Legitimate quirks of instrumentation: The inclusion of woodwinds in brass bands

Malvern Town Military Band, approx. 1900. (Source: IBEW)


Cornets, Flugel Horns, Tenor Horns, Baritones, Euphoniums, Trombones, Tubas and Percussion.  This standard of instrumentation for a brass band has been in place for a good number of years.  Yet before this standard was settled upon, there was an amount of time where the range of instruments was less distinguishable, or available.  The brass band as we know it today is the result of years of evolution with the result being a largely homogenous sound across the ranges.  Composers and arrangers also moved with the time and we can see this in the sheet music.

This post will touch on one of the quirks of instrumentation in earlier brass bands, the use of woodwinds such as Clarinets and Saxophones, and even the odd Piccolo.  For the best part of forty years, some Australian brass bands included woodwind musicians amongst their personnel and allowances were made at some competitions, including the famous South Street.  This did not mean that there was widespread usage or acceptance of woodwinds in the brass bands.  However, there is evidence that some bands used them right up into the 1920s.

Tied into this is the naming of bands.  With the inclusion of woodwinds, some bands were still nominally called brass bands, but others were more inventive with names.  Some bands were sitting on the border of being brass or military in their instrumentation, as we can see with the photo of the Malvern Town Military Band above.

Nowadays the distinction between brass, military and symphonic bands (concert bands) is much clearer cut.  The earlier times was when the boundaries were pushed.

Names and Instrumentation:

A brass band usually means that it is wholly comprised of brass instruments, and then when it included Clarinets, Saxophones and Piccolos it was still called a brass band.  Such was the discrepancy in the names of early bands, a discrepancy that would cause confusion in the minds of modern musicians – today, names of bands generally indicate what kind of instrumentation they include.

The inclusion of Clarinets in a brass band was one of those holdovers from English brass bands.  Arnold Myers (2000), writing in a chapter titled Instruments and Instrumentation of British Brass Bands, explains that,

Often clarinets were used in what were otherwise all-brass groups, a usage which continued throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, though not in major contests from the 1870s.  The presence of clarinets did not alter the essential nature of the brass band: they replaced one or more Bb cornets, or were used to provide brightness in the upper register in the role usually played by the soprano cornet. (p. 156)

In Australia, trends of instrumentation in brass bands tended to start and end much later than in the UK.  We know that brass bands held a prominent part in many towns, communities and industries across Australia.  We also know that various military bands, bands comprised of a more substantial variety of woodwind instruments, brass and percussion, had been a part of musical life since the early days of the colony.  Although, at times, they needed special explanation, as shown in an article published in the Geelong Advertiser in 1911 (Blakiston, 1911).  Mason (2013) in his thesis, tells us that “military bands provided music military and state functions, as well as performing for the general public and servicing as a source of musicians for cities’ orchestras and other ensembles.” (p. 81).  In their own way, the military bands have their own important history.  The early military bands served as a precursor to the many Defence Force Bands, school concert bands, community concert bands and symphonic bands that fill the musical landscape today (Mason, 2013).

Aside from the number of woodwinds, some commentators attempted to call out the brass bands which included clarinets for trying to be something they were not.  One interesting article was published in the Bairnsdale (Vic.) based Every Week newspaper in May 1918.  Titled “Clarinets in the Brass Band”, the writer used the premise that just because some brass bands included Clarinets (or other woodwinds) in their instrumentation, did not automatically make them a military band – and that they should not attempt to play military band music or arrangements.

Bands which have few clarionets or even bands which have a goodly number of clarionets, but no other reed instruments, make a big mistake when they consider themselves “military bands” and aim to play military band arrangements.  They are really brass bands plus clarionets – a thing very far removed from a military band.(“CLARINETS IN THE BRASS BAND.,” 1918)

Excusing the seemingly blunt language, the writer was correct.  Brass bands that included Clarinets and Saxophones in their line-up were still nominally brass bands, they were not military bands.  Still, the naming of bands is interesting in itself.  Below is a picture of the North Hobart Concert Band taken in 1917.  We can see in the picture that four of the members have Clarinets and one member a Soprano Saxophone.  They also include all of the instruments that comprise a brass band.  If we were to apply the modern name and meaning of a concert band, we would assume it to have a full section of woodwinds.  However, in these early days, this was not the case.  On a side note, we can see that the Bandmaster is one of the members holding a Clarinet.  The Bandmaster in this photo, a Mr. A. W. Caddie, was appointed Bandmaster of the North Hobart Concert Band in 1916 after leading the Zeehan Military Band for a number of years (“NORTH HOBART BAND.,” 1916).  Mr. Caddie was a Clarionetist of some renown and won the Clarionet section at the Royal South Street brass solo competitions in 1912 (Trombone, 1912).

