Patriotic Play Date: Cue The Fife And Drums

An Owings Mills Family Spends The Fourth Marching In Parades

July 05, 2009|By Rob Kasper | Rob Kasper,rob.kasper@baltsun.com

For the Botts family of Owings Mills, the Fourth of July is a workout.

Every family member marches with Monumental City Ancient Fife and Drum Corps, a group that plays about 15 performances a year - none more important than on Independence Day.

Father Rich Bott plays a six-hole fife, a flutelike instrument. His wife, Dawn, strides along at the head of the group, and the couple's two sons, Ryder, 11, and Kelton, 7, carry flags as part of a color guard.

Early Saturday, the family pulled on their Colonial-era costumes, and prepared for a long day.

There were two parades to get to - one in Towson in the morning, and another in Annapolis in the evening.

Slotted in the last section of the Towson parade, the 25-member corps waited for two hours on Towsontown Boulevard past the parade's 10:30 a.m. step-off, giving them plenty of time to ruminate about the ups and downs of the day ahead.

They worried for a while they would be marching behind a bus, breathing diesel fumes. But at the last minute, the bus was positioned well ahead of them.

Then came the threat from giant loudspeakers blaring rock 'n' roll from atop the 1988 Ford LTD driven by the Junior Blues Brothers. Another last-minute maneuver moved the brothers out of range.

"The worst," Dawn Bott said, "is when you follow horses."

The parade was almost over when the Monumental Corps marched, at 104 steps a minute, up Bosley Avenue. As the fifers fifed, and the drummers drummed, the crowd stirred.

Kids waved small American flags. Men doffed their caps. Women applauded.

As they passed the reviewing stand, the Monumental City corps played spirited versions of "Yankee Doodle" and "You're a Grand Old Flag."

"Fife and drum corps were members of the army during the Revolutionary War," said Gus Malstrom, who, at 83, is the senior member of Monumental City corps and the group's informal historian. "Their music gave the soldiers signals telling them where to move, and when to do it. And when the armies were on the road, the music helped keep the men in step," he said.

And, the fife could be heard over musket fire, said Rich Bott, a plus on the battlefield.

Monumental started in the 1950s, but dissolved and was reformed in 1991. The Baltimore corps calls itself "representational," as opposed to re-enactors. While their uniforms resemble those worn by Colonial-era musicians, they are not exact copies. "We get to wear comfortable shoes," said Chris Buppert, a fife player.

Still, members sweat the details.

Drummer Joe Carter, 70, makes his own drumsticks on a lathe in the basement of his Pasadena home, churning out perfectly balanced implements out of chunks of hickory.

Like others in the group, Carter began playing in a fife and drum corps as a schoolboy in Baltimore's Catholic schools. "I played in St. Andrew's, near Hopkins Hospital. Gus played in St. Ann's."

The Botts weren't the busiest members of the corps. As soon as she finished the Towson parade, fifer Bette Shepherd took off running. She was hurrying to Catonsville to play the saxophone for an afternoon parade there.

Later she planned to rendezvous with the Monumental City corps in Annapolis.

"It is a nice crowd in Annapolis," Rich Bott said. "And the route is great, you march straight downhill to the water."

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