There are many contemporary references to the military music of the day, and there has been much discussion as to the instrumentation.
John C. Fitzpatrick (1876-1940), in his book, The Spirit of the Revolution (1924), describes the function of fifes and drums in the Continental Army. The drum and fife were used for military orders, with such signals as the Reveille, the General, the Assembly, the Retreat, and the Taptoo which became Taps, Many of the fife books of the period are filled with not only signals, but also marches, some scored for two fifes, which would seem to indicate fifes were used in two-part arrangements.
There are few references to contradict the belief that fifes and drums were the sole instrumentation of American bands in the eighteenth century, especially during the period of the Revolution. Among these is an account of a concert conducted by Josiah Flagg of Boston, with a program of “vocal and instrumental musick accompanied by French horns, hautboys [oboes], etc., by the band of the 64th Regiment”. This was in 1771, and of course the 64th Regiment was a British organization, not American. It is known that Flagg organized a band himself, but there is no account of the instruments it contained.
The printed version of a Federal March, played in Philadelphia in 1788, contained directions for “trumpets”. This, however, was several years after the Revolution.
An interesting item is found in an edition of Kotzwara’s sonata, The Battle of Prague, “adapted for a full band” by J. G. C. S[c]hetky, published in Philadelphia in 1793. The word “band”, however, is misleading, for the edition has parts for basso, violino, and cannon (“to be played on a drum”.) The piano score has directions for horn call and trumpet.
No doubt oboes were sometimes used with the fifes, although the 1756 account of “The Philadelphia Regiment consisting of upwards of 1000 able bodied effective men [who] after being review’d and performing the manual Exercise [marched] thro’ the town in Three Grand Divisions . . . with Hautboys and Fifes in Ranks. . . . [and] Drums between the third and fourth Ranks,” referred to an English rather than an American regiment.
The music of the fife and drum, used in Continental bands, however, was often stirring, and inspired soldiers to action. The old English tunes, The Girl I Left Behind Me, The British Grenadiers, as well as Yankee Doodle and the marches of the day were widely played by the fifers. The drum major and the fife major were persons of distinction in the army.