The Mattatuck Drum Band -- its long and colorful history reverberates down through the centuries. And to this day, it can still be heard echoing from the hilltops and through the valleys. Its cultural heritage is guarded by dedicated people who so passionately relive it and play it …
The Mattatuck Drum Band. Formed in 1767, the Band has had over 230 years of continuous membership. The seventy active members in today’s band continue to perpetuate the experience and the dedication of the generations who have played and marched before them, making it the oldest active musical organization in the United States of America.
Through the years, the Band has had a succession of name changes. First known as The Training Band, followed by the 10th Regiment Band, the Farmingbury Band, the Wolcott Drum Band, and since 1881, the Mattatuck Drum Band.
In 1767 there were two military companies formed in Farmingbury Parish, a district which was part of the towns of Farmington and Waterbury, Connecticut. The same territory today is the town of Wolcott, Connecticut.
These were stirring times. War was inevitable. Each town or church parish required that all men attend "Training Day" to be instructed in the rudiments of military training.
On Training days fifes and drums were used to create martial music, thus the name "Training Band". On general training days, people came from miles away to hear the music. Finally, when a large enough contingent of men were participating in the training, a regiment was formed and the Band became known as the 10th Regiment Band.
The Farmingbury Band
Before 1770, the nearest church to the Farmingbury district was the First Congregational Church of Waterbury. On October 10, 1770, a petition was granted by the General Assembly for a new parish, and a church was built in Farmingbury. Many members of the "10th Regiment Band" helped to build the church. In November 1772, the first church services were held. The people were called to worship by drum beat, which was a common practice in those days until a church bell was acquired. It was at this time the Band took the name of the Farmingbury Drum Band.
The American Revolution
When the American Revolution broke out in the Spring of 1775, the members of the Farmingbury Company, including fifers and drummers, enlisted to fight for America’s freedom. Many of the members of the Farmingbury Drum Band served as fifers and drummers in the War for Independence and brought with them inspiring tunes…
Fifers and Drummers Role
The fifers and drummers were part of the military field music and their major responsibility was to give the calls for camp duties. They also provided the necessary beats for cadence during the march and served to bolster the troops’ morale and their confidence in the heat of battle.
The drummer was musically responsible for the everyday routines of the soldiers. Here, the drum beat, "General Assembly" is performed as an example of the command for soldiers to form by Companies.
The drummer would beat the calls, perform the camp duties, and provide the cadence for marching. The fife accompanied the drum for melodic interest although it was common for troops to march to the fife alone.
While the field music was spurring the Colonial soldier into the struggles of battle, a second development was occurring. A core of popular tunes was taking root in the colonial soil which became identified with America and its ideals. Tunes like Yankee Doodle, originally a put down of colonists by the English, became symbols of America’s spirit and their strength.
The End of the Revolution
The American Revolution ended on October 19, 1781, with the "Surrender at Yorktown." Legend has it that the tune "The World Turned Upside Down" was played when the British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered.
The Birth of Our Nation and the Band
The end of the Revolution brought the Birth of Our Nation and the homecoming of the Farmingbury Drum Band members. The Band, still attached to the Army, was under the leadership of Nathan Gillet, who was said to be one of the best Fife Majors in the Continental Army. The Band members had improved greatly in their musical proficiency due to their experience in the various camps during the war. Their music was now in great demand at social and patriotic gatherings.
The Wolcott Drum Band
The population of Farmingbury grew after the Revolution. Soon the residents began to petition the General Assembly in New Haven for the right to become a town. Permission was granted in May of 1796 to form the town of Wolcott. This name was chosen because Lieutenant Governor Oliver Wolcott had cast the deciding vote in favor of the petition.
At the time of the town’s incorporation, the Farmingbury Band became the Wolcott Drum Band.
War of 1812
During the War of 1812, recruiting stations were established at Wolcott’s Lewis Tavern and at East Farms in Waterbury. The officers of these stations called upon the Wolcott Drum Band to go out with them and "drum up" recruits; and it worked. A number of men decided to enlist.
It was during the War of 1812 that Francis Scott Key witnessed the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor. The sight of the American flag still flying over the fort at daybreak after the British forces had been repulsed inspired Key to write the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner which he set to the tune of the English drinking song "To Anacreon in Heaven." It became our country’s national anthem in 1931.
Samuel Wilcox and the Band
It was about 1830 that Samuel Wilcox became the Wolcott Drum Band’s instructor. He was an aged man who had served many years in the English Army, principally in India. He introduced an original style of drumming, much different from that previously used. Formerly, all drumming had been taught by rote, but he used a simple and useful notation, and from then on all was learned by note. He introduced a full set of rudiments, and although the Drum Band has studied Keach and Burditts’, Scott’s, Winner’s, Strube’s, Howe’s, Bruce and Emmett’s and many other methods, it still uses the Wilcox Style. His conception of the rudiments and various beats as he taught them in those days, formed the fundamental basis of Ancient Drumming as it's known today.
