Pandemic-Inspired Musical Project Brings Together World-Class Percussion And Brass Musicians
Just a few weeks ago, on Independence Day 2020, a group of world-class percussion and brass musicians released a new arrangement of a Revolutionary War-era fife-and-drum tune, “The Downfall of Paris.” While the project started as a fun musical project during quarantine, it ended up turning into a fundraiser for military heroes.
“It was a purely a digital ‘let’s get together in our parents basement and jam’ type of thing, but it ended up sounding so great that we collectively changed the project’s intent to raise monies for Bugles Across America, providing Taps for fallen soldiers,” said Sean J. Kennedy, the Philadelphia-based drummer, producer, and arranger who created the project. “I couldn’t be happier with the final project. For such a quirky tune, that is really only known in the rudimental drumming world, it was great to give it some new life and expose it to a wider audience. It was also an awesome experience to work with all of my friends from all corners of the music business and country on this project and bring some joy to everyone who watches and listens!”
The idea sprung from the solitude of quarantine, during which Kennedy spent countless hours revisiting the fundamentals of his percussion craft. Specifically, he was practicing the standard snare drum repertoire of his youth, in particular the 1700s fife and drum tune, “The Downfall of Paris” — a song that U.S. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin is said to have loved and even encouraged Americans to use as a rallying cry for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Kennedy decided to rework an old arrangement of the song he had previously done for a brass quintet that he works with, Bob Wagner’s Hickory Brass. “The difference between my original version and this one is that I was able to include seven percussionists in this one,” he said.
To read a fascinating history of “The Downfall of Paris” written by Robin Engelman, a percussionist, composer, conductor, and music historian, click here.
Longing to collaborate with his musical compatriots from across the country on a meaningful virtual project, Kennedy was inspired to revamp his own arrangement of “The Downfall of Paris,” and expand it to a full-blown percussion section feature with brass quintet. Kennedy started the process after talking to his friend Chris Coletti, the internationally acclaimed trumpeter, best known for his work with the legendary Canadian Brass. Kennedy mentioned his new arrangement and Coletti immediately agreed to not only play trumpet, but said he’d perform both Trumpets I and II.
With Coletti onboard, and the project becoming a reality, Kennedy reached out to trombonist Nitzan Haroz; percussion legends and technical masters Clayton Cameron and Bernie Dresel were then enlisted, as well. Upon Coletti’s recommendation, Kennedy approached tubist David Earll about the project, and Dresel corroborated Kennedy’s idea to recruit LA based freelance horn player Tawnee Lynn. The final three percussion spots were filled with longtime collaborators and friends, David Lu on snare drum, Dave Nelson on bass drum, and Chihiro Shibayama on cymbals.
Over a two-week period, beginning in late May 2020, the musicians began submitting their audio and video performances to Kennedy, who in turn passed them onto the experts. “The recording process was a challenge and a learning experience,” Kennedy said. “Everyone needed to record their parts separately, yet sound as cohesive as possible.”
Interestingly, Kennedy said the band and the performance never would have existed if not for the national COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine. “Everyone who worked on it is spread across the entire country, and their date books were pretty empty, like most performers right now sadly, so it allowed us to do this very unique project.”
Listen to the song here: https://therollingbuzzardsbrigade.hearnow.com/
Bugles Across America
Bugles Across America is a volunteer group of trumpeters who audition and, if selected, are ‘on call’, based on geography and availability, to play Taps, live, at a cemetery in their area for fallen service personnel. Any monies generated from digital sales of “The Downfall of Paris” will gladly be given to them to keep their mission going.
“Having attended a few funerals of family members who were veterans, hearing Taps played by a live trumpeter or bugler is an experience you never forget, and one that all fallen service people deserve,” Kennedy said. “Sadly, one funeral that I attended had a (non-musician) soldier holding a fake bugle, that was essentially an MP3 player in the shape of a bugle. The soldier hit play, and a very synthetic MIDI version of Taps emanated from the bell. It was horrendous. After hearing that, I try to spread the word about Bugles Across America and their mission.