Edmund Boyle, Passion and Patience: restoring historic documents.

26 Sep
Ed Boyle
Ed Boyle

I first connected with Ed Boyle while researching part three of my Examples of Snare Drum Notation. Doug Kleinhans a former Hellcat drummer, composer and teacher  from Medina. New York had sent me a manuscript obtained from a former student and member of the Lancraft Fife and Drum Corps of North Haven, Connecticut, with a notation he called “the Connecticut Code”.  I visited the lancraft website, looked for a contact and discovered Ed’s name. We exchanged e-mails and,though himself a fifer, Ed recruited a half  dozen Lancraft drummers to further my inquiries into “the Code”.1

After I’d finished my article, Ed and I continued to communicate. As I began looking over the historic manuals for Fife and Drum offered on his website, I noticed many of these manuals were advertised as “digitally enhanced”.  I asked Ed to explain and he sent me a copy of the 1812, Charles Robbins Drum and Fife Instructor as an example of his work. What I saw was revelatory.2

My collection of historic fife and drum manuals consists almost exclusively of copies made from original editions. Some of them were given to me by friends. Others I photographed or purchased in libraries. But for the most part, they had been obtained from purveyors of fife an drum accoutrement. These books are xerox copies, too often faint or indecipherable and poorly bound. When Ed’s book arrived and I saw the quality of his reproduction, layout and binding, I asked him to explain the process necessary to achieve such exemplary results.

In response to that question and others posed by me, Ed wrote the following:

“I am 71 years of age and began fifing at age 11 in New Haven, Connecticut. Over the intervening years, I have lived in Maryland, Virginia,and as a member of the US Air Force,  all over  the United States. I have been a resident of Pennsylvania for about 40 years. I started in a corps at my parish church and joined Lancraft Fife and Drum Corps in 1957. I have been a member ever since. With the late Bill Reamer, I founded Independence Fife and Drum Corps (Broomall, PA) in 1974, just in time for the Bicentennial. I presently own and manage Philadelphia Fife and Drum, which performs at Independence Hall daily every summer and opens many conventions, etc, in eastern Pennsylvania. We have performed in England and Italy.

It seems as if I have always taught. I have attended many a reenactment over the years, teaching young and old fifers in the process. This is what really got me going: At most reenactments, I would be approached a few times by people asking where they could get fife lessons. I responded in the affirmative, volunteering my services, only to find that they lived hundreds or thousands of miles away. Consequently, I wrote my Tutorial on the Fife and created an audio CD to go with it, so my students could actually hear how a lesson should sound. I created a website, to sell it. I am happy to say that, to date, I have created close to 2000 fifers worldwide! Over the years, I have added various products useful to fifers and drummers alike.

During my fifing career I have often seen photocopies of various music manuals and tutorials for sale at sutlers tables that were of pretty dismal quality. Some of them must have been 10th or 15th generation photocopies some probably dating to when thermal paper was used.

One day  in 2003 or so, I was visiting the Library Company of Philadelphia, founded by Benjamin Franklin. While digging around, I happened to run across Willig’s Compleat Tutor for the Fife. I recalled that a 20th century friend of mine once told me that he used that very book to learn the instrument. So, I sat there in wonderment, roped in at a special table in the library, wearing white cotton gloves, holding a piece of history in my hands. History had not been good to it. The paper had the brownish hue of a cigarette filter, had rips, tears, stains, and was extremely faded, almost to the point of total illegibility. In short, it was shot. I had copies made on a special copying machine at a stiff price, took them home and scanned them into my computer.

Using the finest graphical software of the day, it was impossible to automate what I did. It still is. The 30 pages of Willig took me an average of about ten hours per page to restore. Page 30 took me three days. I had to redraw lines, stems, clefs..the whole works. . . for the entire book. Below are the before and after images.

Since then, I have restored 21 other manuscripts. The process begins by scouring the world’s libraries for a good quality original, copy, microfilm, or microfiche. Sometimes, I have resorted to devious means, but no harm done…I would never reveal my co-conspirators. Often, because one copy was of poor quality or missing pages, I had to use multiple sources. On average, it requires 300 – 500 hours per book.

Some books took me years to complete. In every source of Massachusetts Collection of Martial Music, a few notes were missing in the first line of Robinson’s March. Since the book was compiled by Alvyn Robinson, I assumed that he wrote the tune. He didn’t! I set it aside for 2 – 3 years. I was digging through a pile of loose pages of various music that predated the book by at least 50 years and found the missing notes! Delighted, I completed the book.

