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A background in drumming and an appreciation of history led Brian Schiller to his second family, the Chester Fife and Drum Corps.

A background in drumming and an appreciation of history led Brian Schiller to his second family, the Chester Fife and Drum Corps. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo )

Brian Schiller: A Drumroll Please

Published Jan. 14, 2015 • Last Updated 12:10 p.m., Jan. 14, 2015

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Brian Schiller wears his loyalty on his sleeve, literally. One jacket arm features a Chester Fife and Drum Corps patch; there is another on the front of his jacket. Brian is the vice president of Chester Fife and Drum Corps, which will present a program of both live music and tales from the corps past and present at the Chester Meeting House on Sunday, Jan. 18 at 4:30 p.m.
One of the special features of the afternoon will be a fife demonstration by fife master Kaila Moonan. The program, sponsored by the Chester Historical Society, is free and open to the public.
Unlike many of the members of the corps, who have a history of several generations and multiple family members in the organization, Brian joined the group some five years ago, shortly after he moved to Chester. He had played snare drum growing up in Massachusetts, and when he saw an article in a local publication about the corps, he decided to investigate.
"He showed up out of the clear blue sky," says Maurice "Frenchy" Cordeau of Brian. "We really hooked him."
Cordeau, who wrote the article Brian saw, is Chester Fife and Drum's major and also its business manager. Barbara Pynn is the president of the organization.
The music, tunes from the days of Colonial America and the Revolutionary War, was different from anything Brian had ever played before, but at least one song was familiar.
"'Yankee Doodle;' everybody has heard of that," he says-and from the start he enjoyed the experience. "It brought back the excitement of playing."
The members of the corps perform from memory, though they may learn their numbers with sheet music. In other cases, the songs themselves are passed down auditorily by hearing other members playing. The group practices once a week for an hour and a half in winter at Chester Elementary School and in warm weather at North Quarter Park. It is a significant time commitment, but one that Brian is enthusiastic about.
"I love it," he says.
To join the corps, it's not necessary to know how to play either fife or drum. The group has instructors who can teach new recruits the rudiments of playing. Nor is it necessary to live in Chester-or even in this area at all. Brian says one of the members comes down from Cape Cod.
Over the course of the season, the group marches and performs at local parades on holidays like St. Patrick's Day and Labor Day as well as at the annual Deep River Muster. Recently, they played in a new venue, a holiday performance at a Yankee Candle store in Massachusetts.
"It was fun marching around inside like that," Brian recalls.
Brian attends weekend musters in the summer even when the Chester corps is not performing. He tent-camps at the events.
"I can't get enough of the music," he says. "It is part of living history."
He points out that in Colonial times, the fife and drum music was an essential element as soldiers marched into battle. It set the pace for the troops, letting them know by the meter how fast to advance.
Still, the attraction of playing in the fife and drum corps for Brian is more than music or history. It is the camaraderie of the corps.
"It's like a big family, " he says.
This area has a rich tradition of fife and drum music, with corps not only in Chester, but also in Essex and Deep River and the Fife and Drum Museum in Ivoryton, which displays memorabilia from groups throughout the United States.
The Chester Fife and Drum Corps, established in 1868, is the oldest continually active group in Connecticut. Brian says the Chester corps prides itself on a particular style of marching, which he describes as the Chester sway.
"It's a certain swinging strut," he says. "It fits how the music is played."
This summer the Chester Fife and Drum Corps will have new uniforms that feature a longer maroon waistcoat. The new wardrobe is not a radical departure.
"It's the same design, but a bit more modern," Brian says.
The corps' dress is regulation, but there are no regulations about facial hair. Brian, who works at the L.C. Doane Company in Ivoryton, has an unruly red beard.
"I haven't seen my chin since I've been about 17 years old," he admits, though he adds that he trims it "every once and a while."
When he first joined the corps, Brian spent some time as part of the color guard, perfecting all the marching moves before he moved into playing the snare drum. In fact, marching correctly is a continuing test for the musicians.
When asked what the biggest challenge in joining the fife and drum corps was, Brian doesn't hesitate.
"Getting left from right," he says, but then adds further thoughts. "I guess it depends. Everyone has their own challenges."
 

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