How Michigan Fifing and Drumming, the Household Division, the Scots Guards, and Colonial Williamsburg find one another through the power of music.
Across the wires from Virginia to Michigan, the soft voice said, "John Moon." On a hot August day in 1974, I made contact with the one person who could answer my questions about creating a fife and drum ensemble. I had harbored a dream about playing rope-tensioned drums with a group for over a decade. Finally, due to a series of coincidental remarks heard among friends, the connection was made.
After introducing myself, I explained my desire to create a musical unit of fifes and drums and then perform during America's bicentennial. Mr. Moon was generously patient and thorough in all of his answers to my questions.
This first phone call was a life-changing moment, yet to be understood as such. At the time, I only knew him as John Moon, the Musick Master of Colonial Williamsburg. By the call's end, we had a plan in place for my visit with Mr. Moon and his staff over the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend.
I walked into the Old Court House in Colonial Williamsburg and into the office of John Moon. After introductions were made, I immediately became aware of the efficiency by which the fife and drum corps was run. Each member of both the Junior Corps and the Senior Corps were logged in and out for every performance during a given “work” day. Uniforms were checked and rechecked before assembly. Roll call was taken, fife ferrules, shoe buckles, belt buckles and the Drum Major’s mace were shined to brilliance. Without sounding cliché, it was a well-oiled machine.
Mr. Moon asked if I would like to watch a rehearsal before the Duke of Gloucester Street parade. I accepted without a second thought. Arriving at the second floor, John threw open the large courtroom doors just as his assistant, Bill White, dropped the mace to have the fifes and drums play. I was hit with a wall of sound that to this day causes shortness of breath and goosebumps to appear. My DNA absorbed that music as if I was dying of thirst.
I couldn’t believe that Mr. Moon had been able to raise the abilities of such young performers to the level of perfection that they displayed. I had come to the right place to learn about this art form.
Subsequently, our relationship grew into a strong trusting friendship. His skillsets that he applied to teaching the members of both the Junior and Senior Corps came directly from his service in the Scots Guards. I learned that John Moon had been allowed to enlist in the Scots Guards as a Boy Drummer. He also had to sign documents attesting to the fact that if he did not attain the height of six feet, he would be reassigned to a regular army unit. He remained in the Regiment, becoming the youngest Drum Major in the 340-year history of the Scots Guards. When he put on his “Drum Major” face and changed his conversational voice to the commanding voice of a British Sargent Major, there was no question that he was the man in charge.
I was asked to accompany him as his “bat man” during the 50th Anniversary celebrations at Colonial Williamsburg in July, 2008. Alumni came from around the country to attend the festivities. On the day that everyone was to parade from the House of Burgess to the Governor’s Mansion, different groups of alumni were seen and heard around the area of the Fife and Drum building, rehearsing and preparing to march. Gathered behind the building was the group from the early 60’s. They were all bunched together, as were the members of the alumni who represented the mid- to late- 60’s; they were on the south side of the building.
Entering the building and turning into the rehearsal hall, the alumni from the Moon era were standing at attention in absolutely perfect rank and file. It was expected. Here was an undeniable example of the influence that John C. Moon had had on the pre-teens and teens who had gone through his program at Colonial Williamsburg.
The 1st Michigan Colonial Fife and Drum Corps, born on that weekend long ago in Colonial Williamsburg, had its first series of performances, in uniform, with fifes and drums, just nine months later. It was based operationally on sound principles and concepts utilized by Mr. John Moon, at Colonial Williamsburg. Thanks to his experiences, first as Boy Drummer and ultimately, Senior Drum Major of the British Army, his operational and observational genius has always been respected.