Beyond any doubt, the hardest part of what I do is cleaning up text, simply because it is the definition of tedium. I can start anywhere. Find a letter in whatever ancient font was used, like a lower case “e.” Look around through the entire book and find a good looking “e.” Magnify it, and clean it up manually. Then cut and paste that “e” replacing all the “e”s that turn up in a 65 page book. I then do the remainder of the alphabet, upper and lower case. There is a very thin line between determination and insanity. Restoring calligraphy on the front covers can push one over the top.3

In every copy I have ever seen of Hart’s Instructor for the Drum (1862), there are seven pages at the end  that were blurred beyond comprehension and in a very small font. It took an inordinate amount of permutations and guesswork to figure it all out, but now any historian knows the duties of a Civil War drum major in consummate detail.4

There are no “trade secrets” to what I do. It is just hard work. Since I don’t do much performing, I usually work on the books in the winter. I am probably not going to restore any more, anyway, because about a year ago I received an email with an Adobe file attached.  The file was a a book I had restored. The message was “Here is a copy of Strube. Print it, sell it, or give it away.” It is a different world nowadays, where copyright means nothing and intellectual property can be stolen at will.

Oddly enough, the bills aren’t paid by fifers or drummers. They are paid by guitar players, collectors and owners of old Les Paul, Telecaster, etc. Guitars. It is a strange story.

For most of my life, I have encouraged all woodwind players to oil their instruments. A proper oil preserves the tropical hardwoods from which they are made, makes the bore hydrophobic, and the instrument is easier play and sounds better. Fifers just don’t listen. However, almost a decade ago, owners of rare 50s and 60s guitars learned that the oil I carry, named Bore Doctor, was great for preservation of their Ebony and Rosewood fret boards. I had it packaged in larger bottles and called it Fret Doctor. I sell thousands of bottles per year all over the world.

It is also used on wooden clarinets, oboes, bassoons, English horns, knife handles, cutting boards, wooden sculpture, pistol grips, bagpipe drones and chanters and even marimba bars. Maybe some day the fifers will catch on.


A few days later Ed sent me this follow-up which to me reads as a perfect Post Script to the story above.

“Just came home from Philadelphia’s new Sugarhouse Casino, which opened today. I provided the fife and drum music.

While there, with my trusty PDA, I set up a meeting between a fifer in Johannesburg, South Africa, with another fifer in Pretoria, both of whom I taught. They may have located a drummer. By any measure, that’s a corps!

Yesterday, I shipped 30 plastic fifes to a woman in South Australia. When she was a kid, her school had a fife and drum corps, but girls were not allowed in. Now, she is a teacher in the same school, and she is getting even. I will be teaching the teacher.

A lady in Maryland lost a ferrule on an old Ferrary fife. I made arrangements for its repair. A lady in Denver, Colorado wants the proper fingering for high C natural. I gave it to her. A kid in Malaysia wants to know how to finger a G#…

This is what I do.



1. Bill Maling, Ken Mazur, James Laske, Dave Delancey and Jack McGuire are some of the drummers associated with Lancraft who helped me by providing examples of the code and explaining their interpretation and use.  My thanks to all of these men.  See the footnotes to Part 3, Examples of Snare Drum Notation on this blog Or visit the Lancraft  Fife and Drum Corps website for the names of other legendary Lancraft drummers.

2.  Since receiving this book, I have  replaced all of my flawed drum manuals with Ed’s publications.

3.  An example of “front cover calligraphy” can be seen below on the photocopy of Charles Stuart Ashworth’s Drum Beating from 1812.

4.  See notes on Hart in Part 3, Examples of Snare Drum Notation.






Posted by on September 26, 2010 in Articles, Fifes & Drums


4 responses to “Edmund Boyle, Passion and Patience: restoring historic documents.

  1. j. daniel moylan

    October 2, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    keep up the good work ed. always good to see you on the muster circuit.

  2. megan

    October 3, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Great article, Ed! About time someone gave you kudos for the untold hours you have spent preserving what you can for fifers and drummers!

  3. Renaud

    August 9, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    Yes, great article indeed. And more kudos for that magic oil that help us preserve our beloved instruments. Thank you Ed.

  4. Randy

    February 4, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    I’ve contacted Ed in the past and he has always been very welcoming


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