Mark Twain once left a crucial piece of advice to all would-be writers: "Write what you know about." With those eternal words of wisdom in mind, I set about to write the stories of drum makers and those who played those drums of so long ago.
The stories are simply what I know and do not always tell the whole story as further research sometime reveals. Growing up in South-Central PA, I lived in a world of the old and that of the new. Nestled squarely between Valley Forge and Gettysburg (and a large Amish community), American History was an everyday reality.
My start was with several of the Drum Corps of the area and went on to be a full-time musician based out of Philadelphia and Nashville, always with an eye on the history and R & D side of the business.
As a percussionist, I was a natural collector. I hope you enjoy reading about some of the history of the craft we all love so much, as I think you might find your future in the past. Any Nation that ignores its history, is a nation lost....
Webmaster's note: Brian's category is split into two subcategories:
The story of the man is also the story of the drum. In many ways, they are one and the same; sharing the very vortex of Hell on Earth in the meat-grinder of what would become the Army of the Potomac. At only five foot, three inches tall, a 35 year old cigar maker from Jackson County, Maine, "took the dollar," the oath of allegiance, to become a Private in the Union Army as a Drummer. James D. Deas mustered into Company C, 5th Maine Infantry Volunteers in Portland, Maine, for 3 years of duty that would change his life forever.
When the 5th Maine was mustered into service on June, 24, 1861, it had a full complement of 1046 men and received an additional 500 recruits during the next 3 years. By the time the original members of the regiment mustered out at Saco, Maine, on July 27, 1864, only 216 men were left present. Of what was left of the 500 additional recruits that still had time to serve, they were transferred to the 7th Maine Regiment. During its 3 year term, the 5th would serve under Generals McDowell, McClellan, Burnside, Hooker, Meade and Grant, and would be engaged in every major battle fought in the Eastern Theater from First Bull Run to Petersburg.
When this old drum was first bent from a tree, the Young American Republic was in its bare infancy. The wood came from a tree that started growing long before there was an American Nation, a time when Europe's superpowers vied for advantage to rule the North American continent, while Native Peoples aligned and resisted…..a time of the flint-lock and the tomahawk…… an ever-changing cultural climate of struggle and triumph. George Washington had just taken the office of the first President of the United States in 1789, only a few short years before this drum was first pieced together. As a nation, we were just getting started.
Over one hundred years ago the Whaley Royce Company, Ltd. described itself as "The Largest Band Instrument Supply House in Canada, and one of the largest in the world." They boasted two locations: one in Winnipeg, the other Toronto, in an attempt to provide one-stop shopping coast to coast in North America. In-house services included a retail outlet for instruments and sheet music, all aspects of wind and percussion instrument manufacturing and repair, printing and lithograph pressing, engraving, electro-plating, case making, leather goods, music rolls, and uniforms, etc. Their catalogs even offered advice on how to form and structure a band. If they thought another manufacturer made a better product, they relabeled it and added it to their catalog.
This rather shallow and plain field drum was once carried into battle by the son of a preacher. A young, 22 year old single farmer named Charles W. Bonner answered the call to duty and enlisted in Company I, 8th. Illinois Infantry as a Musician, for a 3 month tour. The 8th ILL mustered into service at Springfield on April 25, 1861 and did its duty at Cairo, ILL, mustering out on July 25, 1861. Many of the regiment re-enlisted with the 8th for 3 more years' of service, however, Bonner did not re-enlist with them. Instead, one month later, on August 20, he enlisted with Company A, 11th Missouri Infantry Volunteers, also as a Musician. The 11th MO participated in several smaller actions that led to their involvement in the Battles of Iuka and Corinth, Miss. At the Battle of Corinth, on October 4th, the 11th Mo was found defending the Union's Battery Robinett against the Confederates under General Earl Van Dorn.
William S. Tompkins was not just any drum maker, but an incredible craftsman in general. He worked on the cutting edge of the technology available in the then burgeoning martial state that was the 1850's and 1860's. It is thought that he was born around 1812 and served in the Mexican War, possibly in his 30's. Exactly when he started making drums is a matter of speculation. His drums are very well made and virtual works of art that are fairly hard to find. Most of Tompkins drums have very innate designs of inlaid wood placed directly in the shells outer ply of (usually) mahogany. However, there seems to be a very limited supply of Tompkins drums that have been ornately painted rather than adorned with inlays. As of this writing, I only know of two....this is one of those two rare drums.
The essays contained in the "Victorian Classics" series focus on the drums and related matters of a time known as the "Victorian America Era." This was a time starting at the end of the Civil War that ran to roughly WWI. It was a renaissance period of standardization and innovation that reflected the might of the Industrial Revolution.
"On The Ropes…." is a series of essays focusing on rope drums and many of the things and people associated with them. Within this group are two distinct yet related collections: The “Drums of Music;” and drums of the military, known here as the “Drums of WAR!”……The gig that could get you killed!