From 1830 to 1845 the Wolcott Band has become renowned for its fine martial music and appearance. But after 1845 with the decline of the old State Militia, and the lack of opportunities to perform, interest waned. The uniforms became worn and lost, members died, others moved away. Those who were left turned out occasionally for political rallies, fire parades, and even fairs.
The Civil War
In the 1860’s the question of slavery caused great unrest in Wolcott as well as the rest of the United States. The records state that the Wolcott Drum Band paraded for the "wide-awakes" during Abraham Lincoln’s Presidential campaign in 1860.
The agitation over the slavery issue grew in intensity until finally the Civil War broke out. Drummers were scarce and in great demand. The Wolcott Drum Band was especially active during the War, turning out for many rallies. They also inspired recruits with their music at the recruiting camp in New Haven. It was not long before they, themselves, were called to take part in the strife.
The Band and Col. H. C. Hart
Early in 1862, Quartermaster George W. Rosevelt of the 71st Regiment of the New York State Militia, employed Colonel H. C. Hart to organize the Regimental Drum Corps. Mr. Hart came to Connecticut looking for drummers and fifers, but he met with little success until one evening after his arrival in Southington. He was sitting on the veranda of a hotel, when he heard the drums in the distance. On inquiry he learned that it was the Wolcott Drum Band practicing more than six miles away. He immediately hired a horse team and hastened to Wolcott to listen more closely.
Colonel Hart engaged Henry Chatfield as Leader and instructor, and a number of other fifers and drummers from the Wolcott Drum Band. They found other men from around the state, and they obtained the rest of their members in New York City. As the Regiment marched down Broadway leaving for the war, the Corps attracted much attention by their fine playing. During the war they were attached to the Army of the Potomac. It was later said that they became one of the Best Drum Corps in the entire Army.
Colonel Hart, published a music book in 1862 using a notation that was identical to that taught by Samuel Wilcox to the Wolcott Drum Band. The Band has used Hart’s book for instruction ever since.
After the war Mr. Chatfield related the following: "When General Grant took command of the Army he reviewed all the troops. As he and his staff passed the 71st Regiment the Corps played "Hail to the Chief." He paused in front of the players, and when they had finished he remarked, "Well boys, I never heard such a Hell of a racket from so few drums in my life."
Post Civil War
At the end of the Civil War some Band members returned to Wolcott. Others relocated elsewhere, leaving the Drum Band with few members. It was difficult to muster eight or ten men, yet they kept together and frequently turned out at functions. They had no uniforms but what they lacked in appearance, they made up for with their fine music.
A comment in Wolcott’s history book regarding the 100th anniversary celebration of the original Church states; "After a little delay from the coldness of the morning air, the audience gathered at the call of the Drum Band, the old honored Band of Wolcott, playing an old fashioned tune, in charming style." Despite their popularity, there were only five active members by 1876.
In the Fall of 1877, Levi Atkins, assisted by his son Homer, taught sixteen young men to drum and fife. One of these members was Charles S. Miller of Waterbury, who at the age of 14 made his first parade with the Wolcott Drum Band in Hartford, for President Grant.
By 1878, the Band had grown to more than twenty men. Under Mr. Atkin’s leadership their musical proficiency quickly improved. Elihu Moulthrop became Drum major and with his training the Band provided a professional appearance. Once again the hills of Wolcott reverberated to the Band’s martial sound.
The Mattatuck Drum Band
In 1881, Charles S. Miller together with the other active members of the Wolcott Drum Band, and some interested East Side Waterbury boys, moved the group to Waterbury and they renamed it the Mattatuck Drum Band. As the Wolcott Drum Band’s logical successor, the Mattatucks’ purpose was to perpetuate Wolcott’s musical heritage. The name Mattatuck Drum Band was chosen because Mattatuck is the Indian name for Waterbury.
Charles S. Miller was chosen Leader and held that position for the next fifty years. Mr. Miller, also known as "Uncle Charley" by countless boys and men was the backbone of the Band. It was at his home on the corner of East Main Street and Frost Road in Waterbury where the Band members practiced, and where he made many of the drums which are still in use today. Through his efforts, the noble traditions of the old Wolcott Band continued.
The first formal appearance of the Mattatuck Drum Band was in connection with the decoration of graves by Wadhams Post, G.A.R. on Memorial Day, 1881. The first parade the Mattatuck Drum Band attended in uniform was in Naugatuck, on Memorial Day, in 1882.
