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Celebrating Washington’s Birthday – Without Missing a Beat

February 19th, 2021 News and Events

On February 15, 2021, Washington Crossing Historic Park’s Facebook page and YouTube channel released a video depicting fife and drummers playing “Happy Birthday” for the general’s birthday. The video – created to be played during George Washington’s virtual birthday celebration – was a culmination of weeks of coordination and editing work by the Washington Crossing Fifes and Drums Corps.

Here’s how this unique video came together.

Launched in January 2019 under the directorship of fife major Stacy Roth and drum major Lance Peterson, the Corps spent months building a repertoire of 18th-century tunes and the signals and duties (musical commands) of the Continental Army. In February 2020, the Corps was out in force for the park’s celebration of George Washington’s birthday and was looking forward to another full year of playing together and adding a military music element to park events.

Then came the pandemic. Programs ceased, and so did weekly practices at the park.

Without missing a beat, the Corps commenced virtual rehearsals. Roth hosted two sessions per week via Zoom. On several occasions during the summer, members gathered outdoors – widely distanced – to play fife and drum together. But there were no in-person events where they could demonstrate their skills.

Late in 2020, thoughts turned again to Washington’s birthday party. The Friends of Washington Crossing planned a virtual celebration for February 14, and the Corps decided to create an ensemble video similar to those created by choral and music groups during the pandemic. Corps members discussed the idea, and everyone who regularly attended virtual practice was willing to give it a try.

Fifer Laura Maggio, who had some experience creating videos, volunteered to learn how to produce the iconic ensemble grid, and Roth took on the job of learning to edit the audio. The two drew up a set of guidelines for making the recordings, distributed a “guide track” that coordinated everyone at the same tempo and pitch, and set a deadline for everyone in the video to upload their videos.

Husbands, wives, and partners were enlisted to aim phones, while some filmed themselves in front of laptops and propped tablets. You’d think that playing a simple tune such as “Happy Birthday” would be a snap, but most of the Corps members filmed many takes until they felt they recorded their best performance.

“Just don’t mess up!” drummer Ed Connelly kept saying to himself while filming.

“It seems like every time I recorded myself, it got worse!” fifer John Williams says.

Drummers Bob Dupré and John Niemiec recorded their audio and video separately. Finally, the 14 separate parts were synchronized, balanced, edited, and turned into a single audio file to join the video, which you can watch below or on YouTube.

 

 

“I was afraid I bit off more than I could chew when I finally got down to editing all the video elements together and realizing it’s more difficult than it looks to get right,” Maggio said. “But the challenges were definitely worth being able to create such a wonderful project with the Corps.”

Maggio and Roth were elated that the finished product was ready more than a week before its debut at Washington’s birthday party on February 14. “The whole process was like climbing a mountain and planting a flag in the peak!” Roth said.

For more information about the Washington Crossing Fifes and Drums Corps, please email volunteer@washingtoncrossingpark.org.

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