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

19000000_Malvern-Tradesmen-Military-Band_phot11448
Malvern Town Military Band, approx. 1900. (Source: IBEW)

Introduction:

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.  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).

19170000_North-Hobart-Concert-Band_phot3458
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 several 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.

19040000_Suttons_South-Street-CL1
(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)
19040000_Suttons_South-Street-SoloC
(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 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.).

00000000_Allans_Artillery_2CL
(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)
19010000_Allans_Newtown_2CL
(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:

19060000_Wunghnu-Brass-Band_phot14255
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).

19210303_Young-Witness_Wagga-CB_Clarionet
Young Witness, 03/03/1921, p. 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.

Competitions:

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).

19151022_Ballarat-Star_Wade-Clarionet
Ballarat Star, 22/10/1915, p. 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.  While they were brass band centric, all instruments of the brass band were included, even if they were not strictly brass.

Conclusion:

19100000_Brisbane-Concert-Band_phot8024
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.

References:

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

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

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

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

Colouhoun, J. (1900). Malvern Town Military Band [Photograph]. [phot11448]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

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

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

King, H. (1904a). “South Street” (1st Clarionet). [March Card]. Suttons Proprietary Limited. 

King, H. (1904b). “South Street” (Solo Cornet). [March Card]. Suttons Proprietary Limited. 

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

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

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

Mason, R. W. (2020, 14 June). Phone call with Dr Richard Mason regarding the use of Clarinets in brass bands [Interview]. 

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

NORTHCOTT’S BENDIGO CITY BRASS BAND : Conductor – Mr O. Flight. (1899, 22 September). Riverine Herald (Echuca, Vic. : Moama, NSW : 1869 – 1954; 1998 – 2002),2. 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 26 August 2019 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 11 June 2020 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 11 June 2020 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 20 July 2019 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 11 June 2020 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 11 June 2020 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 11 June 2020 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 11 June 2020 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), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218832762

SAXOPHONE COMPETITION : Interstate Band Contest. (1931, 02 January). Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 4. 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), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article154562484

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

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

Wunghnu Brass Band. (1906). [Photograph]. [phot14255]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Victorian State school brass bands: their legacy lives on

19440000_phot16017_Collingwood-Tech-School
Collingwood Technical School Band, 1944 (Source: IBEW)

Introduction:

The formation of bands in State schools, involving part-reading and real ensemble as distinct from a squad of youngsters all playing the single melodic line, affords the boys – and would also afford the girls – an excellent opportunity for a musical education.  As they advance in their studies the boys are in all probability invited to practise with the senior bands in their districts.  They become bandsmen; they find good occupation in their leisure, their minds are disciplined, and everyone knows that the good bandsman is never a bad citizen.

(“THE EDITOR’S BATON,” 1929, p. 1)

…as stated by the Editor of The Australasian Band and Orchestra News in 1929.  The Editor was undoubtedly writing from his point in time. However, the story of Victorian State school bands starts well-before this time and continued on to form a much greater legacy.  To understand this story will put the Editor’s words into context.  The formation of school brass bands was as much about education as it was about banding and music.

Like their community band counterparts, some Victorian school bands developed remarkable reputations and were involved in occasional controversy.  We can see this not only through the newspaper articles of the day but also writings in books from eminent educationalists.  Perhaps we can also view their formation as ‘being in the right place and the right time’ as there was a bit of good-luck that led to their widespread creation.  Who knows what might have happened if all the pieces of the puzzle had not fallen in place together?

This post will present a brief history of the Victorian State school brass bands as a whole, rather than telling the history of each individual band.  The history will show how some of the greatest brass band personalities of the day were involved in training the young and what banding did for some schools. It can also be shown how the reputation of Victorian school bands spread beyond the State and there are even some interesting stories of school brass bands in other states.  It is important we recognize the contribution of school brass bands within the fabric of brass banding in this country.

19310000_Beechworth_School-Brass
Beechworth School Band, 1931 (Source: IBEW)

The early efforts:

 History can be fickle and to try to pin down a definitive start date of school brass bands is difficult, if not impossible.  It must be recognized that communication was somewhat difficult in the early 20thCentury across Victoria and news of the efforts of one town might not get heard of in another town.  This being said, the schools were not the first institutions to start younger brass bands.  Two Orphanages, St Augustine’s in Geelong and St Vincent de Paul in South Melbourne both started brass bands.  These brass bands were started in the middle to late 1800s and developed fine reputations as well as achieving ongoing competition success – the St Augustine’s Band was already asking for support for a new set of instruments in 1898 (“ST. AUGUSTINE’S ORPHANAGE BAND.,” 1898).  In 1918 a different kind of boys band was started in Richmond and for its short existence became a local, if not very large institution (“Richmond Boys’ Brass Band,” 1918).