North Hobart Concert Band, 1917 (Source: IBEW)

Through this short discussion on instrumentation and naming, it is established that Clarinets and Saxophones existed in brass bands for a number of years and were accepted as such.  It was up to the music publishers to cater for them as well.

Sheet music:

The other side of including limited woodwinds in brass bands is of course the sheet music.  Brass bands that included limited woodwinds may not have had the instrumentation to play arrangements of military music, but they were able to play brass band music with added Clarinet parts – of which the writer of the article in Every Week pointed out (“CLARINETS IN THE BRASS BAND.,” 1918).  Given that the instruments in brass bands are predominantly keyed in Bb or Eb, it was easy enough to create parts for Clarinets and Saxophones as well.  Piccolos used in bands in those days were mostly keyed in Db or Eb which was different.  Parts were included with some editions of music, but this was not always the case.  It is easier to make a comparison between Clarinet and Cornet parts.

Below are two parts of the 1904 march “South Street” by Hall King (edited by T. E. Bulch).  Here we can see clearly that the Clarinet part neatly doubles the Solo Cornet, in parts up the octave (King, 1904a, 1904b).  The range of the Clarinet obviously makes this easy to do, and musically this would make sense. These Clarinet parts would be taken up by an Eb Soprano Cornet in todays brass bands.

(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)
(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)

Most of the brass band music that was printed in these times originated from large publishing houses in the form of journals, the parts above being published by Suttons Proprietary Limited.  Here we see that this particular journal of brass band music included parts for Reeds, so obviously Clarinets, and possibly Saxophones, were catered for.  Suttons was not the only Australian music publishing company that included parts for Clarinets in their journals of music.  The two march cards below of the marches “Artillery” by Alex Lithgow and “Newtown” by T. E. Bulch were published by Allans & Co. (Bulch, 1901; Lithgow, n.d.).

(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)
(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)

Obviously, the publishing companies found there was a market for Clarinet, Saxophone and Piccolo parts and composers would have been encouraged to include these parts in their compositions – although, given the similarities in keys, maybe this was up to arrangers.  After having some discussion with Dr. Richard Mason on this topic, extra money for publishers and composers to produce Clarinet parts was assumed (Mason, 2020).  Possibly the real reasons cannot be found, however, the production of specific music to cater for extra instruments added some legitimacy to woodwinds being included in brass bands.

Brass bands with woodwinds:

Wunghu Brass Band, 1906 (Source: IBEW)

As mentioned in the opening of this post, Clarinets and other woodwinds were part of brass bands in Australia for around forty years.  We can find some evidence of this from early newspaper articles.  It is claimed that Saxophones were added to brass bands in Australia as early as 1890, although, as mentioned in the linked article, this was a matter of conjecture (“The Saxophone,” 1934).  Other bands were more forthcoming over what they had in their band.  In August 1893, an article regarding the early history of the Dandenong Brass Band was published in the South Bourke and Mornington Journal. It seems that when the Dandenong Brass Band was formed in 1885, it comprised of ten members; three Cornets, two Piccolos, two Tenors, one Baritone and one Clarionet (using this unique spelling) (“DANDENONG BRASS BAND.,” 1893).  Likewise, in 1899, a public meeting was held in Tallangatta with the aim of (re)forming a brass band.  Several participants in the meeting spoke in support, one of them was a Mr A. J. Fortescue,

…speaking as a member, observed that the old band had died through want of proper management and lack of public interest.  If formed on proper lines, with a good committee, he thought a band would prosper there.  There were sufficient of the old brass instruments on hand for a start, but there would be some repairs needed.  There would be wanted a piccolo and two drums.  In reply to a question from the chairman, he stated that with a sum of £20 they could make a fairly good start. (“BRASS BAND FOR TALLANGATTA.,” 1899)

In January 1904 the Linton Brass Band held their annual general meeting, and they were another brass band that boasted a piccolo in their instrumentation.