The Drum Band continues to honor those generations who have played and marched before them. Each year members gather for a ceremony at their headquarters on Memorial Day for the reading of the Band prayer and the playing of the dirge "Pleyel’s Hymn."
In 1884 the Mattatuck Drum Band donned the uniform still used today, with a few minor alterations. They felt that it served to recall the stirring times which existed when the Corp was organized. The uniform is a replica of the Connecticut Colonial Private with a blue coat, trimmed with red, large brass buttons, buff colored breeches and a vest, a tri-cornered hat and black leather boots with brown trim.
From Charles S. Miller’s diaries:
July 5, 1898 -- "This day has been one that I shall long remember. At 10 o’clock as I had occasion to leave the shop I was surprised to hear most of the whistles and gong blowing and the ringing of bells and firing of cannon. This told the people of the victory of Admiral Sampson over the Spanish Admiral Cervera near Santiago at the end of the Spanish-American War; . . . we marched to City Hall and reported for duty and were assigned to head Randolph and Clowes Company. Nearly all of the Military and civil organizations in the city turned out, the factory whistles blew and there was a continual display of fireworks while a cannon on the top of Abrigador hill kept up a constant firing, the center was thronged with people."
The Band Enters the 20th Century
At the beginning of the 20th Century the Drum Band was active and in fine form. The main purpose of the Band had changed from the early days. The field music was no longer a military unit used to give the calls for camp duties. Rather than bolstering the troops’ morale, the Drum Band’s music was used to strengthen the public’s feeling of patriotism. The Band continued to provide a link to our nation’s proud heritage.
An editorial in the Waterbury American on April 19, 1918, demonstrates the public’s feelings for the Mattatucks’: "If space in your paper is not too limited, I feel sure that a number of Waterbury people will be glad to know that the old Mattatuck Drum [Band will] take part in the Liberty Loan parade, . . . (jazz melody in background) for there is no more patriotic band in this vicinity, and while the enthusiasts of the modern jazz medleys may smile as they pass, old Waterburians will recall the Mattatucks of 1881 to ‘90, (Drum Band fades in playing Grandfather’s clock in background) when their stirring strains rattled the windows and drew wide-eyed children by the score."
Although the fifes and drums no longer played in battle, several young members of the band were doing their best "over there" during the 1st World War while those who were left ‘over here’ were setting a good example as true-hearted Americans, keeping on the job and buying Liberty Bonds.
After the Armistice had been signed and the Veterans of World War I were returning home the Band members were accorded what they considered to be a great honor. The Band accompanied a delegation of dignitaries from Waterbury to Boston in April, 1919 to welcome home the soldiers of the 102nd Regiment that had survived the great conflict. The soldiers were returning on the transport Agamemnon. The Waterbury men on the transport heard the music of the Band and upon catching sight of the Continental uniforms, recognized the Mattatucks. The deafening cheers that arose from the transport were sweet music to the band members as well.
In April of 1931, the Band moved its headquarters from Charlie Miller’s property to Mort Pierpont’s dairy farm on Pierpont Road in the East End of Waterbury. The Pierpont’s allowed the Band to use their barn for meetings, practice, and even social functions. It became affectionately known as "The Loft."
World War II
During World War II, the Drum Band found it difficult to turn out for performances. Many members were in the Armed services, and those who remained at home were working long hours. Gas rationing was in effect and this made it difficult to drive more than a few miles. But by pooling cars and gas, the Band members managed to get to those parades and activities that they thought were important.
Bust of Charles S. Miller
On October 16, 1941, the Mattatuck Drum Band played at the dedication of the Noah Webster Statue in West Hartford where the Band became fast friends of the sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski (Kor-chok Jewel-CUFF-ski) and his wife. The Band asked Mr. Ziolkowski to make a portrait bust of Charles S. Miller, who had been their leader for 50 years and a member of the Band for 65 years. On February 15, 1942, this portrait bust was unveiled.
Mr. Miller said during the presentation of the bust, "This business from the beginning has been a series of surprises. But the greatest surprise of all is that at this age, I have so many friends. I have come down from a former generation. And I rejoice and I thank God that I have lived to see this day. But my feeble tongue can find no words that can express the joy, the gratitude, and appreciation that I feel within. I know not whether my future coming days are to be many or few. It will be as directed. But the memory of these faces all radiant with hope, with good wishes and beauty, will remain with me to the final end."
On March 16, 1943, twenty-three members of the Band assembled in special meeting at the call of the President at the Alderson Funeral Home to pay their respects to the late Leader and member, Charles S. Miller, who died suddenly on March 14 , 1943, at the age of 84 years and 6 months. His memory and his spirit live on in the Band even to this day.
In January 1961, the Band attended the Inaugural parade of President-elect John F. Kennedy.