The first instances of school brass bands being started come from country areas.  In 1913, a meeting was held in the town of Berringa which is south of Ballarat with the aim of forming a school brass band, which they did using the instruments from the defunct Berringa Brass Band (“BERRINGA.,” 1914; “BERRINGA,” 1913).  A year later another school brass band was started in Bairnsdale in East Gippsland where they made the claim of being the first in Australia (“State School Band.,” 1914).  These were not exactly auspicious starts to school brass bands in Victoria (or Australia) and it wasn’t until the mid-1920’s when a true school brass band movement was started.

The Gillies Bequest:

 In 1925, a bequest to the value of £10,000 was made to the Education Department of Victoria from the estate of the late William Gillies (Hansen, 1932).  This amount of money was to be dedicated to achieving three purposes:

The encouragement of instrumental music in schools, leading, it was hoped, to the increase of village bands and family orchestras.

The encouragement of the art of reading aloud – with special emphasis on reading aloud in the family circle.

The encouragement of nature study, again with the object of making home life, especially in the country, more attractive.

(Hansen, 1932, p. 79; “MUSIC AND READING ALOUD.,” 1925)

The Gillies Bequest, as a perpetual fund, was gratefully received by the Education Department and a plan to implement the will was undertaken with teaching representatives (“MUSIC AND READING.,” 1925).

The bands form up:

19260821_Argus_First-State-School-Band
Argus, 21/08/1926, p. 29

In terms of providing money for instrumental music, the interest arising from the Gillies Bequest was invaluable at the time (and in subsequent years).  It is from this time that the formation of school brass bands (drum & fife bands and school “orchestras”) gathers pace.  A picture of the newly formed Northcote Central State School band appeared in The Argus newspaper in August 1926 – and here we see one of these historical discrepancies as it probably was not the first school band (“FIRST STATE SCHOOL BAND AT PRACTICE.,” 1926).  In 1928 there is even more activity with the formation of the very famous Hyde Street school band, the West Preston School Band and discussions are held regarding the formation of a band for the Prahran Technical School (Hyde Street Youth Band, 2015; “Junior Brass Band for Prahran.,” 1928; “WEST PRESTON SCHOOL BAND.,” 1928).  Unfortunately, it is unclear just how many bands are formed during this initial time.

The formation of school brass bands drew some interest from the wider band movement hence the editorial in The Australasian Band and Orchestra News in 1929.  It is easy to see where the Editor is coming from; he writes as an observer and passionate advocate for brass bands and training the young.  However, the language is opinionated and somewhat inflammatory and, in some cases, he misrepresents the facts.  Part of the opening paragraph is a perfect example:

Signs have not been wanting that the promulgation of the brass bands movement in the State schools of New South Wales, Victoria, and elsewhere in Australia is rather resented by some of the headmasters and passively regarded by many of the others.  Various complaints have come from certain localities in which suggestions for State schools bands, made in zealous good faith by bandmasters willing to do the lion’s share of the work, have been coldly shouldered off by the men who should have been first to welcome them.

(“THE EDITOR’S BATON,” 1929, p. 1)

Probably not the best idea to insult school headmasters if you want them to build band programs in their schools. The Editor goes on in his editorial to wax lyrical about the problems of headmasters – this takes up much of the first page (“THE EDITOR’S BATON,” 1929).  In fact, much of the article is about criticizing the educational ideas and conduct of headmasters, but his concerns about schools finding bandmasters are misplaced. For example, the first bandmaster of the Northcote Central School brass band and the Hyde Street band is none other than Frank “Massa” Johnson, the famous band conductor who was in charge of many other famous bands in Melbourne. (Rasmussen, 2005).  The first conductor of the West Preston school band is the bandmaster of the local Preston band (“WEST PRESTON SCHOOL BAND.,” 1928).  So not only did the school bands form, they were run by the best bandmasters in the business!

The school bands come into their own:

Horsham Times, 10/10/1930, p. 2

In the next decades, the number and reputation of the school bands expanded, and the first competitions were undertaken.  In 1930, the very first competition was held between State school bands in the Exhibition Buildings which involved bands from “Albert Park, Ascot Vale West, Armadale, Coburg East, Coburg West, Footscray, Northcote, Preston West, Princes Hill, and Wonthaggi” (“BAND MUSIC IN SCHOOLS.,” 1930).  The contest was attended by the Minister for Education and Director of Education, Mr M. P. H.ansen (“BAND MUSIC IN SCHOOLS.,” 1930).  In another boost to the status of the school brass bands, the adjudicator at the next South Street Eisteddfod was a very famous bandsman from England, a Dr Cyril Jenkins who was visiting Australia at the time and commented on the quality of the school bands (“JUDGE PRAISES SCHOOL BRASS BAND.,” 1930; see also “NOTED MUSICIAN.,” 1931).