The band has a stock consisting of one big drum, one side drum, three B flat cornets, two B flat Euphoniums, one E flat bass, one E flat piccolo. (“LINTON BRASS BAND,” 1904)

These were brass bands in their early years.  Yet twenty years later, as can be seen in the list of musicians in the Wagga Wagga Concert Band (below), a Clarinet was part of the ensemble (“WAGGA CONCERT BAND.,” 1921).  And in 1926 the Gnowangerup District Brass Band from Western Australia was proud to announce that they had added a new Clarionet to the band (“Gnowangerup District Brass Band.,” 1926).

Young Witness, 03/03/1921, pg. 2

There are of course numerous other examples of woodwind instruments appearing in early brass bands of which the above mentioned are a small number of instances.


When in competition, the woodwinds of brass bands were mostly treated the same as any other brass instrument, and they also received the same criticism as well.  There are some examples of woodwinds being mentioned in competition, although this was mainly related to Clarinets and Saxophones.  Even the famous Royal South Street competitions had sections for Clarinets and at times Saxophones over the course of a decade.

The year is 1899 and in September, Northcott’s Bendigo City Brass Band, conducted by Mr. O. Flight, had travelled to Echuca to take part in a small regional competition adjudicated by the famous Mr. E. Code.  The article here details the adjudication of their program and at one point both the Clarinet and Piccolo were mentioned:

Largo – Clarionet and cornets not in tune ; cornet has good taste ; accompaniments too loud ; cornet not clean at bar 17 ; piccolo a little out of tune at bars 18 and 19 ; bass too loud at bar 20. (“NORTHCOTT’S BENDIGO CITY BRASS BAND.,” 1899)

Regarding South Street, they added another layer of legitimacy by having sections specifically for woodwinds included in the brass solo competitions.  As can be seen in the lists of entries (which can be acccessed from the links), the Clarinet & Saxophone sections attracted musicians from all over Australia.  Below is a list of competitions held over ten years (with some gaps), with the woodwind instruments that were included each year:

(Royal South Street Society, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1911, 1914, 1915, 1916)

Unfortunately, there are some gaps in the list due to lack of data however, it is known that a brass solo competition was held in 1912 which included a Clarionet section (Trombone, 1912).

As well as the records from Royal South Street, we also have articles in newspapers that provide the adjudication of Clarinettists.  This article published in the Ballarat Star (below) in October 1915 is a prime example of an adjudication.  The adjudicator of this section was the famous Albert Wade (“SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS.,” 1915).

Ballarat Star, 22/10/1915, pg. 6

What of the Saxophonists?  It is seen in the Royal South Street lists that Saxophones were only able to compete in sections for four years.  However, other opportunities for them to integrate with bands were limited to military bands.  That does not mean they were completely forgotten.  In a forward thinking move, Saxophones were provided their own section in a “novelty” event at the Interstate Band Contest in Perth, February 1931 (“SAXOPHONE COMPETITION,” 1931).  The reasoning was understandable at the time.

Hitherto the saxophone has not been considered to be a true brass band instrument, and therefore ineligible for registration under the W.A. Band Association contest rules.  The contest committee, however, obtained permission from the association to include the competition in its program, and fourteen entries have been received.  There are a number of capable executants among the entrants, and as the choice of the solo is left to the competitor, a varied range of saxophone music may be reasonably anticipated. (“SAXOPHONE COMPETITION,” 1931)

The recognition by competition societies that woodwinds had a place in their own sections was well-meaning and forward thinking.  It goes to show that while they were brass band centric, all instruments of the brass band were included, even if they were not strictly brass.