From the minutes of the parade: "Now fast approaching was the moment we had all looked forward to for so long. We could now see the President’s stand plus the two block long line of stands on either side of his and on both sides of the street. They were jammed to capacity, and then some. Immediately, we swung into "The Battle Hymn" and were greeted by the most enthusiastic welcome we have ever had. Our lines straightened, and everyone really concentrated on doing the finest job we’ve ever done. From reports from friends who were present, from radio and even TV commentators, and from viewers elsewhere, we learned what we all sensed all the time -- we were making an unforgettable impression and doing our finest fifing and drumming.
Before reaching the President’s stand we swung into ‘Yankee Doodle.’ It was here that we noticed that first President Kennedy and then Vice-president Johnson stood up, they stepped forward several feet and they applauded loudly. This we later learned was quite an Honor for us as they rarely stood or applauded when units went by.
July 3, 1966 -- At long last, after some 11 months of preparations the day for our departure for the Schlitz Circus Parade in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on July 4, 1966, has arrived. . . .
All were visibly excited with anticipation of a great trip and a wonderful time for this, the longest trip ever taken by the Band and the first ever taken by a jet plane."
200 Years and a New Home
Celebrations and presentations of the Band’s 200th anniversary were held throughout 1967 culminating in a formal Ball on November 18, 1967. Attending the gala affair were 150 people, including 74 Band members.
The Band purchased a building for a new headquarters in 1968. The building was completely refurbished by members of the Band and hired contractors. The first meeting in the Band’s new home was held on October 22, 1968. The building, called "the Loft" after the Band’s previous home, was completed and an open house celebration was held on June 14, 1970. The celebration was attended by band members, their families, friends, and local dignitaries.
The Country’s Bicentennial
The Band was very active during the country’s Bicentennial Year. On July 4, 1976, the Band met at the Wolcott Congregational Church. In keeping with the traditions started back in 1772 the congregation was called to worship by drum. At the end of the service, the Band played the Battle Hymn of the Republic while the congregation sang. Church Historian John Washburn said the records show that this was the first time the Band ever played inside the Church building.
Let’s consider for a few moments the two instruments played in the Mattatuck Drum Band. The drums have almost as long and colorful a history as the Band itself. They have echoed through the streets of Wolcott and Waterbury long before they were paved.
All of the drums, both snare and bass, are of wooden shells. Many were made by the Eli Brown family of Windsor, Connecticut from 1820 to 1840. At that time, the Brown family made the best drums in America and today a Brown drum, in good condition, is a treasured instrument.
The drums are larger in size than modern drums. The snares average 17 or 18 inches in diameter and most of them are the same number of inches deep. The bass drums average 20 to 22 inches in diameter and 24 to 26 inches deep. All have wooden hoops to secure the drum heads and are strung by rope. This rope is tightened for drumming by leather ears.
The fife’s origin dates back to well before the eighteenth century. The eminent musicologist, Henry G. Farmer, believed the fife was borrowed from the Saracens, a group of nomadic people located in the deserts between Syria and Arabia.
The fife consists of a cylindrical hollow shaft made of metal, wood, or plastic, pierced by six finger holes and a circular blow hole. Various woods have been used for fifes, especially hard-woods as well as rare woods such as ebony and rosewood. Successful fifes have been made of many kinds of metal from pewter to steel. The fifes used by the Mattatuck Drum Band are wood fifes pitched in the key of B-flat.
The Band Today
The Mattatuck Drum Band continues to stir the souls of all who listen to them at parades and celebrations. Before you see them, you can feel them; and then you hear…Ancient Thunder .
Perhaps the traditions and the spirit of the Mattatuck Drum Band are best summed up by a poem written in 1936 by one its members, Louvaine Fox Sr.
The Mattatucks are an Ancient Band
A right remarkable thing,
They began in Seventeen sixty-seven,
Then we lived under the King.
The Mattatucks have played a part
In most of the great events,
In the days of the Revolution,
And those that have happened since.
There’s Tri-Centennial of Boston,
the same of Connecticut too,
Bennington, Yorktown, Valley Forge,
Groton and New London too.
The Mattatucks remind us of famous men
Whose deeds are to memory dear
Of Washington, Putnam, Nathan Hale,
Ethan Allen and Paul Revere.
The Mattatucks are conspicuous,
As they march along the street
Their colonial uniforms, ancient drums,
And playing those old time beats.
The Mattatucks time, to the modern step,
May seem a little bit slow
But they’ll march and play,
Keep it up all day,
And at night still be rarin’ to go.
Time was when five good drummers,
All past three score and ten,
Still able to play those old time beats,
Better than most of the younger men.
Of the men who played in the days gone by,
To their memory we fondly cling,
They played their part, they kept in step,
And marched on to better things