In 1932 a book was published by the then Director of Education, Mr M. P. Hansen titled Thoughts that Breathe.  In this wide-ranging and progressive book (for its time), Mr. Hansen covers all manner of educational theory including advocating for more clubs and associations in schools, of which he devotes a whole chapter to this subject (Hansen, 1932).  More importantly, Mr. Hansen comes across as a strong and measured advocate for school music programs and he details, as a result of the Gillies Bequest, just how far Victorian ensemble programs have grown.  By 1932 in Victorian schools there are, “31 brass bands, 9 orchestras, 13 fife bands and 23 violin classes” (Hansen, 1932, p. 79).  This is quite remarkable growth. By 1937 the number of school brass bands has apparently risen to 50 in Victoria and 20 in New South Wales (“BANDS IN VICTORIA,” 1937).

19360523_AdvertiserSA_Bands-Adelaide
The Advertiser, 23/05/1936, p. 12

The reputation of school bands is also growing during this time and in 1936 the Princes Hill school band goes on a tour to Adelaide (“PRINCES HILL STATE SCHOOL.,” 1936).  The touring band is greeted with much interest and the bandmaster of Princes Hill was invited to speak on the benefits of forming school brass bands, which, Adelaide apparently didn’t have at the time (“SCHOOL BANDS IN ADELAIDE,” 1936).  Reputations are also growing through competition success.  The Hyde Street school band in particular is noted for a runs of multiple competition successes from 1931 – 1966 (“AROUND THE SCHOOLS: THE ARGUS JUNIOR,” 1947; Hyde Street Youth Band, 2015).  The school brass bands had their own association running competitions – the Victorian State Schools Band Association and competitions specific sections for school bands were run at the South Street Eisteddfod in Ballarat (Royal South Street Society, 2017).  In one instance, a competition was run at the Zoo (“SCHOOL BAND CONTEST,” 1939).

School brass band competitions, like those in the senior band world, were not always without controversy and in a noted competition in 1950 a protest was registered by the Hyde Street school band against the band from East Kew alleging that East Kew Victorian Bands’ League registered musicians in their group (“School to lose band award?,” 1950).  Obviously, there was this stigma, and the perception that school-age musicians who also played in VBL bands were of a higher standard.

The musicians of the state school bands progressed on their instruments and many of them joined community bands in their localities.  As detailed in an article from 1937,

The Department of Education is utilising a substantial portion of the income from this bequest for the promotion of school boy bands, and these are already becoming first-class recruiting grounds for senior bands.  Footscray City Band at present includes in its membership 22 former players of the Hyde-street (Footscray) school, which has been champion school band for several years past.  Recently a band has been formed at East Kew (the East Kew Junior Band) to enable boys from the East Kew school band to continue their musical activities after leaving school. It is composed almost wholly of boys from the school band.

(“BANDS IN VICTORIA,” 1937)

Unfortunately, in some areas, the local band ceased to operate, but this sometimes proved a benefit to local schools who were the beneficiaries of their instruments.  Such is the case in Cranbourne where in 1940 where the local band ceased to function and handed all of its instruments to the local school and scout group (“Cranbourne,” 1940).

Where were the girls?

When reading about the school bands in past years, the perception, especially in Victoria, is that the school brass bands were only for boys.  Certainly, there was no written rule stopping girls from joining but it must be assumed that educationally, it was not something that girls should do, or could possibly be interested in.  This was a situation that didn’t change for many years in Victoria. However, over the border in New South Wales, it was very different.  We see in an article in 1949 that the Balranald School Band not only had girls participating, but they were regarded as very good musicians too (“GIRLS and a BRASS BAND,” 1949).  This might be a rare example, but it shows the different attitudes on display at the time. The issue of gender and instruments is an interesting issue to explore – but might be for another post.

The bands in later years:

Things always change and in the world of school brass bands, this was no different.  We know that some school bands survived or evolved.  The Hyde Street school band evolved to become Hyde Street Youth Band and out of all the school bands, this one was the only band to survive as a brass band (Hyde Street Youth Band, 2015).  Other school music programs evolved to set up new ensembles such as concert bands which included woodwind instruments.  It must be assumed that some bands just ceased to exist, and the only memories are from photographs and old school records.  There were so many school bands in the 1930’s and 1940’s – it would be interesting to know what happened to some of them.

