Above is a nice picture of the Roman amphitheater in Augst, beautifully lit, while we were playing. The picture was taken from behind the stage at the top of a large set of stone steps. This amphitheater was the stage for a new fife solo that my buddy Joe and I had been working on. Below is the video of our performance in Augst.
We were slightly out of sync for the first couple of notes but other than that we were very happy with this performance. It was our very first time in front of a real audience with this piece. The day before we played it at our dress rehearsal in front of the Swiss Mariners for the first time. It was a complete disaster. We did not even finish the piece during the rehearsal. So, I guess it is fair to say that we went into this performance with a bit of apprehension. Just before playing for the crowd of twentyfivehundred people we looked at each other and said, “Ok, were back in Natick”.
While in Switzerland I recorded what I could of the after hours scene. The Swiss turned a bar, called the Baggenstos, into our Mariner home, complete with Mariner artifacts from past years, uniforms draped from the ceilings, sails hanging in the back patio and a flowing tide of beer. While going through my recordings I came across this wonderful version of the Whipple from the Baggenstos.
The Whipple, or more accurately entitled, Whipple and the Gaspee is the finest fife and drum medley ever created. It is a melodic, harmonic and percussive work of art. It was sequenced decades ago with a variety of classic sea songs including the cotton screwing chantey Whup Jambouree. After a brief drum solo enters a great Scottish ballad called Henry Martin, which is arranged as a foux bourdon, a technique used in the late middle ages where the melody is harmonized against one line that plays a perfect fourth and another that plays a sixth. I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that it is the standard by which all other medleys are measured, at least in my book.
There are three neat things about this recording. First, all the percussion is being played on tables since we are in a bar. Second, nobody had any idea it was being recorded. It simply is what the Whipple sounds like at 3am in a bar in Switzerland, including the erroneous c natural three notes into the melody. Lastly, I have never heard a better live recording from within a bar of fife and drum music.
One more note on the origins of the title. Whipple was an American sea captain. The Gaspee was a British ship. I won’t go into any other details except to leave you with this great exchange between the British Captain Sir James Wallace and our beloved Abraham Whipple:
You, Abraham Whipple, on the 10th of June, 1772, burned His Majesty’s vessel, the Gaspee, and I will hang you at the yard-arm.
To Sir James Wallace, Sir:
Always catch a man before you hang him.
I had every intention of blogging while in Switzerland. Our ‘active schedule’, however, consumed any time I might have had for such an activity. Now that I am home, and reeling from the experience, I will begin plowing through my pictures, recordings and memories in an attempt try to convey, in some simple manner, the enormity of what happened during our ten days in Switzerland.
To be honest, I don’t really know where to begin. My feeling is that it would be easier to explain what the Alps are like to someone who has never before seen a mountain than to tell you our tale. Also, I am really not sure how much I want to tell you. No, I’ve got nothing to hide. Instead, I’ve so much to keep, and I fear that watering it down for you will dilute its richness in my own mind.
Part of the challenge, is that the seeds for this trip were sown not only in the weeks and months preceding it, but the decades. There is a very rich history between the Ancient Mariners of the United States and the Swiss Mariners that dates back to the early seventies. That history has been building and evolving, much the same way a healthy marriage unfolds. We learn from each other, we grow with each other, we argue with each other, we laugh with each other, we sing and play with each other, we cry with each other and we love each other. Consequently, our reunion culminated in a synergy that is really beyond my ability to verbally describe. Every story is enriched, in our minds and hearts, by the history and the duality that hangs on everything we do. We are not only travelers hoping to see some foreign attractions, we often are the attraction. We are not only old friends, we are also new friends. We are not only guests, we are at home. We are not only the Ancient or Swiss Mariners but, simply put, We are the Mariners.
The pictures and sound that I can offer you don’t really do any of it justice. But until you are on the mountain with me, they are all you can have.