Category Archives: history

The Nobel Train

A classic corporate metaphor for teamwork is the crew team. In college I rowed in the two seat of an eight man scull and I can attest to that fact that if you are not pulling the oars in perfect unity, the boat moves like a duck.
The visual simplicity of the crew is one reason it lends itself nicely to the teamwork metaphor. However, the stakes are low if the team fails and in the best case scenario, the winning crew goes home with a medal and a warm happy feeling. Nice, but not the most griping example of teamwork.

Recently I was reading David McCullough’s 1776 and I was reminded of an example of teamwork that I would prefer to see on those motivational posters.
The Nobel Train of Artillery

As winter approached, in 1775, George Washington and his untrained, ill equipped rabble in arms were trying to figure out how to dislodge the kings mighty army from Boston. By all accounts, including that of General Washington, the situation was untenable and the obstacles look insurmountable.

It was during this dire period, with Washington’s army perilously close to destruction and the hopes of liberty for the new Americans in jeopardy, that a young man named Henry Knox approached General Washington with a bold idea.

Henry wanted to take three hundred men and march them to upstate New York where they were to appropriate sixty tons of artillery from Fort Ticonderoga. He and his men would then drag the cannons back to Cambridge, MA during the dead of winter using wooden sleds and oxen in what Henry described as a ‘noble train of artillery’.

Henry left for Fort Ti in early December and for the next two months lugged artillery over Lake Champlain, through mud and snow and ultimately arrived in Cambridge on January 24th, 1776. Washington then set all fifty-nine of Knox’s cannons on Dorchester Heights during the course of one night and pointed them down upon the British army. When the British awoke to see the deadly line of artillery pointing at them they thought better of retaliating and within a few days were boarding their ships in Boston harbor and preparing to evacuate. A major victory for the American’s and not a shot had been fired.

History is a great place, of course, to find good tune titles. This tune’s title is a nod to the teamwork and perseverance of Knox and his men during the most trying of times. I was really intending on recording a quick demo of the newly written tune…and then I got carried away with the instrumentation. It was one of those rare evenings where the recording session went smoothly (i.e. my furnace didn’t click on during the perfect takes!). As a demo, unfortunately, the recording is rather short. Consequently, I expect to rework it into a longer set at some point.

The Nobel Train / Franklin’s Harem by baconworks

Stinson Davis in the News

I just received an email from Andy Revkin, who is an author for the New York Times blog, and apparently a fellow musician, regarding my great uncle Stinson Davis, whom I wrote about a while back. Mr. Revkin posted an interesting article today about a new line of freighters that are using sail to cut down on fuel consumption.

In his article, he makes mention of my uncle and that he was the ‘last living captain of a ship powered entirely by sail.’

In 1982 Mr. Revkin wrote an article for Offshore Magazine on my uncle most likely talking about the olden days of sail. I’m hoping he might post that article online somewhere soon. Who would have thought, back in 1982, that there might be a new generation of ships under sail? Apparently my uncle, given our ‘keen to be green’ sensibilities, was ahead of his time.

We Are the Mariners – Bonhomme Richard

In the early nineties, when I was fairly new to the Mariners, I decided that I wanted to write a medley. I had already played once at the Roman amphitheater in Augusta Raurica in 1990, didn’t think we were very good, and decided that for our trip back to Switzerland in 1994 we needed some new music. So, I began work on what would become known as Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis.
Bonhomme Richard and the Serapis
I was in college at the time and did most of my writing in the car. I worked as a calzone delivery guy and spend hours driving around campus. In between deliveries, I would work out a few notes at a time then drive with my knees and play the penny whistle on my way to the next stop. It took months but ultimately I ended up with a medley that was a mix between traditional sea chanteys and original tunes.

The medley was welcomed into the Ancient Mariner repertoire and has remained their ever since, which, as I’ve learned over the years, is not typically the course for new music. The Swiss Mariners, on the other hand, were originally much less eager to learn it. However, after hearing it again in 2004 they had newfound interest in the piece.
The Mariners
After thirteen years, and for the first time ever, the Ancient Mariners and the Swiss Mariners played Bonhomme Richard together, thus solidifying its place in the Mariner repertoire. It is the one contribution to the corps that I am most proud of. The icing on the cake is that everyone seems to really enjoy playing it.
Sunny Augst
So, a heartfelt thanks goes out to my Swiss friends. Standing with you and performing this together was a real highlight, not only of the trip, but of all my Mariner days. Thanks.