Conclusion:

The story and history of school bands is fascinating and could probably be better explored through the research of additional records.  This being said, the newspapers of the day did detail an amount of history and it’s quite fascinating to see what the bands achieved. Certainly, there were a foundation for senior bands in their local areas and local bandmasters were involved. They were a product of their time and their legacy won’t be forgotten.

19370000_Northcote_School
Northcote School Band, 1937 (Source: IBEW)

References:

AROUND THE SCHOOLS : THE ARGUS JUNIOR State School Band Champions. (1947, 23 September). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22509356

BAND MUSIC IN SCHOOLS: First Contest To-day. (1930, 17 May). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 27. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4087822

BANDS IN VICTORIA : High Musical Standard : Is Public Appreciating Lacking? (1937, 07 December). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205550598http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205550598

Beechworth School Brass Band. (1931). [Photograph]. [phot9055]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

BERRINGA : Boys’ Brass Band. (1914, 27 May). Ballarat Courier (Vic. : 1869 – 1880; 1914 – 1918), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article73303543

BERRINGA : School Brass Band. (1913, 05 May). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219185791

Collingwood Technical School Band. (1944). [Photograph]. [phot16017]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Cranbourne : Exit Cranboure’s Brass Band : State School and Scouts benefit from sale of instruments. (1940, 10 July). Dandenong Journal (Vic. : 1927 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article216062113

THE EDITOR’S BATON: Bringing up the boy to the band. (1929). The Australasian Band and Orchestra News, XXV(2), 1 & 3. 

FIRST STATE SCHOOL BAND AT PRACTICE. (1926, 21 August). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 29. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3803920

GIRLS and a BRASS BAND. (1949, 17 December). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22799163

Hansen, M. P. (1932). Thoughts that breathe. Robertson & Mullens. 

Hyde Street Youth Band. (2015). History : Where did we come from? Hyde Street Youth Band : Established 1928. Retrieved 08 April 2018 from https://hsyb.org.au/about/history-2/

JUDGE PRAISES SCHOOL BRASS BAND. (1930, 10 October). Horsham Times (Vic. : 1882 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article72645899

Junior Brass Band for Prahran. (1928, 27 June). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article202295373

MUSIC AND READING ALOUD : Object of Large Bequest. (1925, 01 June). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2122525

MUSIC AND READING : Bequest for Encouragement : Department’s Grateful Acceptance. (1925, 02 June). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 19. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2122677

Northcote School Band, Melbourne. (1937). [Photograph]. [phot9041]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

NOTED MUSICIAN : Views on Australian choirs : Dr. Cyril Jenkins’s Visit. (1931, 20 January). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16747310

PRINCES HILL STATE SCHOOL : Band’s Visit to Adelaide. (1936, 22 May). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204828552

Rasmussen, C. (2005). Johnston, Francis Charles (Massa) (1880-1953). In Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 12 October 2017, from https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/johnston-francis-charles-massa-13009

Richmond Boys’ Brass Band to Make Debut at Racecourse Carnival for Blind Soldiers—Amazing Growth of Notable Movement that will Bring Fame to This District. (1918, 12 January). Richmond Guardian (Vic. : 1917 – 1918), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93811136

Royal South Street Society. (2017). Results. Royal South Street Society (1891-2016). Retrieved 13 October 2017 from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au

SCHOOL BAND CONTEST. (1939, 29 August). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11234823

SCHOOL BANDS IN ADELAIDE : Brass Instruments Preferred. (1936, 23 May). Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35434199

School to lose band award? (1950, 25 August). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22911796

ST. AUGUSTINE’S ORPHANAGE BAND. (1898, 01 March). Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article150368016

State School Band. (1914, 26 May). Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle (Vic. : 1882 – 1918), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75096821

WEST PRESTON SCHOOL BAND. (1928, 16 May). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 22. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3928715

The politics of affiliation: Victorian Bands’ Association to the Victorian Bands’ League

19380000-19370000_VBL-Officials_pg50
Source: The Bandsman’s Year Book and Official Programme of the Australian Championship Band Contest. 1938, pg. 50

Introduction:

Although the history and reputation of Victorian banding lies partly with individual bands, the history of the associations that they formed shows Victorian banding in a different light.  This post is focused on a period from 1901 to 1933, where, during the development of the various associations and leagues lies a somewhat rancorous battle for the heart and soul of Victorian bands of which was covered in the newspapers of the day and laid out in detail.   

The focus of this post is the general history of the Victorian Bands’ Association (V.B.A.) from 1901-1933 and the official formation of the Victorian Bands’ League (V.B.L.) in 1931.  Tied into this is the history of various early geographical groupings of bands and the eventual move to form much larger associations.  However, with association came division and as will be shown the seeds of division started much earlier than 1931.  This is a tale of the Victorian band movment that is probably not well known to most Victorian bands people.  

