TRADITIONAL FIFES

Traditional Models

What I mean by “traditional” is the model of fifes commonly played during the 20th century before the move into more melodic, “flute fifes” that began to appear in the 1950s.  Traditional fifes – usually one piece but sometimes in two pieces – had the tight cylindrical bores of historical fifes but minor innovations to improve playability.  For the sake of compartmentalizing these, I consider fifes made in the “traditional” style during the 20th century to be in this category; the ones played by my father’s and grandfather’s generations in the fife & drums corps that grew during this time.  These models have become collectibles and iconic for both the “jaybirds” and younger hobbyists.  I am privileged to have studied under three of these master-craftsmen and with that, I have come to understand the methods of many more.

Traditional Pitch, when it comes to fifes for this era, fell around A=443 give or take.  It is not an “industry standard” and often a corps, if they gauge their “chosen pitch” at all, will base it on their best player who may play comparatively softly or “roll it in” which will lower the pitch, or “pump a lot of air” into their fife, thus tending towards sharp.  In other words, a typical fifer might play between 441 and 446 Hz.  Some players will slightly move the plug-cork to “tune” their fife but while this can alter the tonic tone to be played (your “D”), it throws the tuning out for the rest of the scale.  Tuning is, in the words of many old timers, “in the fifer, not the fife“; this means it is FAR more about how the fifer blows into the instrument, rolling the embouchure in towards or away from the lips doing the blowing, general posture of the player doing the playing, &c.

While the fife is obviously of the flute family, it is best played like one would regard a piccolo as it reacts as one with the tight bore.  I have had many professional flute players not understand this and wax on about how these instruments are poorly made for they do not play like a flute, only to be chagrined when a folk fifer steps up and rips out a tune.  Please see my page regarding historical fifes.

For your amusement, although copyrighted and not for general public re-use. – YE ART OF YE FYFE

The traditional fife is an example of an instrument still reflecting the varying pitches of the 18th and 19th centuries… You might do yourself a service to read this.

Corps Discount for sets purchased – Please inquire!

MusiqueMorneaux@gmail.com      or    860.749.8514

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Cloos Crosby/Penzel Muller two-piece Fife

When I was young – the ’70s – pretty much ALL the old fifers swore by this design or model of fife.  It was the standard for some time “back in their day” but it was no longer being made and therefore damned near impossible to get one without inheriting one from family or a buddy.  It was designed by the Cloos Company in the late 19th century and when Penzel Muller bought them out, they continued the model with minor aesthetic alterations.  I have six or seven in my collection, all just a little different but essentially the same; some made by the Cloos Company while some made later by Penzel Muller.  Recently I was commissioned by someone to replicate this and when I placed photos of the progress I was encouraged by some fifers to offer this as a regular choice.  Unfortunately today labour is what we judge the cost of things while in the 19th century the price of materials was the greater affector of price.  So this isn’t cheap but every bit as good as an original.  Head is made of Ebony and the body of Rosewood.  Metal work is German Silver and brass.  Pitched for trad Bb.

These are made to order to expect 6 to 8 weeks lead time.

You did an excellent job on this replica and it plays very nicely! Thank you so much for your hard work on this project!”   David Degaraff – Williamsburg, VA.


Cloos-Crosby 2 pc fife



 

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Nach-Ferrary Model   (“Nach” is a German term meaning “made in the style of”)

Nach-Ferrary in Cocobolo wood.
“Short ferrule” version in Rosewood

Henry “Ed” Ferrary was a machinist for 28 yrs from Kearny, New Jersey who removed to Essex, CT in 1967, setting up his “secret shop” behind a bulkhead in his garage.  Until he moved on to the scene, other local fife makers were practicing their craft using older, cruder methods; Ed utilized a “secret method” that burnished the bore as it drilled it thus creating a fife far easier to play.  Ed swore for YEARS that his methods would go to his grave with him; yet during the final years of his life he was my first teacher of the trade, explaining his methods in a very rare moment of handing down his technique when in most cases he held very tight to his “secrets”. He prided himself in only using “Grenidella” wood (African Backwood, or mPinga wood) although frequently called it “ebony” to his buying public. Ed playing for a time with the Deep River Fife & Drum Corps and even served as the chairperson running the Deep River Ancient Muster, but then began playing only with the Continentals Fifes & Drums (now defunct) in Essex, CT.

