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Levi Lovering was born on December 22, 1776, son of Lieutenant Jesse and Marcie[Jennings] Lovering of Holliston, MA. Jesse Lovering, previously a militia drummer, had earned his title through service at the Lexington Alarm and at Winter Hill in Boston shortly before the birth of his third son. Eventually the Lovering family would include five more children, most whom were born in Holliston, where Jesse, a housewright, served in several minor political capacities. Not much is known about Levi’s childhood, but he did indeed learn to drum, perhaps under his father’s tutelage. This skill was to become his legacy, surviving today in a small handwritten collection of drum beatings dating from the mid-to-late 1790s that culminated in publication of The Drummers’ Assistant or the Art of Drumming Made Easy (ca. 1819 and 1823).

Levi Lovering was an itinerant ne’er-do-well. As a young man, he traveled to Athol, a sparsely populated town located in north-central Massachusetts. While in Athol or perhaps in the neighboring town of Gardner, he wrote out a series of drum beatings and instructions into a small blank book. Lovering visited Holliston in 1801, where he filed intentions to marry Sally Eames, and then returned with her to Athol, where two daughters were born, Sarah in 1803 and Marcy in 1805. In 1808 Lovering withdrew his membership in the nearby Northfield lodge of Masons and began a peripatetic career, eking a living for his growing family. This took him through Connecticut, New Jersey and New York before he returned to south-central Massachusetts shortly before his death in 1857 at age 80.

In 1819, while living in Bridgeton, New Jersey, his Drummers’ Assistant, or Art of Drumming Made Easy was published in Philadelphia. In a cut illustrating this first edition, Lovering claimed to have invented the “mode of notes” used throughout the book, even though a similar tablature had been published by Charles Robbins in Winthrop, Maine some seven years earlier. Were it not for the existence of identical notation in the manuscript, the invention may have ultimately rested with Robbins; that is, if it can be proved that the manuscript was compiled by Lovering prior to the appearance of Robbins’ Instructor. This is indeed supported by close examination of the manuscript. Comparison with later documents that Lovering prepared and signed reveals marked similarities in handwriting. The manuscript’s watermarked paper, from the mill of Boston’s Michael McCarney, suggests a terminus ante quem of 1792; however, Lovering’s activities in the Athol-Gardner area point to a slightly later germinus of the mid-to-late 1790s. The terminus anti quem of the paper is 1805, but even so it would still predate Robbins’ 1812 publication and thus lends credence to Lovering’s otherwise equivocal claim.

Like Lovering’s, some eighteenth-century tablatures survived in nineteenth-century drum works. The successful ones were descriptive, concise, uncomplicated, and therefore more likely to be adopted by the drumming public and adapted by subsequent publishers. Thus, the Ashworth system of 1812, utilizing a tablature found in Longman & Broderip’s Young Drummer’s Assistant (ca. 1780-82), was in turn the basis for an 1817 publication by Rumrille & Holton in Albany, New York. George Bruce, a member of New York’s famous 7th Regiment Band, promoted the Ashworth method in The Drummers’ and Fifers’ Guide (1862 and 1865). He considered Ashworth’s manual, at that time “long out of print,” fundamentally important and in fact stated in his preface that he had found “none to compare” with Ashworth’s method.

Conversely, David Hazeltine’s Drum Instructor (1810) employed no notation at all. Lessons and beatings were presented by merely listing the rudiments. Thus, the beating for “The Drummers’ Call” was

A ten and a stroke, a flam and a stroke, and one flam, twice over,;
then a ten and a stroke, then a flam and a stroke five times over;
then one flam.

This narration-instead-of-notation was later adopted by Alvan Robinson, Jr., whose Massachusetts Collection of Martial Music went through three editions between 1818 and 1826. Furthermore, either Robinson or his works prolonged the popularity of narration by replication in a series of anonymous instruction books published in Maine in the 1830s. George Bruce covertly utilized one of these publications, probably the third Robinson Collection (1826) or the first Instructor (c. 1830) in the sections entitled “Time” and “Duty of the Musicians” in the aforementioned Guide.

Neither Charles Robbins’ Drum and Fife Instructor nor Levi Lovering’s Drummers’ Assistant enjoyed such long-lasting success. Both employed an intricate notation style similar if not identical to that found in the c. 1795 manuscript. In all three documents, the notes are written on two staves placed one above the other. The upper staff indicated left-hand sticking, and the lower staff was for the right hand. The mnemonic syllables pou (Robbins used “pow”) and tou (spelled “tow” by Robbins) reinforced the sticking patterns and further defined the rudiments. Robbins, however, simply was not very thorough—lessons are confined to rolls only, and sample beatings are few and nonspecific. A published psalmodist, Robbins also served as a musician in the Maine militia during the War of 1812; however, he himself admitted his “want of personal practice” in the camp duties, a series of beats vitally important to military drummers.

Lovering’s instructions are more comprehensive, but his notation system has errors and omissions that make interpretation difficult. These mistakes are not indications that the publication was assembled hastily; on the contrary, it is likely that The Drummers’ Assistant was about 20 years in the making, perhaps starting when Lovering began writing in his manuscript. It does, however, reveal his inability to express in notation the process of executing the beats and representing the practices with which he was more familiar.

The simplicity of the entries may indicate a second usage of the manuscript as a teaching tool. Lovering’s students may have included one Isaac Day from nearby Chesterfield, NH.; Day’s “1st Book” of drum beatings, dating to about 1800, was written in Lovering-style notation. As a drummer and/or drum teacher, Lovering may have met another local drummer/music teacher, Benjamin Clark of Royalston, whose own drum manuscript, dated 1797 and written out in a completely different notation style, bears one untitled entry written out in Lovering’s system.