My curiosity has been growing over time as I wondered why there were no records that existed prior to 1931.  I knew that the headquarters of the V.B.A. had been in Ballarat, yet whatever records that may have existed were not provided to the V.B.L.  When researching for this post the reasons became obvious – they were two entirely separate organisations that wanted little to do with each other.

The research for this article has been informed by involved searching through the Trove archive with the aim of building a chronology of articles and events.  With this searching has come some revelations as to the Victorian band movement in the 1900s. This history is important to the band community as it highlights what once was, and how the administrations operated.

1900 – 1920: The V.B.A. and other associations:

The first seeds of a State association were sown in 1901 when delegates from Geelong and Ballarat brass bands decide to form a “Ballarat and Geelong District Band Association” with the rules of the new association to be presented to a conference of bands at the next South Street competition (“BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1901).  Here we have an association that had been set up based on a small geography, but most importantly developed ties to the South Street competitions which became increasingly important to the band community (Royal South Street Society, 2016).  It should be noted that there was already a Geelong Band Association in existence, although this small association broke up after 1908 (“BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1908).  In 1907 it becomes obvious that the V.B.A. is expanding as they had a meeting in Bendigo where discussion took place about lobbying the council to let them use a reserve to hold a band competition with the aim of attracting bands from across Australia (“BANDS ASSOCIATION.,” 1907).  This is one of the earliest reports of the V.B.A. promoting competitions in regional areas.

Within other geographical regions, distinct band associations started around the same time although not all of them affiliated with the newly formed V.B.A. In the Melbourne area, a new association called the “Melbourne and Metropolitan Band Association” (M.M.B.A.) was formed in 1906 (or 1907) by twenty-five bands (“MELBOURNE AND METROPOLITAN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1907).  This new association formed their own rules and constitution with the encouragement of the V.B.A., of which a representative attended the meeting.  It is not until a meeting in 1908 that the M.M.B.A. discusses aligning with the V.B.A. and a committee of five is set up to investigate this (“MELBOURNE AND METROPOLITAN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1908).  In contrast, a new Gippsland Band Association (G.B.A.) started in 1908 and emphatically ruled out associating with the association in Ballarat (“GIPPSLAND BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1908).  It should be noted that while Gippsland bands did eventually join with State band associations, the G.B.A. was still going in 1947 and possibly longer (“Gippsland Bands’ Association,” 1947).

Despite the seemingly good running of the association there are some indications that some bands wanted the headquarters moved from Ballarat for various reasons.  In 1917, a letter was sent to the Bendigo Citizens’ Band by the Metropolitan Bands Association proposing a shift of the next meeting of the V.B.A. to Melbourne.  This letter was read out at a meeting of the Bendigo Citizens’ Band and the responses were detailed by the Bendigo Independent newspaper in an article.

Correspondence from the Metropolitan Band Association was read, requesting the bands’ support in having the meeting of the Victorian Band Association held in the metropolis instead of at Ballarat.  Several members spoke in favour of the Victorian Bands’ Association meeting being continued in Ballarat, as it was only another move to have everything of any importance held in the metropolis.  The secretary (Mr. E. K. Varcoe) in commenting on the matter, said it clearly showed that centralisation was at the back of the suggestion, and Melbourne desired everything in Melbourne with the exception of the mice plague… 

(“BENDIGO CITIZENS’ BAND.,” 1917)

Obviously, there were a few choice words used at this meeting (by 1917 standards).

The letter was countersigned by representatives of the Fitzroy, South Melbourne, Collingwood, Brunswick, Malvern and St Kilda brass bands and it was sent to all country bands affiliated with the V.B.A. at the time.  The Bendigo Citizens’ Band did end up sending a representative to a meeting in Melbourne.  Subsequently, in a vote on the matter at a later V.B.A. meeting, the motion to move the V.B.A. headquarters to Melbourne was defeated 23 to 6 (“BANDS’ ASSOCIATION.,” 1917). 

Warrnambool Standard, 22/11/1917. p. 3

1920 – 1929: Division – the first V.B.L.:  

If the V.B.A. felt that issues of division from the late 1910s had been placated, the early 1920s showed them otherwise.  The Melbourne and Metropolitan Band Association was still in existence and were running their own contests, within the oversight of the V.B.A.  In February 1920 they held a series of contests at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in conjunction with the R.S.S.I.L.A., Vic. Branch with entries received from 30 bands – one highlight was a challenge contest between the Hawthorn City Band and the Collingwood Citizens’ Band (“METROPOLITAN BAND CONTEST.,” 1920).

