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Park Fife And Drum Corps Makes Its Debut

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

National Park News

Young people are providing reinforcements in the effort to make the War of 1812 meaningful and relevant to a new generation.  The “Baltimore Privateers,” a park-sponsored fife and drum corps comprised of students from the Baltimore City school system, made its musical debut at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade on January 19th. 

“These kids have pride in what they do and it was really great that their families and friends came out to cheer them on as they marched by,” said Timothy Ertel, music coordinator at Fort McHenry NM&HS.

Eighth graders Dayqwon Johnson, Kaami Flowers, Jerry McDaugald and James Lagree fifed and drummed alongside “veteran” members as the parade wound its way down Martin Luther King Boulevard in front of approximately 7,000 spectators.

“The veteran members are mentoring the eighth graders we just recruited,” says Vince Vaise, the park’s chief of interpretation. “It’s kind of funny when we refer to a 17-year-old as a ‘veteran,’ but to a 13-year-old he is and these folks are the true legacy of the bicentennial because they will be doing this stuff after the big commemorations are over.” 

The “veterans” were recruited in 2010 as part of the Youth Ranger program with funding from Northeast Region.

The Baltimore Privateers represent a combination of efforts.  Named after the famous Baltimore schooners that raided British shipping during the War of 1812, the program began one year before the bicentennial. In 2011, Fort McHenry became a participant in the “Park for Every Classroom” program. One of the teachers involved in the program, Rae Lynne Snyder, received a promotion to social studies coordinator for the City of Baltimore. Her new position opened doors, and through her the park was able to reach Robert Johnson, a teacher at Booker T. Washington Elementary who proved receptive to adding historic fifing and drumming to the more traditional band curriculum.

“Partnering with a National Park site was important to them,” said Snyder.

Starting up the “Baltimore Privateers” presented a number of challenges.  “It takes a long time to get a drummer up to a high level of proficiency – far longer say, than someone who shoots a musket or carries a flag, but music is what people remember,” said Ertel. “It also demands a lot of commitment.”

Practice sessions are held every week in the classroom and on Saturdays at the fort.  The park also had to contend with uniforming the new corps in a time of tight funding. 

“You can call it a volunteer project, but we really started a sweatshop,” says Vaise. “We got eight volunteers who like to sew and they are making vests and other items - so all we had to do was buy the materials.”

The payoff will be huge. The Baltimore Privateers are scheduled for a number of performances, including Privateer Day, held at Baltimore’s historic waterfront and sponsored by the Baltimore National Heritage Area, Memorial Day at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Baltimore’s oldest African-American cemetery, and bicentennial commemorations at the towns of Havre DeGrace, Saint Michaels and Annapolis.  

The students are looking forward to their 16th birthdays, when they will be able to compete for entry-level positions as ranger-interpreters at Fort McHenry NM&HS.


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