Brisbane Concert Band, 1910 (Source: IBEW)

The thought of woodwinds in brass bands would probably raise the eyebrows of many brass band purists. Yet, like many other stories of the brass band world, it is one that is worth exploring, if only for the novelty.  One wonders how these early brass bands would have sounded with limited woodwinds playing similar parts.  The history and sheet music tell us that woodwinds existed in brass bands.  As do some of the pictures, like the Brisbane Concert Band above.


Blakiston, C. (1911, 22 April). A MILITARY BAND : How it is made up. Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article149205289

BRASS BAND FOR TALLANGATTA. (1899, 18 February). Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918), p. 9. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article199465362

Bulch, T. E. (1901). “Newtown” (2nd Clarionet Bb) : (Dedicated to Thos. Mellor Esq. Bandmaster). [March Card]. Melbourne, Victoria: Allans & Co.

CLARINETS IN THE BRASS BAND. (1918, 09 May). Every Week (Bairnsdale, Vic. : 1914 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153439388

Colouhoun, J. (1900). Malvern Town Military Band. The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm

DANDENONG BRASS BAND. (1893, 02 August). South Bourke and Mornington Journal (Richmond, Vic. : 1877 – 1920; 1926 – 1927), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70015776

Gnowangerup District Brass Band. (1926, 10 July). Gnowangerup Star and Tambellup-Ongerup Gazette (WA : 1915 – 1944), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article158909246

King, H. (1904). “South Street” (1st Clarionet). [March Card]. Melbourne-Ballarat-Bendigo-Geelong: Suttons Proprietary Limited.

King, H. (1904). “South Street” (Solo Cornet). [March Card]. Melbourne-Ballarat-Bendigo-Geelong: Suttons Proprietary Limited.

LINTON BRASS BAND. (1904, 13 January). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article210140838

Lithgow, A. F. (n.d.). “Artillery” (2nd Clarionet). [March Card]. Melbourne, Victoria: Allans & Co.

Mason, R. W. (2013). The clarinet and its protagonists in the Australian New Music milieu from 1972 to 2007. (Doctor of Philosophy Thesis). Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, Faculty of VCA & MCM, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/11343/38294 Available from Minerva Access (38294)

Mason, R. W. (2020, 14 June) Phone call with Dr Richard Mason regarding the use of Clarinets in brass bands/Interviewer: J. D. de Korte.

Myers, A. (2000). Instruments and Instrumentation of British Brass Bands. In T. Herbert (Ed.), The British brass band : a musical and social history (pp. 155-186). Oxford: Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press.

NORTH HOBART BAND : New Bandmaster Welcomed. (1916, 05 September). Daily Post (Hobart, Tas. : 1908 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191143234

North Hobart Concert Band. (1917). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm

NORTHCOTT’S BENDIGO CITY BRASS BAND : Conductor – Mr O. Flight. (1899, 22 September). Riverine Herald (Echuca, Vic. : Moama, NSW : 1869 – 1954; 1998 – 2002), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115017023

Royal South Street Society. (1906, 30 October). 1906-10-30 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1906-10-30-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1907, 22 October). 1907-10-22 Brass Section. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1907-10-22-brass-section

Royal South Street Society. (1908, 20 October). 1908-10-20 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1908-10-20-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1910, 18 October). 1910-10-18 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1910-10-18-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1911, 24 October). 1911-10-24 Brass Band Solos. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1911-10-24-brass-band-solos

Royal South Street Society. (1914, 20 October). 1914-10-20 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1914-10-20-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1915, 21 October). 1915-10-21 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1915-10-21-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1916, 30 October). 1916-10-30 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1916-10-30-brass-solo-contests

The Saxophone : Who Brought it to Australia. (1934, 06 January). Voice (Hobart, Tas. : 1931 – 1953), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218832762

SAXOPHONE COMPETITION : Interstate Band Contest. (1931, 02 January). Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83492508

SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS : Brass Section Continued : Mr A. Wade, Adjudicator : Clarionet Solo. (1915, 22 October). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article154562484

Trombone. (1912, 29 October). BANDS AND BANDSMEN. Daily Post (Hobart, Tas. : 1908 – 1918), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189103747

WAGGA CONCERT BAND. (1921, 03 March). Young Witness (NSW : 1915 – 1923), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article113606153

Wunghnu Brass Band. (1906). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm


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