Over the next few years however, the V.B.A. found itself dealing with a rival Victorian band association, the Victorian Bands’ League which was formed by a grouping of disgruntled metropolitan bands and apparently some country bands.  At a meeting held on the 23rd of May 1921, the new chair of the (first) V.B.L., a Mr. H. G. Johnson stated that,

…one of the objects of the new league was the control of band contests, also the fostering of a better feeling among bands and bandsmen. 

(“VICTORIAN BAND LEAGUE.,” 1921)

…and further in this article we see some further reasoning as to why representatives of these bands had met.

Several speakers expressed dissatisfaction with the way in which the affairs of bands and band contests were at presented being controlled by the Victorian Bands’ Association in Ballarat.  Band matters generally could be better managed by having headquarters of the controlling body in Melbourne. 

(“VICTORIAN BAND LEAGUE.,” 1921)
Herald, 23/04/1921, p. 17

One of the main driving forces behind the new V.B.L. was an official of the M.M.B.A, Mr George S. Tucker.  Formerly associated with the Malvern Town Band and the St. Kilda City Brass Band under conductor Mr. F. C. Johnston, he mainly focused on administrative work (Quickstep, 1921).  A weekly column in the Herald newspaper from April 1921 penned by “Quickstep” provides an outline of his band career, but it is the opening paragraph that really introduces Mr. Tucker.

The foremost figure in the band world at present moment is George S. Tucker, the hon. secretary of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Band Association.  A firm and fearless official, a keen debater, and an acknowledged authority on contesting and administrative matters, he has held office for a record term.  Melbourne is recognized as a centre of advanced thought in regard to band politics, and the formation of a new controlling body to be knowns as the Victorian Band League is now receiving attention of the bands.  Mr Tucker has been entrusted with the organisation of this new venture. 

(Quickstep, 1921)

Perhaps the new league was a little overzealous in the way it announced itself.  It is all very well stating that a meeting had been attended by several bands, but it might have helped if the new V.B.L. had sought assurances from the bands themselves that they would be affiliating with the new body.  This was revealed at a meeting of the V.B.A. held in June 1921.  

A letter was received from the St. Kilda Band Association stating that at a meeting of delegates from several bands in Melbourne in May it was decided to form a new league, and it was opined that this would prove to be a very successful body.  It was stated that the Geelong and Coburg bands had agreed to join.

A delegate stated that as far as Geelong and Coburg bands were concerned both had notified their intention of sticking to the V.B.A.  The Malvern Band – which band had a delegate at the meeting – said that he was surprised to find himself elected to the league without authority.  They were also sticking to the V.B.A.

(“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1921)

As well as this, State associations were nominally affiliated with each other and almost as soon as the new league was announced in May, the Band Association of N.S.W. and the South Australian Band Association wrote to the V.B.A. expressing their continued affiliation and refusal to recognize the new V.B.L. (“NEW BAND AUTHORITY,” 1921).  Letters were also received from the Tasmanian Band Association and West Australian Band Association, although W.A.B.A. asked for further information and expressed an opinion that “there was no need for a second body” (“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1921).

Sunraysia Daily, 17/05/1921, p. 4

Nevertheless, the fledging V.B.L. was not to be put off and in early August they announced that they would be holding a massed bands event for a hospital charity at the Exhibition Oval involving 250 bandsmen (“MASSED BANDS PERFORMANCE.,” 1921).  Bands were given permission to march from Prince’s Bridge and the Collingwood Band was to march from Collingwood.  The massed band was conducted by Mr. F. C. Johnston who was titled as “the Victorian Band League conductor” (“MASSED BANDS PERFORMANCE.,” 1921).

Argus, 10/08/1921, p. 7

Early in 1922 we can see that the new V.B.L. is holding meetings at a favourite haunt in the form of a café located at the corner of Swanston Street & Queen’s Walk.  At a meeting in January, plans were put in place for another “massed bands display on February 12, in aid of the Homeopathic Hospital”. (“BANDSMEN’S GOSSIP,” 1922).  Furthermore, it also appears that some bands were reluctant to join the new League, probably because South Street regarded the V.B.A. as the governing body. This statement from the meeting is telling.

Collingwood Citizens’ Band is now affiliated and it is to be hoped that other “A” grade bands will follow. 

(“BANDSMEN’S GOSSIP,” 1922)

A meeting of the associations took place in June 1922 when a delegation from the V.B.L., including Mr. Tucker, travelled to Ballarat to meet with the V.B.A. to see if a workable solution to governing and/or amalgamation could be found.  The opening paragraph of an article published by the Ballarat Star newspaper provided some background, of which an excerpt is below.

