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Monday, February 2, 2009

First Call

FPGBB first 2009 performance

It was a beautiful Saturday on the bay. The Fort Point Garrison Brass Band (FPGBB) participated in the living history event held last weekend (1/31-2/1) at Fort Point, located underneath the Golden State Bridge.

After arriving late (I have run out of excuses for why I’m continually late to all of our events), I arrived on the second floor to find everyone in a familiar position (see picture), well known to anyone who plays period horns.

The tenor horn had lost a screw (or was it the player who had a few screws loose?) - an auspicious start to the weekend. “First Call” was yelled at the bugler, who promptly played “Assembly” and then “To the Colors” as the flag was raised.

Let me take a moment to describe the cardinal sins of a musician portraying ~1863 civil war military.
1. Playing “Taps” at the end of battles. Not period and guaranteed to make any self-respecting bugler avoid you like a plague during dinner.
2. Playing “Ashoken Farewell” (by Jay Unger) on any instrument, but especially the fiddle. This is a beautiful song and well loved by fiddlers everywhere. It is NOT, however, period. Every fiddler in hearing range will wish upon you; the curse of eternal book 1 “Suzuki violin” concerts, performed by third graders - like a horrendous ringing in your ears - for the rest of your life.
3. Apparently (as I learned this weekend), playing “to the colors” as the flag is raised should be added (thank you M), and playing any bugle call in harmony (thank you D).

Anywhooo…getting back to the story at hand. The flag was raised and the event begin. There being a dance that evening, the band diligently practiced and prepared the dance set for our very first dance. Following rehearsal, armed with our sleeping assignment, we set up our bedrolls for the night. Two members of the band refused to spend the night due to better judgment than the rest of us. We ate dinner in complete darkness futilely stabbing at mysterious chunks of (delicious) stew with three prong forks. After dinner we found out the dance had been cancelled (“because everyone is settled in the barracks now…”), however, the band decided we would play anyways and set up downstairs.

The Fort Point Garrison Brass Band (FPGBB) has been around for a couple of years. We started with a few people playing between battles at reenactments and it has turned into a full fledged band. Most of the parts are covered by at least two people and we hold regular rehearsals. Our current configuration has been in place since at least 2006 (as proved by this January 2007 picture), but the band has had formal rehearsals since at least 2005.

Check out the audio of “Star of the County Down” at the end of this post. This piece was far out of our reach as a fledgling band, but now is used as a regular performance piece. (please excuse the sound quality – I recorded it in the bowels of Fort Point with my digital camera).

Our dance duty discharged, the band (minus the two intelligent members) settled in for the night. Our concerns mostly centered around the rats that infested the fort, of which we had seen at least one during the evening.

The fort is fairly devoid of modern luxuries. There are no privies or running water. The guardrail present on every floor seems so out of place with the “bare necessities”, I confirmed with the park ranger that it was indeed period. The bare light bulbs in the barracks seemed to conclude the list of the “niceties”. On Saturday night we discovered that the fort contains an additional “luxury”. A fire alarm system.

At 12:30am, we were awakened by an extremely load siren and flashing white-blue lights. We stared at each other. Why is it that no one evacuates a building until ordered to do so (and I’m not just talking about this event…) during a fire alarm? We sat until tromping boots on hard wooden floors and shouts of “get out of the fort!” stirred us into action. The doorways through the barracks are aligned with no doors, which makes it very efficient to clear all the rooms.

Unlike most of the reenactors present, the band stands to lose much if there was a fire. Eric generously lends us period horns from his private collection. Several other members also own their own period horns. These instruments would be extremely difficult, if not impossible to replace if lost in a fire. In a few moments Eric and Marty had gathered most of the instruments and headed downstairs. Only one was left and quoting Eric “if this is a real fire I’m heading back up to get it!”.
(the lights in the photo are NOT flames….)

The fire department arrived and determined the courtyard (authorized) fire set off the alarms. One of the firemen mentioned it was like stepping back in time. A 1:00am fire call to the fort and 150 soldiers dressed in civil war uniforms, standing in the courtyard will do that.

For more information about the FPGBB, click here (thanks Eric for the hyperlink tip)

For more information about what I do in 1863 when not playing a horn, click here


  1. oh now that's precious. just precious. I shall treasure the thought of you all being driven out by a fire drill set by the courtyard blazes

  2. I had the presence of mind to grab my great coat to cover my yoga pant and thermal shirt outfit....UCD dorm fire alarms have trained me well!


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