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From The United States Library of Congress
The American Brass Band Movement
The phenomenal rise of the brass band in mid-nineteenth-century America can be better understood if we trace its antecedents and some of the technical developments that produced the type of brasswind family from soprano to bass that was the staple of our bands in the Civil War era.
The aristocracy of colonial America supported the kind of ensemble for which Mozart and Haydn wrote their divertimenti, serenades, Feldparthien, and other open-air music under royal patronage. Thomas Jefferson, for example, wished to establish such an ensemble at Monticello for the entertainment of his household and suggested instrumentation to improve the U.S. Marine Band. Clarinets and oboes carried the melodic line; natural horns and bassoons gave harmonic support. The same kind of band provided military music during the American Revolution and for at least three decades afterward. Thus in one sense the wind band, once the privilege of the European aristocracy, was gradually acquired, unceremoniously but intact and in an orderly fashion, by the American people for whom it became a symbol of their newly acquired social and political status as well as a source of entertainment. A reminiscence of one of the last vestiges of this tradition in America appears in an anonymous article entitled “The Boston Band” in the Boston Musical Gazette of July 25, 1838:
Full well do I remember when I first heard the sound of a Clarinet, French Horn and Bassoon: it was at a regimental muster, where I went with my father, as a spectator. It was reported all around the country for weeks beforehand, that the Boston Band was to be at muster, being hired at great expense by Capt. Taylor, the liberal and noble-spirited commander of the new troop of Cavalry. This band was all the topic of conversation among the boys, and many a luckless urchin had to do penance for listening to the wonderful stories of its performances, instead of attending to his task. I recollect that I was sent to mill, two miles distance, a day or two before the parade. I went whistling the Rogue’s March all the way, which a famous old revolutionary fifer in our neighborhood had learnt to me. The crusty miller took off my bags; but I kept on whistling. “What the deuse ails ye, John, heh?” said he. “Capt. Dusty, ye goin to muster to hear the moosic?” I replied, and kept on whistling. “Hang your music! go to grass with your whistling!” cried the miller, as he shouldered my meal bags and carried them to the hopper. . . .
At length the wished-for day arrived, and a glorious day it was, most clear and bright. . . . we saw a brilliant company of high-horse prancing over the plain. When they had arrived within half a mile of the parade ground, they slackened pace, and the music struck up Washington’s March. . . . The march was continued until the company came in front of the public house, when it halted, and Capt. Taylor gave orders for Yankee Doodle. This fairly bewitched the crowd, and they rent the air with huzzas. . . .
Capt. Taylor directed the musicians to continue their music for some time, which they did, and gave us several different tunes, one of which I perfectly recollect was St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning. This was very pleasant to every one; but there was one man in particular, in the very centre of a dense group, that, the very instant they commenced it, set to dancing like a Dandy Jack, and kept it up until the tune was ended, to the no small amusement of all around. I had a curiosity to get sight at him, and crowding into the ring, behold! it was none other than my old miller, who had scolded so much about my music a day or two before. Both this man’s parents were natives of Sweet Erin, and brought him to this country while a nursing infant. Just by way of remembrance, I cried out to him,–”So Capt. Dusty, you like the moosic?” “Hah! young spalpeen!” he replied, and they ceased playing.
Taste in music, as well as in almost every thing else, will have a change. These men, who, in their day, were considered first rate performers, would now be called but indifferent. Their number was only four. Belsted upon the Hautboy, Granger, (father of the late violinist), upon the Clarinet; the famous Peter Schminch, the French Horn; and old Dr. Faegnol, the Bassoon. It was said that Belsted played a fine violin. The first and two last belonged to Burgoyne’s band, and were taken with him at Saratoga. I believe these musicians found constant employ in their vocation. They have gratified their thousands; they have had their day, and have gone down with the generations. Such was once the Boston Band. 21
The melodic dependency of the band on the reed instruments was gradually undermined after 1810 when a Dubliner named Joseph Halliday introduced his keyed bugle. Like the earlier development of the chromatic woodwinds, in which the length of the bore, and hence the fundamental with its possible harmonics, could be instantly changed by opening or closing one or more keys, Halliday’s invention was nothing new in principle. The keyed trumpet, for example, was already known. Halliday simply cut holes in the side of a bugle and provided lever-operated padded keys for opening and closing them to get a full chromatic scale.22 Without having any special claims to originality, he had produced a good instrument at the right time which found an immediate market. It was only a matter of time before a full family of such instruments was developed: the ophicleides.23
In America the chromatic horns had gained at least an equal footing with the woodwinds as principal instruments as far as bands were concerned by 1835; we now generally consider that year, in which the first all-brass bands are known to have been established, as the beginning of the so-called brass band era.
