Jonathan Demler has been a lonely drummer at Old Fort Niagara for almost five years now. But the 15-year-old sophomore at Niagara-Wheatfield Senior High School will soon have some company.
A movement is currently under way at the fort to create a fife and drum corps made up of a half-dozen musicians and an adult leader that fort officials hope will rival a similar unit across the river at Fort George.
"During this past year we've been looking at ways to bring the fort to life in a more dramatic way than we've traditionally been able to do, and one of the things that really adds to the visitor experience is music," said Robert Emerson, executive director of the Old Fort Niagara Association. "Fort George has a fife and drum corps, which they loan us every now and again for a special event -- which we greatly appreciate -- but it occurred to us that if we have our own music it will benefit us by giving visitors to the fort another dimension of enjoyment."
That isn't the only benefit the Old Fort Niagara Association hopes to glean from this new addition. Dale Demler, Jon's father and financial systems assistant manager at Old Fort Niagara, sees it as a good community outreach tool.
"It will help people see how important music was back in the 18th century. The fife and drums were the entertainment, the radio, the television of the day. We're competing with computer games and MTV. This will be a good advertisement for the fort," said Demler.
Jon added that the drums served another purpose in the fort of 1779. "They were the P.A. system of the 18th century. The drums signaled the soldiers when to get up, when to drill, when to eat lunch and so on."
His mother, JoAnn, added, "Music draws crowds. We've seen the reaction when Jon marches around the fort drumming. A fife and drum unit will be even more effective."
Jonathan, who is a member of the Fort George fife and drum corps and was recently awarded the Potter Drum Award at Fort George in recognition of his talents, has been involved at Old Fort Niagara as a reenactor with his parents for seven years.
Dressed in clothing that would have been worn in 1779 by a Hessian officer, his laundress wife and a drummer from the King's Regiment, the Demlers have participated in the living history museum at the fort both as paid staff members and volunteers.
The family took steps to become a part of history after a typical visit to Old Fort Niagara. "We had gone down to the fort," said Demler. "Jonathan was of an age where it was interesting to him, and we attended some special events and thought, 'This looks like fun and there's got to be more to this than just coming down here and being a spectator.'"
Mrs. Demler asked how to go about participating in the program and soon found herself researching and sewing authentic 18th-century garb for her family.
Jon is looking forward to getting a new uniform to replace the rather faded and tattered one he now wears. That shouldn't be a problem, according to Emerson. "The period that we'll be portraying is during the American Revolutionary period. The rest of our interpretive program revolves around that. It's a very colorful time period. The uniforms will be very colorful and we have some people lined up to actually fabricate the uniforms," he said.
Old Fort Niagara wants to field a top-of-the-line fife and drum corps, or, more correctly, regimental field music corps, and that isn't a cheap proposition.
"It's going to be about $10,000 worth of material and the cost of the wool and the proper hats and the proper accouterments and the drums, and the right stuff is very expensive to do it first class. We don't want something that's not up to museum standards," said Emerson, who added that support for the program in the form of grants and community donations is being sought.
The new program will start out with six musicians and an adult leader. Although, historically, the players would have been male, the program is open to girls as well as boys ages 14 to 17.
Emerson said, "One of the goals of the program is to provide a learning opportunity for the youths that become involved, so it benefits them as well as us."
"We're hoping that it will do so well that everybody will want to do it and it will grow over the years," said Emerson. "Jon does a super job and we just want him to have some company."
For more information, call Doug De Croix at 745-7611.