more important.

While I would normally agree with your analysis if we were just talking about any peice of equipment, I do not think that the PEC argument should be applied here because I am more concerned about the shortage of skilled muscians playing the instrument than I am about the correct percentage of fifes with the PEC hole sizes. If a period-correct but non-PEC fife is easier to play properly by such a muscian, I personally am willing to let the PEC argument slide in order to get a more profficient fife player. Anyone who is will try to retune his instrument to match the pitches of the other instruments with which he is playing needs no artifical obstacles placed in front of him

Of course this is just my personal opinion as someone who enjoys well played music but winces everytime he hears it played badly or slightly off tune. I would much rather hear a skilled muscian play an properly tuned, but not the most authentic, instrument than hear a much less skilled individual play the most authentic instrument, especially if the instrument is slightly off pitch. I think that most of us are much less likely to notice that an individual's fife is not PEC because of its holes than we will notice that the instrument is not properly pitched or that the hole sizes are such that the player is not able to play the instrument to the best of the muscian's ability.

Again, just my 2 cents.

crowley_greene
10-13-2006, 07:08 PM
Of course it is up to him in regards to what he buys, but I think that he was asking for opinions.

Oh, I am asking for opinions and I value them all as food for thought. Thank you.

As of today, I'm coming very close to just plunking down $7.95 + shipping for one of the plastic beginner fifes. A private message I got from one instructor advised that they're not really so bad to learn on, the sound's not altogether unpleasant. And an investment of less than $15 may give me the opportunity to start learning some fundamentals while I continue shopping around some, and researching.

I look at it this way . . . as a violin teacher, I mentioned that I caution people about going the "cheap" route for a beginner violin. But the "cheap" route for a beginner violin can be $250-$300, and one runs a serious risk of ending up with an instrument that's not worth having at all, that even a professional cannot get a decent sound out of. I would be reluctant to throw away $250 instead of investing about $1000 for a good student violin.

But we're only talking $13 or $14 here, almost pocket change. When I decide later on for a higher grade of fife, after I learn some things to base a more informed decision on, I could almost just give the beginner instrument away to some kid at a reenactment.

Once again, all opinions are welcome.

Murray Therrell

Rob Weaver
10-16-2006, 03:31 PM
When I asked about tuning the fife, I was thinking in terms of tuning with any other musician(s) I might play with -- probably tuning no more than a quarter-step, if that much. Murray Therrell

You can make tiny adjustments like that with your lip, like when you play the recorder. You do have to listen pretty closely if you play with other instruments. It doesn't seem to matter all that much when fifes play field music together. The timbre is so shrill that it essentially covers any minute differences between the individual instruments. Possibly the least finicky of all wind instruments - even less than the tin whistle! The fife can take a lot of mishandling, rough handling, bad weather conditions and still sound exactly the same. Did you know, by the way, that fife and drum bands were the brainchild of the great baroque composer GF Handel? He took it in his mind to write a book of music for a band that would have a "turkish" sound, as this was gaining popularity in Europe in the 1730's. He started a fad that was seized upon by all the military powers almost immediately. He even set tunes from his operas and oratorios for fifes and drums. "Lo, the Conquering Hero Cometh" from "Judas Maccabeus" is my favorite - the oratorio written for the Duke of Cumberland to celebrate his victory over the Scots in 1746. You might also know the tune from its hymn lyrics "Thine is the glory, Ris'n Conquering Son."

tompritchett
10-16-2006, 03:53 PM
Did you know, by the way, that fife and drum bands were the brainchild of the great baroque composer GF Handel? He took it in his mind to write a book of music for a band that would have a "turkish" sound, as this was gaining popularity in Europe in the 1730's. He started a fad that was seized upon by all the military powers almost immediately.

Thank you for sharing it. I will love telling that to my wife who was a music major in college.

crowley_greene
10-16-2006, 04:28 PM
Did you know, by the way, that fife and drum bands were the brainchild of the great baroque composer GF Handel? He took it in his mind to write a book of music for a band that would have a "turkish" sound, as this was gaining popularity in Europe in the 1730's.
It's been several years since I took music history in my undergraduate and graduate studies -- if I ever did know of the Turkish influence on Handel I had forgotten it.

However, I am aware that bits of Turkish influence were still heard into the music of the early 1800's, for example with Mozart and Beethoven. I've even thought I heard a bit of it in the final movement of the Brahms Violin Concerto in D, possibly even in the final movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D (?), which would have even dated into the mid to later 1800's.

If that is so, then it would mean that the Turkish influence was present (at least to some degree) for well over a hundred years in Western music.

Murray Therrell

Rob Weaver
10-21-2006, 06:46 AM
Western music seems to have flirted with the romantic and wild "arabesque" for a long time. The "Turk's March" is one of my favorite fife tunes. I've always found it interesting that the signature sound of military music of the American Revolution and Civil War, the fife and drum band, can be traced in such a straight line. The fife pretty much disappears from martial music right after the War, too. Think about it, within 30 years you have Sousa and a completely different sound.

tarheel_fifer
10-28-2006, 07:54 AM
Murray, I agree with the gentleman from the 5th Alabama-- Cooperman Bb is the best fife to buy. Or, if you start with a cheap fife, go ahead and get a wooden one (maple) and just saturate it in bore oil. And it is perfectly acceptable to play from "Bruce & Emmetts Guide"-- even though this was an 1862-1865 publication, these tunes and camp duties had been taught and written down in various other manuals and sheet music for YEARS before the war and instructed to federal musicians well before 1862 at the official U.S. schools of music. "Bruce & Emmett's Drummers & Fifers Guide" just finally put it all under one cover, so it's not like you are playing modern, post-war music. It is very authentic and a great period-accurate manual. Other period manuals you might want to find are: Col H.C. HART'S U.S. Regulation Drum and Fife Instructor (NY 1862), ELIAS HOWE'S School for the Fife (Boston, 1851) and WILLIAM NEVIN'S Army Regulations for Drum, Fife, and Bugle (Chicago, 1861).

David Rotan, fifer
Carolina Fifes & Drums
26th NC Regimental Field Music

Hardtack Herring
10-28-2006, 10:11 PM
Do not waste money on the maple fife!

The Black Plastic fife is very good... Better than the maple. If you want a fife to learn on get the black plastic. I have one with me at all times to practice with.

As far as tutorials www.beafifer.com has a great tutorial. Order your black plastic fife and you are good to go.

When you decide you want to get a more authentic fife the first thing you must consider is who will you be playing with. For example our group The Liberty Hall Fifes and Drums play the Model F fife.

A Model F and a Cooperman are going to play pretty well together but it is always best to have the same type of Fifes.

If the group you will be playing with have Cooperman fifes then that is the way to go.

Personaly I have played many fifes and I like the Model F the best.

If you would like to see and hear The Liberty Hall Fifes and Drums you can do so at www.putfile.com/libertyhall

crowley_greene
12-10-2006, 06:32 PM
This thread started back a couple of months ago, after I got home from the October Perryville weekend. I first ordered a plastic learner fife along with Ed Boyle's tutorial from www.beafifer.com. Ed has given me a lot of help and guidance over the phone and through e-mails as I have gone through my self-learning efforts (no other players in this area). I also got a copy of the B&E. And I feel like I've come along very well over the past couple of months of regular practice on the plastic fife.

A couple of days ago I ordered a cocobolo Model F. That's the route I've decided to go.

Murray Therrell
Paragould, AR