The V.B.L. was originally the Metropolitan Band Association, but enlarged its title and scope in the hope of getting control of brass bands in Victoria.  Evidently this ambition has not been realised, as last night the V.B.L. came with a humble request for authority under the V.B.A. constitution to perform certain local functions while subject to the authority and endorsement of the V.B.A.

(“BAND CONTROL,” 1922)

It is clear in this long article that relations between the V.B.A. and the M.M.B.A. had not been as good as they could be with Mr. H. A. Farrell, President of the V.B.L. calling the bickering between the two associations, at times, “childish” (“BAND CONTROL,” 1922).  This article reported in detail the proceedings of this meeting, and for the sake of brevity, will not be fully covered in this post.  The discussion was amicable, but the differences were not fully resolved. The main issue was how to manage any confusion between the two associations regarding the running of contests and player registrations (“BAND CONTROL,” 1922).  The V.B.A. promised to take this request to a full meeting of the Executive where the answer came in August – the V.B.A. rejected the proposal of admitting the V.B.L. into some form of relationship (“BANDSMEN’S DIFFERENCES,” 1922).

The Herald, 23/08/1922, p. 6

Whatever relationship the two associations had, soured considerably in 1923 when the V.B.L. held a contest in South Melbourne over Easter.  Eight bands took part in this contest, these being; “South Richmond, South Melbourne, Nunawading, Preston, Moorabbin, Deep Rock, Caulfield District, and Socialists.” (“EASTER BAND CONTESTS,” 1923).  Action from the V.B.A. was swift and punitive in the form of disqualifications and fines.  Two bands, Preston Citizens’ Band and the Socialist Party Band were fined £5/5/ and “their bandmasters, conductors, and players be disqualified for three years…” (“CONTROL OF BANDS.,” 1923).  Additionally, Mr. James Scarff (Adjudicator) who was registered with the Malvern Tramways Band and Mr. Ivan Hutchinson (Official) of the Footscray Municipal Band were also fined “and disqualified from membership of any associated band for three years…” (“CONTROL OF BANDS.,” 1923).

This action by the V.B.A. obviously did not sit well with the V.B.L. or any of the bands that participated in this contest and a few days later Mr. Henry Hellinger, Bandmaster and Conductor of the Preston Citizens’ Band wrote a scathing letter to the Herald newspaper regarding this punitive action by the V.B.A. – he was not impressed as shown by the middle paragraph of his letter.

In the first place, both of these bands are members of the Victorian Band League, and as such, the interference in their private business by any other association becomes a piece of intolerant impertinence.  The Victorian Band League, in organising this contest, open only to members of the Band League, have done something that the so-called Victorian Band Association has never done during its existence.  Furthermore, the V.B.A. has never organised a contest.  Its headquarters are in a country centre, and it can never be a great success, as the bands connected with it have no direct representation no matter what part of the State the band hails from. 

(Hellinger, 1923)

The V.B.L. also acted against the V.B.A. in the form of a resolution which was carried in their June meeting.

At the last meeting of the Victorian Band League a resolution was carried as under: – “That in view of the drastic, and also unconstitutional attitude adopted by the Victorian Band Association with regard to bands and officials who took part in our recent contest held at South Melbourne in future no band affiliated with the Victorian Band League will take part or assist in any way any performance, & c., or assist or organised by any band affiliated with the Victorian Band Association.

(“A BANDS DISPUTE.,” 1923)

The animosity displayed by both associations was hardly conductive to the good administration of bands in Victoria.  It might be fair to say that neither association helped themselves here and festering problems did not seem to go away. Early in 1924 it was reported that band secretaries and band members complained that the V.B.A. was not treating competitors at Ballarat and elsewhere fairly and that there was a “movement to reorganise the Victorian Band League.”  – of which a special meeting was called of metropolitan bands (“BANDSMEN’S DISCORD,” 1924).

Later in 1924, a much more serious issue occupied a meeting of the V.B.A. in Ballarat when a number of Melbourne based bands wanted to set up a branch of the V.B.A. in Melbourne with the power to conduct the affairs of the V.B.A. as they saw fit (“METROPOLITAN BANDS’ PROPOSAL,” 1924).  It seems that the bands listed in this move were not affiliated with the first Victorian Bands’ League, but they did express similar issues and complaints.  Now, the V.B.A. was up against the metropolitan bands on two fronts.

A proposal from a number of Metropolitan bands that they should be allowed to form a branch of the Victorian Band Association in Melbourne, which came before the association at its meeting last night, was viewed with suspicion by many of the delegates, who saw in it an attempt to shift the centre of government to the metropolis. The subject was debated at considerable length.