Wettsteinmarsch Correction

After posting my article about the Wettsteinmarsch I immediately received some important corrections from my Swiss friends. I had falsely asserted that the Wettsteinmarsch was named after the Wettstein bridge. There is however, much more to the story.
Ratification of the Treaty of Münster

My friend Andri tells me the following:

The Wettsteinmarsch, the Wettsteinbridge and the Wettsteinsquare is so called in honor of Johann Rudolf Wettstein, who was mayor of Basel (1645) and a famous swiss diplomat who accomplished independence of the Swiss Confederation from the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation in 1648

Roman, another friend, tells me this:

As mayor of Basel, he went to the negotiations [for the Old Swiss Confederacy] after the 30 years war (Westfälischer Frieden – 1648) despite having no invitation.

Thanks for the corrections guys.

We Are the Mariners – Wettsteinmarsch

Swiss Drum
People often wonder why we travel all the way to Switzerland to play music. Incredibly, Switzerland, and I am speaking most specifically about Basel, has an amazingly rich tradition of piccolo and snare drum, which can be seen annually in their colorful festival called Fasnacht.
To an outsider the music may seem similar to American fife and drum. The literature, style and instruments, however, are all different. They are different sort of like how jazz is different from the rock’n roll. Throw a rock guitarist into a jazz band and without the proper experience he will likely flounder. Yet, there are enough similarities that will make the jazz-rock crossover intriguing. The same is true for American fife and drum and Basel piccolo and drum.

In addition, just about everyone I’ve met in Basel plays either the drum or piccolo. It is serious business. Consequently, many people from Basel are interested in hearing American fife and drum music. As a result, American fife and drum corps have been sprouting up in Switzerland over the last couple of decades. Likewise, we love to hear their style of music.

Fortunately for me, there was a piccolo and drum band, or clique, performing on the evening of our arrival. Incidentally, one of their piccolo players is also a member of the Swiss Mariners. So, the first bit of music I heard in Switzerland was actually Basel style music. It was a nice way to start the trip. The final piece the clique played is called the Wettsteinmarsch, which is a very well known tune in Basel, named after one of the main city bridges that crosses the Rhine. If you listen closely you will notice that they do not have bass drums, as they are not part of their tradition. Instead, you will notice, their snare style shifts abruptly between very soft and very loud much more so than our style of drumming. Also, I love hearing the high piccolo harmony that plays above the melody. Our American fifing very rarely has harmonizes in such a way.

So, the recording that I captured here is of the clique named 1884, which is an offshoot of another famous clique named VKB.

Let me warn you; I took some liberties with this recording. Hours after we heard the Swiss perform, the Mariners were in the Baggenstos cleaning their mugs with beer. My buddy Joe thought it would be a good idea to play the Wettsteinmarsch. Problem is, he does not know how to play it. So, as an intro to the Swiss playing on their native instruments, I’ve merged in the results of Joe’s attempt at playing this Swiss classic for our Swiss friends. I love how relentless the Swiss drummers are here. Joe played all of eight notes and the drummers jumped on his lead and continued on without him and, ultimately, the entire Baggenstos continued without him. What fun.

Wettsteinmarsch by baconworks

The Sounds of Freedom

How poetic is it that the first steps towards independence in America happened at a bridge? Standing on one bank the colonists were subjects to a distant king. Fighting their way across the bridge they took their first steps on the shores of freedom. The bridge I speak of is the North Bridge in Concord, MA.


On the morning of April 19th, 1775 men from Concord and many surrounding towns gathered on Punkatasset Hill to discuss the movement of British troops. Upon seeing a column of smoke rise from the town, and naturally assuming the Regulars were setting their homes ablaze, they “resolved to march to the middle of the town to defend their homes, or die in the attempt.”[1]

The common belief is that, led by the fifes and drums, the men marched towards the North Bridge, which arched the river between them and the good folk of Concord, to oppose the tyranny before them. What was running through their minds as the beat of the drums steadily marched them towards their great foe in red? The moment must have been surreal and the future so dizzyingly uncertain. It amazes me that, at the brink of certain conflict, music was played at all.

What they played on those fifes and drums, as well as the story in general, is the subject of some debate. The surviving tradition, historically correct or not, is to play The White Cockade, which was a “traditional Scottish tune that celebrated the attempt by Bonnie Prince Charlie to reclaim the throne of Britain for the House of Stuart.” [2] If the story is true, playing the White Cockade represents a “bold taunt of defiance” according to historian D. Michael Ryan.

The fact is, it is not really clear if they played the White Cockade or any tune. There was no mention of the tune being played on that day until 1835. A hundred years after the battle the story was further promoted with a well known article from Harper’s new Monthly Magazine called The Concord Fight.

Regardless of the historical details it is, nevertheless, moving to hear the drums and fifes slicing through the fresh April air every spring on the morning of the 19th as they march down the dusty road towards freedom playing The White Cockade.