By RHEA-FRANCES TETLEY
Dancing the 18th Century Virginia Reel with members of the Mountain Fifes & Drums Corps was just one of the exciting high points of the holiday concert performed by the Corps at the San Moritz Lodge last week.
That dance was just one of the many parts of “A Colonial Christmas” that involves the audience as everyone watches and hears American Revolutionary War history unfold before their eyes. It is both a delightful way to learn about the beginnings of America’s story and a wonderful musical concert, unlike any other in California.
This year’s program celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Fifes & Drums Corps. This play was written with the San Moritz Lodge building – its logs holding up the high roof – in mind by Kevin Garland, who founded the Mountain Fifes & Drums Corps. He was inspired to start the fifes and drums since he had been a baker in Colonial Williamsburg and was greatly inspired by what he saw and heard while there.
The musical performance is also a historical play performed by the drum corps as an historical reenactment, including the speech Washington gave to his troops before returning to his home at Mt. Vernon at the end of the Revolutionary War. Garland would be honored that the show continues after him. He saw the kids in the corps as the future of America, and his presence is still felt.
The interactive play involves the audience in more ways than just dancing, since “A Colonial Christmas” includes a dessert of apple pie and homemade cookies made from authentic colonial recipes that are served as a part of the script. In addition, the audience gets to sing Christmas carols to the accompaniment of the fifes and drums at the end of the show. It is quite a unique and festive holiday event.
This year, the speaking roles featured Rob Pelendini as the narrator, Nole Lilley as George Washington, Frank Ritcher reading the Declaration of Independence, Mark Gilliland as a statesman, Joshua Leisure as President Mifflin and Mark Wilhite as a page.
This is the 14th and last year for Assistant Director Frank Ritcher to perform. He reminisced: “Garland always saw the corps as training future senators, civic leaders and people who will make a difference with their lives, and I am proud to have been able to work with these hard working, inspirational young people. I will miss doing this.”
The Mountain Fifes & Drums Corps uses the funds they raise to help pay for the travel to the competitions they normally attend throughout the country. They were unable to attend many this last year, due to COVID restrictions.
They are raising funds to perform in Williamsburg again next year.
Long-time Lake Arrowhead resident Duane Banner was seeing the show again this year, after the cancellation of the shows last year. “I am always so impressed with the professionalism and confidence these youngsters demonstrate, even when surrounded by the audience in the building. I truly appreciate this musical program because it teaches these kids about America’s past and how important the fifes and drums were to communication during the Revolutionary War,” Banner said.
The Mountain Fifes & Drums Corps is a local treasure for youth 10 to 18 years of age, who learn about music, history, leadership and responsibility, while getting to perform in public. Their unique skills and historical accuracy are respected and they have previously been invited to perform at locations nationwide, including Historical Williamsburg, the leading Revolutionary War reenactment community. This last year, with a limited schedule, they performed locally in the Jamboree Days parade and Blue Jay Christmas parade.
Mountain Fifes & Drums is a 501(c)(3) free, youth, music program founded in 2001 as a living history community service program for boys and girls. It currently operates under the direction of Joy Hatch. The program teaches 18th century military music and history through performances on wooden fifes and rope-tensioned drums. Their goal is to practice the same military discipline, drill customs and courtesies and learn the leadership skills taught by Washington in the Continental Army.
Students are eligible to join after they complete fourth grade. Most who join stay involved through the entire eight years of the program. No musical skills are required to join. More information about the fifes and drums program can be found at their website, www.fifesanddrums.org.