Stephen Hudak

The 18th century British military will retake command of Trenton when the Old Barracks presents its fourth annual Taptoe Concerts on Saturdays, July 14 and 28.

While the term “taptoe” is directly related to Colonial-era Red Coats, there is a twist. “It’s Dutch,” says coordinator Stephen Hudak of the name of the event mixing history, music, and theatricality.

After pronouncing the phrase in Dutch, “Doe den tap toe,” he says, “It means close the tap.”

The tap refers to a tavern beer keg spigot. The Dutch connection is the British occupation of the Flanders low grounds in the 16th century.

And the reason for the phrase to begin with? In order to get the British soldiers out of the taverns and back to the garrisons, the military would send bands into the town and provide a musical signals telling tavern keepers to stop the flow of beer and fun.

“It was originally a ceremony to bring troops back to their camp,” says Hudak during a discussion in one of the Barracks’ upstairs rooms. “When they went back to England, they changed it into a musical ceremony.”

Taptoe is also the famous military parade performance perhaps better known as a “tattoo.” With no connection to body marking, this tattoo’s most visible manifestation is the site-specific Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo presentations held throughout August at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.

The Trenton presentation is also site-specific. The Barracks were built by the British in 1758 to house troops sent to the Colony to fight in the French and Indian Wars.

And the event evokes the British military’s signal for Trenton taverns to close and the soldiers to go to bed (yes, that’s where the military “taps” comes from).

Describing the Barracks concerts, Hudak says, “It’s in the evening and its dark and we have the torches that are lit — that’s the only light that provided and you’re transported back in time.”

In addition to the spectacle of sight and sound, Hudak says there is “the smell of wood burning mingled with the gunpowder that we fired — the perfume of battle.”

Nevertheless, for a concert sound takes precedence and Hudak, a professional percussionist and music instructor retired from the Antheil School in Ewing, is ready to discuss the musicians, program, and how it all came together.

“Originally it was just drum and fife, and we’re faithful to that,” he says, noting that the presentation will also have what was an 18th century music band, better known today as a small orchestra with a variety of instruments.


Taking a community band approach, the Barracks Band of Musick group will include a mixture of regular Barracks historical interpreters and musicians, alumni performers, professionals who play with different orchestras, professional music teachers, and accomplished amateurs. New Jersey Capital Philharmonic conductor Dan Spalding is participating as a conductor. The emphasis on local musicians with “everyone coming from about a half-hour away. Except our drum major is coming from York, Pennsylvania.”

The first portion of the program will focus on the Taptoe performances. In addition to the closing of the taverns, Hudak says there will be other musical signals: reveille, mess call, calls for floggings, and some offbeat surprises.

The second portion is designed to evoke the Barracks’ historic time and place. Included is the 1794 “Federal Overture. “It was written Benjamin Carr — a Brit. It has themes from the American Colonies and the French Revolution.”

Also on the program is a concert suite of South African film composer Trevor Jones’ 1992 score for “The Last of the Mohicans,” based on New Jersey-born novelist James Fennimore Cooper’s novel following the plight of Colonists and British soldiers during the French and Indian War.

Jones’ music is both romantic and evocative of 18th-century British and American traditions, especially the use of violin. Professional critics and bloggers link the film’s vitality to the score.

Hudak calls it “the seminal film for re-enactors. We know people in the film and people who provided the uniforms.”

Hudak in a way comes to military music naturally. “My father was career master sergeant. We moved around in the 1950s and landed in Bethlehem (Pennsylvania), he was working in the (army) recruiting office,” says the married West Trenton resident.

“My mother was very musical. She sang. She was in the chorus. My mother was also in the military. She was making parachutes in Tucson during the war.” They met by chance.

The percussionist and future music instructor says he started out wanting to play the trumpet in fourth grade in Bethlehem where there was an arrangement with a music store. “I was asked what Instrument I wanted. I got a trumpet. I took it home and a month later we got the bill. We couldn’t afford it. There were seven of us. So I had to take it back. I was heartbroken. But I could understand. But then my dad found a drum someone was throwing out, a field drum. He brought it home and we put it back together. That’s when I started taking lessons and drumming.”

He says his instructors included members of the Allentown (Pennsylvania) Band and he learned to play polka, German band music, and show tunes. He also learned how to play other instruments.

He also credits his parents for taking him to the orchestra, where he became fascinated with the percussionist playing various instruments instead of just one, and mentions his Slovak grandfather who sang songs in dialect and took him to Slovak clubs.

He continued his training by joining the military during the 1970s. “I was in the band at Fort Dix and was compensated to take lessons in Philadelphia.”

About his academic training he says, “My degree started with the Philadelphia Music Academy (now the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts). I also attended University of Michigan and Wayne State in New York. My graduate work was done all over, most notably at Trenton State (now the College of New Jersey).”

Meanwhile he performed for 21 years with the U.S. National Guard and toured with the Prince Street Theater’s children’s company. “Playing music in the guard has taken me all over the place,” he says.

He says his involvement began with the Old Barracks in the early 1980s, growing from his involvement with the military and an interest in U.S. history. “I was here as a historic interpreter. I started doing the music for the summer day camps and have done it for the past 30 years.”

His involvement with the Taptoe has also made him a type of musical sleuth. Finding the music for 18th-century compositions required years of research and correspondence. For example, the Carr work to be performed was available only in a piano score with notes indicating instrumentation. After a year or so of communicating with musicologists he was able to connect with a composer and conductor who had orchestrated the work for a recording. When he heard Hudak wanted to use the work for the Barracks concert, he gave him the score for free.

That’s not true for the “Last of the Mohicans” suite score that had been created because of the film music’s popularity and was available through an agent of the producing film company. It also required some detective work to connect with the entity with rights to the music.

Hudak says the Old Barracks concert presentations grew from a fundraiser early in early 2000. Barracks director Richard Patterson was in attendance at the black-tie annual ball and was seated with Trenton-born New Jersey State Senator Peter Inverso, he explains. “The Barracks had a group playing — a fife and drum group from Hackettstown — they weren’t a period-styled group; they played music form all period, like the theme from ‘Rocky,’ Hudak recounts. “Inverso asked (Patterson) how much they were paying and then asked, ‘Why can’t we have a fife and drum group?’ rather than paying another group to perform.”

By 2004 a fife and drum band had started and audience and interest have grown since.

Area participation in the taptoe concerts, in addition to Hudak and conductor Spalding, includes Barracks director and show producer Patterson, who will oversee the military choreography and provide narrative, and individuals who have worked with Passage Theater and New Jersey Network helping with lighting. The event sponsors are board president John G. O’Sullivan and Jacqueline O’Sullivan.

Thinking about the project and his involvement, Hudak says, “I’m a musician and I love history too. And I love this music.”

Taptoes, Old Barracks Museum, 101 Barrack Street, Trenton. Saturdays, July 14 and 28, music begins at 8 p.m. $10 to $25. www.barracks.org

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