Henry “Ed” Ferrary, 1977

The “Nach-Ferrary” model is an exact copy of the fife that “Ed” made me,  which is also the model he had made for some of the mid-western corps.  I suggest Mopane wood as African blackwood has become quite expensive; Mopane certainly for international orders. Mopane has all the properties of African Blackwood but it is not black.  My replica is so exact that I fooled a local “Ferrary expert” who is an old timer and was a good acquaintance of Ed.  After several requests, I have included the “short ferrule” version… Here in Honduras Rosewood but other woods upon request.

Holy cr.., Joe!  I seriously thought that I was playing an original Ferrary!  This fife will make a name for ya!  Keep it up!”  Art Pope – Marana, AZ

 


Ferrary fife



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Yorktown Model

Modeled after the Callender 1787 model found in the Historical Page, this fife has been optimized to play traditional Bb for today’s fife&drum corps.  It is named for the Fifes and Drums of Yorktown for whom I made the first such fife.  Currently this offered only in Honduras Rosewood or Bocote Wood.

Yorktown Model fife.

“It plays beautifully in all three octaves, has a wonderful tone response, and with the bore size it has an excellent tone and sound projection. The upper octave almost plays itself.”   Stephan Southard, Williamsburg, VA.

“Jos, I bought my Yorktown model about 6 months ago, adding to my collection of fifes from Connecticut makers.  I gotta say that this one is really my favorite and I applaud you for your stellar craftsmanship! I’ve been spreading the word to the other fifers in my regiment and any reinactment I go to. I hope that you’re getting the business you deserve!”  Will Johnston, Cincinnati, Ohio.


Yorktown Model Fife


 

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Ralph G Sweet Colonial Model

Using a Klemm fife at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Ralph had created this model as a good, general design to cover fifers looking for an 18th century/early 19th century appearance while still being able to play in traditional Bb.  Simple, one piece, brass ferrules.  The key of C is also available, this pitch being actually the far more commonly used in the 18th century.  This model falls into both the traditional and historical frames and so I have it on both pages.


Colonial Model Fife



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the Kip Sevigny Model Fife

Clifford Anthony “Kip” Sevigny lived from 1897 to 1975.  Born in Tylerville, Haddam, CT, he was an Army veteran of both World Wars (served as an anti-aircraft gunner), commissioned a 2d lieutenant in the CT State Guard Reserve, a volunteer fireman in the town of Chester, Connecticut, had worked as a tile cutter, a carpenter with his father by civilian trade, and a fife maker.  Aside from a stint during the Great Depression when he went south to work for Sunoco and managed a few gas stations for a cousin, Kip lived his life in Chester.  His house still stands which overlooks the north side of St-Joseph’s Catholic Cemetery where he is buried with his parents and sister; he never married.

Clifford Anthony Sevigny – c. 1919. Courtesy of the Chester Historical Society.

Kip’s fifes were well known in his day, but he made them in small numbers, unable to compete with the more generally known makers such as Cloos and Penzel-Muller.  He had his standard design which he complained bitterly that the Cloos Company had “stolen” from him… The Cloos “Improved Model” does indeed share the profile and bore diameter.  Years later, Ed Olsen told me that Henry “Ed” Ferrary had, in fact, stolen Kip’s design – the tone hole layout and bore diameter but used his own boring method (see the Nach-Ferrary).  When I compare the several standard design Kip fifes I’ve handled to Ferrary’s standard Bb layout, I can see Ed’s point.  Ralph Sweet had paid Kip a visit in around 1957 to watch him make fifes and related to me what he had witnessed of the process. Kip supplied, during his lifetime, all the fifes utilized by the Chester Fife & Drum Corps and some of his fifes are on display at the Sousa Band Archives at the Center for American Music in Illinois; the post-1892 Sousa Band had apparently purchased a set of Kip’s fifes very early in the 20th century and utilized them until about 1930 when the band shut down.  Or so the story goes.

Kip died in Chester in 1975; his fifes had already been eclipsed by those made by Henry “Ed” Ferrary in nearby Essex.  While Kip had been making his bores with twist drills and reamers, Ferrary utilized a “gun drill” which made a smooth, burnished bore.  Thus, Ferrary fifes were easier to play particularly in the highest register.  My replica of Kip’s “standard design” features the short, tapered ferrules he liked to use and the bore is made as I make all my bores; it plays actually a bit better than Kip’s fifes for mine has the smoother bore with no hitches, perturbations, or interruptions left behind by the old “twist drill method”.  I offer this excellent model to keep the memory of Kip alive and to offer another locally impactful fife to the collection.

 

 

Kip Sevigny Model Fife