Of course, not everyone greeted this development with enthusiasm. As the brasswinds became more homogeneous in sound, the loss of a band with highly individualized members was, as we have learned from reading Dwight, lamented by some. This is made more evident in the following excerpt from an 1893 article by William R. Bayley in the Philadelphia Evening Star. Bayley, who was an active bandsman from 1833 to the 1890s, recalls:
The average bands [during the 1840s] consisted of fifteen pieces–two E-flat bugles, 1st and 2nd French horns (without valves), the post horn, and E-flat trumpet. We had the brilliant tone of the slide B-flat trombone and F-bass trombone for bass, ophecleide [sic] (brass), and the serpent (a wooden instrument with keys), cymbals, snare and bass drums.
At the risk of being considered old fashioned I have protested against the summary banishment of many of these instruments. I have contended that all change is not improvement. These instruments, differing in the principle of their construction, had a different quality of tone, and therein is the strength of my plea. Band instruments of today are much better made and easier to learn, but from the E-flat cornet to the E-flat bass they are all constructed on the same principle, and have therefore the same kind of tone, only deeper, of course, as they descend.24
The fact that Bayley, writing in 1893, speaks of the homogeneous brasswind instrumentation indicates that the brass band was still predominant, at least in his mind.
In the 1840s a Frenchman, Adolphe Sax, inventor of the familiar saxophone, was one of several makers who developed a family of chromatic valved bugles–eventually called saxhorns–that combined the qualities of even timbre throughout their range, accurate intonation, effectiveness as ensemble instruments, and a degree of facility that made them playable without extraordinary technical ability while, at the same time, having the capability of satisfying the demands of a virtuoso. Sax was by no means the first to work on a chromatic horn. Inventors in Europe and the British Isles had been working with varying degrees of success in key- and valve-system chromatic brasswinds before the beginning of the nineteenth century. But Sax’s success was remarkably complete, owing in no small part to the fact that he produced a good set of instruments at just the right time.
As well as being a good inventor, Sax was an equally good promoter of his own interests. If he had been able, he would probably have banished all but wind instruments from the orchestras of the Western world – preferably, all but those he invented. An amusing article by Sax found its way into Dwight’s Journal by way of the London Musical Times. Originally printed in La France Musicale, it offers some of the following useful information under the headline “How Wind Instruments affect the Health.”
Persons who practice wind instruments, are, in general, distinguished–and anybody can verify the statement–by a broad chest and shoulders, an unequivocal sign of vigor. In the travelling bands that pass through our cities, who has not seen women playing the horn, the cornet, the trumpet, and even the trombone and ophicleide, and noticed that they all enjoyed perfect health, and exhibited a considerable development of the thorax? In an orchestra a curious circumstance can be noticed; and that is the corpulence, the strength which the players of wind instruments exhibit, and the spare frames of the disciples of Paganini. The same may be said, with more reason, of pianists.25
There were other factors as well that favored the acceptance of the new chromatic brasswinds. For one, there was already a demand for them not so much among orchestral musicians as among military bandsmen and a large number of aspiring amateurs. Valve horns in the soprano register–the French cornet à pistons and the German soprano Flügelhorn–had already found a secure place in the bands of Europe, and an outstanding quintet of Englishmen, the Distins, was to publicize Sax’s new family of horns through their widely successful public performances on the instruments. Thus, although families of saxhorns–and their German counterparts the Flügelhorns–were not destined to find a place in the orchestra they were to become standard band instruments for years to come, and not least of all in Great Britain and America, where, as we have noted, interest in the formation of amateur brass bands was growing at such a rate that by the mid-1850s it had reached the proportions of a significant popular movement.26
Moreover, the homogeneous quality of the saxhorn-type band and its carrying power in the outdoors were significant advantages. One writer who had heard a Canadian regimental band of the British type compared it unfavorably with the new all-brass style and was quoted in Dwight’s Journal under the editor’s magnanimous introductory remark that “happily all the world does not think alike”:
In the afternoon there was a review of the 39th Regiment of the Champ de Mars, near the court house. Whether it was intended for a scientific display or not I am unable to say; but this much is due–it was a creditable exhibition. The music by the band was good, though not “putting the Boston bands to blush,” as the correspondent of the Courier is pleased to say. On the contrary, the Brigade, or Brass, or Germania are, all three of them, quite as scientific and skillful. Last autumn, at the railroad jubilee ball, I heard this same band in contrast with Chandler’s Portland Band; and those of your readers who were present at Bonsecours at the time will, I think, join me in giving to Chandler’s the highest encomiums. The 39th band is large, but it has some dozen men blowing their breath away on clarinets, bassoons and flutes, to but little purpose. In short, it is a great waste of wind. The band is modelled as our Boston bands were fifteen years ago. Take away the inefficient reeds and give them tubas instead, and this Crimean band would crash out a mighty march; but now it wants body, as an Englishman would say of his beer. The melody is one grand squeak, sounding like the sesquialtra [sic] of the organ, and about as well adapted for melody as that stop would be with a swell accompaniment. There is a brilliance to the American bands not yet attained by the English, if this is a fair specimen of their proficiency. 27
