Rudiments of Fife & Drum is the culmination of a year-long project organized by the artist Allison Smith in collaboration with The Aldrich Museum. Opening on May 27, and continuing through September 2, Rudiments of Fife & Drum explores the history of American fife & drum music, tracing its roots to the Middle East and reinterpreting the emblematic rope tension drum as a communication device, both on the battlefield and in peacetime.
Smith’s multi-media project, which utilizes the front parlor, porch, and adjacent lawn area of “Old Hundred,” the Museum’s administration building on Main Street, was inspired by Connecticut’s central and continuing position in the development of American fife & drum music. Old Hundred, a landmark of Ridgefield’s historic district named for its role as a general store, bank, and post office from 1783 through 1883, abuts the site of a Revolutionary War battle.
The transformation of Old Hundred has involved the creation of a “period room” to function as a site for public engagement related to the project, including workshops, lectures, performances, and public forums. Sculptural elements of Smith’s installation include a large farm table and Windsor chairs, a fireplace mantelpiece, a corner cupboard displaying handmade textiles and ceramics, custom drapery, and a number of rope tension drums from the Cooperman Company collection. An archive of photographs and other ephemera documents the history and development of fife & drum music from the ancient Islamic world and Turkish Janissary military bands to the present. Smith also presents her own series of scaled-up rope tension and frame drums featuring vibrant nail-work designs, as well as a “jingling johnny.” The exterior of the building features a “tavern sign” communicating that Old Hundred is once again open for business.
The Celestial Ancients Fife & Drum Corps, Smith’s project band, will perform during the course of the exhibition. Led and organized by guest musical curator James Clark, their repertoire reflects the deep and complicated history of fife & drum music, from its origins in the Ottoman Empire to its ongoing development through Europe (particularly Switzerland), the American Revolution, and the Civil War. The Celestial Ancients will perform on drums designed by Smith and co-fabricated in collaboration with the Cooperman Company, the leading manufacturer of traditional rope tension drums in the United States. A fife & drum muster in the Museum’s sculpture garden on August 25 will feature the renowned regional fife band Connecticut Valley Field Music, led by Clark, as well as visiting groups, including Grainfield Fife & Drum Corps of Rheinfelden, Switzerland.