Lovering’s manuscript and printed book parallel each other closely. Eleven of the manuscript rudiments and sixteen of its beatings (approximately 65%) are found in The Drummers’ Assistant. This core of repertory represents regional Massachusetts favorites from the late 1780s-1790s that are preserved in contemporary fife manuscripts, most notably that of Elisha Belknap, fifer for the Framingham Artillery Company in 1799. Both the book and the manuscript employ four-flam endings for some of the beatings, an oddity not found in other drum methods and not replicated in performance practice today (example: Quick Step for the 12th Regiment).

Previous manuscript errors, such as omission of the seven-stroke roll and two flams in the 5th measure of the beating for “Duncan’s Dance,” were corrected in the publication, but new ones were made, such as omission of double bars separating the two strains of “Washington” and “Guilderoy.” Rests are not present in either source; Lovering’s notation system simply has no means of expressing them.

Despite these problems, the manuscript is important for several reasons, the most significant of these being its early provenance. It is one of only two sources of eighteenth-century American drum beating known today, the other being Benjamin Clark’s 1797 manuscript. Despite the differing tablatures, the two books contain seven beatings and five duties in common (example: Woodcutter).

The manuscript is also important for the information it reveals about fife and drum repertory, which even today, identified in the “ancient” fife and drum corps of the lower Connecticut River Valley, continues to circulate old and new tunes around a fairly stable core of well-established favorites. An example of this is Lovering’s “White Cockade.” The accompanying tune was well known by fifers during the Revolutionary War and circulated regionally in postwar Massachusetts. This is reflected in Lovering’s manuscript collection and no doubt through his early teaching activities. The beating persisted in the nineteenth-century repertory through the two issues of Lovering’s book as well as through his now-itinerant teaching. These helped to perpetuate the playing and printing of ”White Cockade” in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York for thirty-eight years.

But Lovering also added new tunes and rudiments to the Assistant not found in his earlier manuscript. Beatings to accompany such tunes as ”The Soldier’s Return,” “The Apprentic’d Mason,” “The New Pomproom,” and the addition of the single and double drags increased contemporary appeal and, in turn, salability. The musical tradition to which Levi Lovering was an important contributor helped maintain the traditional structure of fife and drum repertory that, while indeed reflecting a regional popularity, could not be confined to one small geographic area. A check of the tune “White Cockade” in the Early American Secular Music and Its European Sources, 1589-1839: An Index confirms this. It survived as a march, song, dance, and theater work known by four different titles for seven identified instruments as well as voice in fifty-one different sources in both Britain and America from 1775 to 1825. It remains popular in the “ancient” fife and drum repertory today (example: White Cockade).

Lastly, the manuscript is important for what it tells us about Levi Lovering. He was evidently a drummer only—no tune concordances are found in either the manuscript or book. He gave explicit directions to the drummers for performing “The General Salute,” but virtually ignored the fifers when explaining the proper performance of “The Reveille.” He told the drummers—“Give three cheers, beat the drummers call, then whatever tunes the musicians please . . . .” And he was, quite simply, sloppy. The spelling errors that one would like to attribute to hasty, youthful scribble or contemporary local variance cannot be explained that way. Errors such as the “A” omitted from an otherwise carefully penned “Dance” were repeated in other writings Lovering made in later manhood and mimic the omissions apparent in the drum notation itself. Despite these shortcomings, however, Levi Lovering left us two treasures that, carefully read and researched, provide a solid link between eighteenth- and nineteenth-century drum practices.

Poor Levi! His other accomplishments were rather infrequent and somewhat dubious. For example, in 1845 Levi and his sister Olive scammed the U.S. government for a pension, only loosely based on their father’s Revolutionary War record. Although Jesse’s own application had been rejected in 1818, Olive and Levi manipulated pertinent facts, including the date of their father’s death, with those of an older brother, conveniently named “Jesse” as well. Equally convenient was their inability to produce corroborating testimony to satisfy the requirements of the revised pension laws. They instead reported that the witnesses to these suspicious events were “all dead.” Perhaps it was their persistence or maybe Levi’s claims of poverty and disability that finally, in 1856, won them some payment.

Levi Lovering’s disability claim may actually have had some basis in truth. Many in the family suffered from an inherited neurological disorder that limited their ability to walk, some so severely that they were forced to “walk on their knees.” Levi may indeed have been one of them. In fact, so many of his relatives were afflicted with what they called “the pumple foot” and “the Lovering curse;” that they attracted the attention of medical researchers, who studied the family as late as 1952. Thus Lovering’s ultimate legacy may rest in the significant, albeit inadvertent contributions that enabled scientists to further define and understand peroneal muscular atrophy, also known as Charcot-Marie-Tooth syndrome.



Cifaldi, Susan. “Jesse Lovering, S23303,” Index of Revolutionary War Pension Applications in the National Archives. Arlington [VA]: 1976, p. 347. Originals may be viewed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Microfilm copies are at the Waltham [MA] regional office.

England, M.D., A.C. and Denny-Brown, M.D., D. “Severe Sensory Changes, and Trophic Disorder, in Peroneal Muscular Atrophy (Charcot-Marie-Tooth Type,” American Medical Association Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry Vol, 67, No. 1, January 1952, pp. 1-22.

Gravell, Thomas L. Personal correspondence to Susan Cifaldi, May 1, 1987 [for watermark information].

A Note about the Sources:

The musical resources referenced in this paper are listed in the "Chronological List of Fife and Drum Sources" and the "General Bibliography"

This is an updated edition of a paper was first presented at the conference of the Northeast American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Worcester, MA, September 28, 1996.

by Susan Cifaldi