Earlier, Dwight himself had expressed the contrary view: “A certain peculiar and pleasing effect invests [brass band] music, at first, but it is of a kind which lacks character and durability. For genuine enjoyment I would as soon listen to a Choral Symphony performed with flutes and the voices of eunuchs.”28
But Dwight was also constructive in his criticisms and often balanced his invective with positive statements:
The more pathetic, the more human the music to be interpreted, the more cold and inadequate do the tones of these instruments appear. With all their mellowness and smoothness, with all their luscious commingling, they sound to us like soulless, watery, Undine-like natures; and while we have the perfect shape of the melody we loved, it still affects us somehow like its ghost. But when that “Hungarian March” was played, so full of sad, determined, truly moral heroism, who did not feel the fitness of the music to the organs that conveyed it, and a more real, although simpler, satisfaction.
The same criticism, or an analogous one, applies to this whole modern improvement in the construction of brass instruments; to the whole Sax-horn family, the valve-trumpet, &c., so softened down and made so smooth and flexible instead of the harsh, spirited, crackling blast of the old straight trumpet. That had character, if it was somewhat intractable; but these are somewhat emasculated in their gentleness.–But this opens a whole field of discussion, which we may not enter now.29
Later he reviews a concert and makes this comment on what he considers an appropriate type of music for brass: “The selections for the brass instruments were better than usual. That solemn old Chorale was just the thing for them; and the piece from Meyerbeer’s ‘Camp of Silesia’ was quite stirring. Give us more Chorales, if you wish to edify us.”30
Dwight’s appreciation of the technical advantages of the new valve brasswinds is mitigated by his concern that the advantages lead to abuse:
It certainly cannot be questioned that the employment of valves greatly facilitates the performance of difficult passages in music. Of the truth of this we have sad evidence in the readiness with which half-fledged artists essay the execution of compositions wholly beyond their calibre of comprehension, on the one hand; and, on the other, in the performance, by virtuosos, of parts unfitted and never intended for the particular instruments they profess. But however much be gained in ease and rapidity of execution, the full equivalent, and more, is lost in quality of intonation. Like dampers upon vibrating strings, this multiplicity of valves and keys interferes with the free action of the metal and essentially dulls and deadens its tone. In confirmation of this, compare the unsatisfactory effect of the valve trombone with the richness of intonation that belongs to that noble instrument in its original form.
Contributed by Jack Kopstein
Born in Washington, D.C., 1880 – Died in Bethesda, Maryland, 1969
Taylor Branson was a native of Washington, D.C., who like his predecessor John Philip Sousa, seemed destined for a career in the U.S. Marine Band. His father was a country fiddler who read no music and wanted his son to become a “real musician.” He arranged for the boy to study violin with Marine Band member William Santelmann, who would later direct said band for thirty years. After completing high school, Branson enlisted as a Marine Bandsman at the age of seventeen. He continued the study of violin (with Herman Rakemann) and began taking clarinet lessons with Andrea Coda and composition with Arthur S. Tregina, both members of the same band. He soon became concertmaster of the Marine Band Symphony Orchestra, serving as conductor during the Gridiron Club concerts. Branson was a pioneer in instrumental music broadcasting, conducting regular orchestral programs over NOF, the Naval Air Station, as early as 1919. He later introduced a radio program which was designed to benefit listeners who were invalids – the young announcer at the time was Arthur Godfrey. In 1921, Branson became second leader of the Marine Band and in 1927, he was appointed leader. In addition to American music, Branson programmed a great deal of music from other lands, including South America. One of his most prized awards, the “Cross of Boyaca,” came from the Colombian Minister, Miguel Lopez Mumarejo, for his “untiring efforts in the promotion of closer cultural relations between the peoples of the Americas, by means of the diffusion of Latin American music in the United States.” As a member of the prestigious Gridiron Club in Washington, Branson served as its musical director for over twenty-five years. He was also active as a guest conductor and adjudicator – in 1930, he was on the national high school panel which awarded first place to the Hobart High School Band, conducted by William D. Revelli. After serving with the Marine Band for over forty-one years, he retired with the rank of captain in 1940. At his death in 1969, Taylor Branson was survived by his wife, three daughters, and two sons.
