In a year that derailed so many, Stacy Roth (pictured above at left) was undeterred.
When Washington Crossing Historic Park temporarily closed last March because of the pandemic, Roth, the director of the park’s fife and drums corps, was furloughed. She immediately decided to continue in the role as a volunteer and moved the corps’ two weekly practices to Zoom.
“I just had to keep it going,” Roth says of the corps. “We’d generated such momentum over the previous year and formed so many good friendships. I couldn’t bear to see all of that to just go away.”
Through its online practices (which one member described as a “lifeline”) and occasional participation in virtual park events, the corps volunteered more than 1,500 hours last year. Roth personally volunteered more than 500.
That dedication is why Roth was named the Friends of Washington Crossing Park 2021 Volunteer of the Year.
“Stacy’s commitment to the park’s fife and drum corps was above and beyond in 2020,” says Jennifer Martin, executive director of the Friends of Washington Crossing Park. “She’s a talented musician, a resourceful leader, and a dedicated supporter of the park. We’re looking forward to having the corps at future events at the park.”
Forming the Corps
When Roth was offered the opportunity to form and lead the park’s fife and drum corps in the summer of 2018, she jumped at it. Roth has been consistently volunteering at the park for the last 15 years. It became a kind of second home to the New Jersey native when she moved to Bucks County. Her history with the park goes back much further, though.
At the Christmas Day reenactment in 1976, a then-18-year-old Roth snuck onto one of the boats as a reenactor. “In those days, they didn’t allow women to participate as soldiers. But I looked like a 12-year-old boy,” she says. “When the officer in charge accidentally called someone’s name twice, I asked if I could take one of those places.”
Asked to verify her age, Roth presented her license and held her thumb over the “F” for “female” in the corner.
Growing up in Union County, NJ, within blocks of where the Continental Army marched, Roth says she developed a keen interest in the Revolutionary War and reenacting at an early age. Very quickly, though, she realized she preferred a musical instrument to a musket.
“I’ve always loved historical music, particularly from the American Revolution,” she says.
In recent years, Roth has played fife at park events alongside reenactor Lance Peterson (pictured above at right), who co-directs the corps and plays the drum. The corps evolved much faster than either anticipated. A few people attended the first practices in January 2019, and the corps made its debut at the park on Memorial Day weekend. Today, it’s 18 members strong.
Twenty-first Century Tools
Roth does not think of herself as tech savvy. But transitioning the corps to Zoom didn’t overwhelm her. An article published by a national drum and fife organization she belongs to provided some direction. The most helpful aid, she says, was an online music-writing application called Noteflight that lets users create, view, print, and hear professional-quality music notation right in their web browser. Roth had used Noteflight to transcribe songs and create arrangements for the corps before the pandemic.
“Having the music available in a web-based format really helped us make the leap pretty quickly,” she says.
During virtual practices, Roth would play the Noteflight files, and everyone followed along – on mute. It was an abrupt departure from practicing together in person, but it was the best of what was available to them.
Eventually, they adopted a model where one musician led, unmuted, and everyone else played along on mute. “It makes it a little more interactive,” Roth says.
The corps is a labor of love for Roth. Even when she was compensated, she devoted far more hours to developing the group than she was paid for. And while the camaraderie was always folded into that, it became its own salvation in 2020.
“I never felt isolated during the pandemic, as many did,” she says, “because music and friendships are the perfect antidote against loneliness and boredom.”