Between the years of 1836-1878 a military “School of Music Practice,” housed in the South Battery on Governors Island, taught enlisted boys to play the bugle, fife, and drums for daily life and war skirmishes. These 12-15 year-old musicians learned specific songs each with a message to send to troops regarding a daily activity or a field command. Military music was a rigorous system of semiotics. When the school was disbanded in 1878, the military and the Coast Guard continued to play this music in recordings through a system of speakers that surround the island.
Today Governors Island has made a transition from a military establishment and to an arts destination. To celebrate this parallel, and this musical history, I began to reanimate the island’s musical memory. Civil War drummers like bugle players played specific rhythms that participated in this semiotic system. My drumming is a celebration of the freedom from these constraints. I imagine a scenario where these 12-15 year-old boys, in their off-time, played what they felt like playing rather than what they were instructed to play.