Most of Branson’s marches were dedicated to the Marine Corps, including: Marine Corps Institute; General Lejeune; Tell It to the Marines; Marines of Belleau Woods; The President’s Own; Eagle, Globe and Anchor; Headquarters, U.S.M.C.; and Marine Corps Reserves. Others include The Times Picayune Centennial and Benjamin Franklin University. (Information from Kenneth Berger, John Burroughs, Jim Mann, Albert F. Schoepper, and the U.S. Marine Band.)
MADISON COMMUNITY BAND – MADISON COUNTY, AL
By Krista Slinkard, Altissimo Staff
It seems that most people figure out what they love at an early age. Some enjoy sports and want to be famous athletes. Some enjoy adventures and want to be astronauts or cowboys. Others, such as the members of the Madison Community Band, enjoy music and wish to share that love and enjoyment with others!
It was through this musical enthusiasm from a group of 15 musicians that the Madison County Community Band was created in 1993, allowing the opportunity for members of the community to continue to play in a band setting. One such founding member, Conductor Dave Ryan, became interested in music at an early age with the help of his grandfather, who took Ryan along to his own rehearsals and concerts for the band in which he performed. In later years, Ryan joined the high school band at Lee High in Huntsville, AL, studying composition, theory, and conducting along the way. Though he is not a professional conductor, he says “Music is my passion!,” a feeling that is no doubt shared by the band members and evident in their performances and work in their community.
The mission of the band is to encourage the growth of music in and around the community through the heritage of the Community band in American music history. They have grown from 15 members at inception to 63 members, averaging 45 at weekly rehearsals. Members include middle school aged to middle aged to retired, and vocations include students, engineers, teachers, parents, programmers, and everything in between, with 5 military veterans accounted for as well.
As a side note of particular interest to us, the band held a patriotic concert in 2009 which included an Abraham Lincoln reenactor from our stomping ground of Nashville, TN. The Band took Mr. Lincoln to two local elementary schools where Mr. Lincoln spoke of his life and Presidency with 500 students. What a cool experience and an interesting link to our community here in Tennessee!
At performances, the band most enjoys playing Christmas and upper-level symphonic music the best. Ryan selects the music based on venue and audience, usually imaging what he would want to hear were he sitting in the audience himself. The band performs throughout the Tennessee Valley and northern Alabama, and their repertoire includes: Traditional Marches, Patriotic Music, American and Classical Favorites, Broadway, TV and Film, Big Band, and Christmas music. The Madison Community Band has played at library openings, new schools, businesses, as well as local charity events, conferences, dedications, and for music days at local preschools to entertain the kids.
Arts Education is a big thing for the Madison Community Band, and musical promotion for school-age children is one of the most important philanthropic activities they take part in, with several different methods of reaching the school-age community. One effort includes taking percussion instruments to preschools, teaching the basics, and then letting the children have a go at playing them. There is no doubt that these children love making some noise!
The band’s efforts in schools do not stop there. They have sponsored a Tri-M Honor Society chapter at a local high school where 61 band and choral students were inducted. These students have benefited from the funding, materials, and mentors supplied by Madison Community Band. For three years (2000, ’01, and ’09), they have also brought in professional musicians to teach clinics at local schools, focusing on teaching the history of concert bands and instruments to students.
Finally, in 2004, the band began a scholarship program to provide a monetary award to a deserving junior or senior student. The purpose of this scholarship is to encourage students to get out of the classroom and become active in their communities to become part of a more “diverse music environment.” It is one more way that the band fulfills their mission to directly promote concert band music, the arts, and community involvement of its youngest members.
A love of anything can begin early, and the Madison Community Band is dedicated to promoting music in their community to continue the growth of Art Education and awareness. They have done an excellent job providing opportunities for musical growth at any age. We applaud their efforts, and are proud to present them as our Community Band Spotlight for February!
Special Thanks to Dave Ryan for being an excellent interview contact
If you’d like to learn more about the Madison Community Band, please visit their website at http://www.m-c-b.org/
Jack’s Musings / Contributed by Jack Kopstein
Jazz was still in its embryonic stage in the first decade of the 20th century. Some of the first jazz icons, trumpeter Louis Armstrong and cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, were born in 1901 and 1903, respectively. Both began their careers in marching bands .
