Deep River Muster, a very old tradition around here


Folks around here know that the Deep River Muster is a local tradition and one of the largest musters in the country. The Deep River Muster has been known to make toddlers cover their ears and raise the spirits of onlookers, and this year was no exception when the event took place Saturday, July 21.

And the music of ancient fife and drum does have a colorful past.

Horses have nearly dropped dead from fright because of the noise. And when it was performed for President Chester Arthur, it cracked the White House plaster.

The high shrill of a wooden fife and the thunderous beat of rope-tensioned snare and bass drums have long inspired such fabulous folklore. The dramatic, plaintive music, whose roots trace back to Medieval Europe, has been preserved for centuries, especially in Deep River. For residents here, performing ancient fife and drum music has become a tradition enthusiastically passed down from generation to generation.

Devitt Field is home to the largest ancient fife and drum muster in the United States. The Deep River Ancient Muster, which originated in 1953, attracts at least 75 corps from all over the country, as well as Canada and Switzerland. The festivities take place every third Saturday in July and kick off with a torchlight "tatoo" the night before.

Musters are not history lessons. They are based in tradition, not fact, and have been called "folk music in military uniform." The musicians play patriotic tunes and wear uniforms reflecting the spirit of various historic periods: the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War.

While musters were originally all-male and all-adult, now many women and children participate in the Deep River Ancient Muster. As they walk in "quicksteps," playing at 80-110 beats per minute, the uniformed corps brighten the streets of Deep River with a vibrant rainbow of scarlets, blues, grays and white and fill the air with infectious sing-along numbers.

The Deep River Ancient Muster is a recipient of the Connecticut Valley Tourism Commission Award of Excellence and the Connecticut Tourism Industry Event of the Year Award.

Perhaps General George Washington said it best. During the Revolutionary War, the General ordered the fife and drum corps to attend their assigned practice sessions so they wouldn't disrupt the soldiers at war. "Nothing is more agreeable and ornamental, than good music," the future president said. Tens of thousands of Deep River Ancient Muster devotees couldn't agree with him more.