Fifer Dave

Savage resident, Dave Embrey is a member of the Sons of the American Revolution, and is a fifer and re-enactor at gravestone markings, parades, ceremonies, etc. He has two DC area events on Memorial Day. Photo by Doug Kapustin for The Baltimore Sun (Doug Kapustin / Baltimore Sun / May 20, 2014)

With his fife's high-pitched notes soaring over the enthusiastic throngs that gather each year at historic sites to celebrate Memorial Day, Dave Embrey is an attention-getter.

Clad in historically accurate attire, the longtime Savage resident performs on one of his walnut or rosewood fifes, depending on which war he is helping to commemorate.

The notes of the piccolo-like instrument enhance the 15 or so ceremonies he participates in each year.

Welcome to the world of re-enacting with "Fifer Dave," whose musical talent and passion for living history have made him a regular at the National Memorial Day Parade in the nation's capital and at other locales from Mount Vernon to Fort McHenry.

Though he played the fife in the mid-1960s as a Boy Scout in Silver Spring, it was a chance discovery on an online auction site in 2006 that brought the automotive service writer back to the instrument nearly 40 years later.

But it wasn't a fife that initially drew Embrey back to music. It was family history and military fashion.

He discovered that a paternal ancestor, John Eskridge, had fought in the Revolutionary War.

He said his research also showed that Eskridge's grandfather, George Eskridge, was a Virginia lawyer in the 1700s who served as legal guardian to Mary Ball. Ball eventually married Augustine Washington and named their firstborn child — the future first president of the United States — after him.

Uncovering his paternal lineage led him to join the Maryland Society of the Sons of the Revolution, and that association caused him to take notice of an unusual item for sale on the Internet.

"I was searching on eBay one day and found a musician's uniform for sale, and I thought about the color guard," he said.

After deciding to spend $180 on the secondhand ensemble of tricorn hat, overalls, waistcoat and regimental coat — scarlet red with blue trim and silver buttons — he reasoned he would need to put the apparel to good use.

"I thought to myself, 'I guess I'll have to learn to play the fife again.' "

With battles of the War of 1812 being memorialized by various organizations across Maryland over the past two years and the 150th anniversary of the Civil War still being commemorated through its fourth and final year in 2015, Embrey's services have especially been in demand.

On Monday, he will appear at two Memorial Day celebrations — one in Veterans Park in Bethesda for the Sons of the American Revolution, and the other in Washington for the National Memorial Day Parade.

The Washington event will feature floats, marching bands, veterans, service members and celebrities, and will be televised live to U.S. troops. Open to the public, the parade will start at 7th Street N.W., proceed along Constitution Avenue past the White House and end at 17th Street.

Embrey will march, fife in hand, in his finest regalia, all replicas that were made to be as historically accurate as possible.

Since he owns four Revolutionary War uniforms, three from the War of 1812 and three from the Civil War, he even purchased a sewing machine to make his own shirts to help reduce expenses.

"People don't realize the money that goes into this," he said of his hobby.

Wool coats can cost between $300 and $500 and cotton shirts are not permitted, only costlier linen, he said. Any stitching that can be viewed by the public, such as shirt buttonholes, must be hand-sewn to maintain authenticity.

Re-enactors wear shoes that are not made to conform to the right or left foot, though they mold to the wearer's feet after being worn several times.