They were most likely exposed to ragtime music, a blending of blues, John Phillip Sousa-like marches, and a complex centuries-old dance called the quadrille. Pianist Jelly Roll Morton helped bring the style into the limelight by performing virtuosic and partly improvised rags in brothels in New Orleans.
Soon ragtime music by Morton, Scott Joplin, and others was circulated across the country by sheet music publishers such as W.C. Handy, who was also a composer and bandleader. However, around this period, sheet music began to lose its superiority in the spread of musical culture with the development of piano rolls and the phonograph record.
- Handy also helped the saxophone, which had been created as a military marching band instrument, shed its novelty status by including it in his dance band arrangements. The saxophone presented a instrument which had within its family 8 timbre of instruments
- Sopranino saxophone
- Soprano saxophone
- Alto saxophone
- Tenor saxophone
- Baritone saxophone
- Bass saxophone
- Contrabass saxophone
- Subcontrabass saxophone (rare)
The C Melody Sax also was an instrument which was useful.
Trumpeter Buddy Bolden began arranging blues and ragtime music for brass instruments, paving the way for early jazz. Arrangements helped shift the music away from a hit and miss style to a definite progression of both chords and melody/harmony. He was one of the first prominent improvisers, although there are no surviving recordings of his playing. In 1907, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and he spent the rest of his life off of the stage, and in a mental institution.
In a matter of years, jazz began to capture the nation’s attention. Improvisation became a featured element of the music, and dance halls began to fill with audiences eager to hear the hot new music.
The early use of the clarinet by New Orleans musicians introduced a unique sound to the early jazz band. The tonality of the instrument lent itself to early jazz because of its ability to play in three distinctive registers. Clarinet players soon learned as well that they could easily double on the saxophone and this added a new dimension to the jazz band. The trombone, which certainly was a welcome addition, could play in a variety of styles and was especially useful in harmony especially in combination of threes which came later. Another instrument that was employed very often in the early combos was the tuba which added depth to the arrangements. Percussion was very much a part of the very early bands. The development of the drum set revolutionized jazz percussion and gave the bands increased flexibility and a diversity which made them great vehicles for not only performance but dancing.
During the decade between 1910 and 1920, the seeds of jazz began to take root. New Orleans, the vibrant and chromatic port city in which ragtime was based, was home to a number of budding musicians and a new style.
In 1913, Louis Armstrong was sent to live in a juvenile delinquency home, and there he learned to play the cornet. Just five years later, band leader Kid Ory lost his star cornet player, Joe “King” Oliver, to more lucrative pursuits in Chicago. Ory hired Armstrong, and helped give rise to a talent that would change the course of music.
Thanks to the large population of former slaves in New Orleans at the time, the blues was on the minds of many of the city’s musicians. Composers such as W.C. Handy helped make the sound famous, but not before restructuring and refining it. It was around this time that the blues adopted its regular 12-bar form, and when brass bands played the blues to reviling dancers. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” became a popular hit, and Louis Armstrong later performed one of its best-known renditions. The St. Louis march became a staple of both the jazz band and the military bands of the period.
Along with a standardized blues form, this decade saw the prominence of stride piano. Its rhythmic concept began with ragtime, and soon spread around the country. Most famously, thanks to Scott Joplin and James P. Johnson, the stride style had taken a firm hold in New York City, where during the Harlem Renaissance of the following decade it led to further developments in jazz.
The first jazz recording ever was made in 1917. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, led by cornetist Nick LaRocca, recorded “Livery Stable Blues.” The music is not thought to be the most authentic or the best executed jazz of the time, but it became a hit and helped light the fuse that led to the jazz craze.
Freddy Keppard, a trumpet player who was regarded as one of the best musicians of his day, was given the opportunity to record in 1915. He declined the offer because he was afraid that if a recording of his playing circulated, musicians might steal his style.
As can be determined from this brief survey of early jazz players and instrumentalists, the military band had a impact on jazz because of the similarity of the instrumentation. In this case we can draw a very simple parallel with the following chart of military or concert bands. The chart was drawn from photographs of the era from various sources.
|Military band||Usual Numerical numbers||Jazz band||Usual Numerical performers|
|Employed much later by Paul Whiteman||1 flute
oboe as required
|Clarinets||6-12 (includes bass clarinet)||Clarinet||1
|Alto Sax||2||1||Double clarinet|
|Tenor sax||1||1||Double clarinet|
|Baritone Sax||1||1||Double bass clarinet|
|Trumpets/Cornets||3-6||3 early bands 1||3 Divided parts|
early bands 1
|3 When divided parts|
|Tuba||1-3||1||Used often in small groups|
|Percussion||1-4||1||Drum set made 1 player only required|
|String Bass||1 often employed||1||Essential|
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