The president (Mr E. Ballhausen) reported that Messrs Frank Johnston (Collingwood bandmaster), Ben J. Warr and Hanson had waited on the executive of the association, with a view to having steps taken to form a branch of the association in Melbourne.  The secretary read letters in support of this request from the Kingsville-Yarraville, Footscray, Coburg, Prahran City, Hawthorn City, Turner’s Brunswick, Collingwood, St. Vincent de Paul, Brunswick City, St Kilda City, Newport Workshops, Malvern Tramways and Richmond District Bands. It was suggested by a committee of the bands interested that the branch should be known as the Metropolitan branch of the Victorian Band Association, the branch to consist of all bands within a radius of 25 miles of the G.P.O., Melbourne affiliated with the V.B.A.; the branch to have power to conduct all association business of the branch  according to the constitution and rules of the association.

(“METROPOLITAN BANDS’ PROPOSAL,” 1924)

Some of the delegates at the meeting were suspicious of the metropolitan bands’ intentions.  A Mr. Hewett of the Soldiers’ Band was quoted as saying, 

…the move was only the thin edge of the wedge to shift the headquarters of the association to Melbourne.  Some of the bands concerned were sympathetic with the Metropolitan Band League.  

(“METROPOLITAN BANDS PROPOSAL,” 1924)

Well-might the V.B.A. be annoyed at repeated requests by the metropolitan bands to run themselves and move the headquarters, but the V.B.A. still held sway over the administration of bands in Victoria.  Harking back to the events of 1923, the V.B.A. saw fit to rectify some decisions relating to the South Melbourne contest at their July meeting.

“The following disqualifications were removed and the players given permission to play with bands as follows: – Ivan Hutchinson (Footscray City); F. L. Ellis (Malvern Tramways); Theo. Parrell (Brunswick City).  These three players were formerly members of the Socialist Party Band, which was disqualified for playing at  Victorian Band League contest.”

(“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1924)

As can be seen in these years of the 1920s, there were attempts to move the headquarters of the Victorian Band movement from Ballarat to Melbourne, but these repeated attempts were thwarted by the V.B.A.  The ideal aim of each association was to foster cooperation to further the aims of banding, as well as competition, however none of the associations behaved in an admirable fashion.  The political infighting can only be described as difficult, along with a whole host of other words.  What is interesting is the inherent divide between metropolitan and country bands with the metropolitan bands, of which were mostly “A” grade and powerful, trying to exert influence over the direction of the V.B.A.  Perhaps the V.B.A. was ill-prepared to deal with another attempt, as will be seen in the early 1930s.

1930 – 1935: Changeover – the second V.B.L.:

The early 1930’s saw the greatest upheaval in the governing structure of Victorian bands with another formation of the V.B.L. and the demise of the V.B.A.  The Royal South Street Society had worked closely with the V.B.A. for many years, and in the early years of the V.B.A. other State band associations had affiliated with the them (“BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1902; “BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1904; Royal South Street Society, 2016).  The coming years would highlight just how fickle this support for the V.B.A. would become as the latest iteration of the V.B.L. rapidly established itself.

In 1930 the V.B.A. was still holding a regular schedule of meetings in Ballarat attended by delegates representing bands from across the State.  An article published in The Age newspaper makes mention of a proposal to divide the Victorian band movement into districts administered by the V.B.A. (“VICTORIAN BANDS.,” 1930).  This proposal was to be discussed at the next V.B.A. State conference but there is no indication as to whether this proposal was enacted.

The Age, 18/03/1930, p. 11

Just over a year later in April 1931, news broke of a new organisation to be formed called the Victorian Bands’ League.  This new league was to be formed by many metropolitan bands who were agitating to have the headquarters of the Victorian band movement in Melbourne.  The Argus newspaper was one of the first to break the news and reported on the meeting and listed all the metropolitan bands who that sent representatives.

At a meeting attended by representatives of 28 metropolitan bands last night, it is decided that a new organisation to be known as the Victorian Bands’ League should be formed.  Delegates from Collingwood Citizens, Malvern Tramways, Brunswick City, Coburg City, Prahran City, Richmond City, Footscray City, Essendon Citizens, Heidelberg Municipal, Mentone Citizens, Fitzroy Municipal, Jolimont Workshops, St Kilda City, Kew District, Northcote Citizens, Williamstown City, Sunshine District, Caulfield District, Metropolitan Fire Brigade and Ringwood bands stated that those bands would join the new league.  Delegates from the Hawthorn City, Kingsville and Yarraville, St. Vincent de Paul’s, Oakleigh City, Kensington, Preston City, Returned Soldiers and Reservoir bands state that the subject would be discussed officially by the committees.  It is understood however that within the next few days these bands will signify their intention to associate themselves with the new league.

(“VICTORIAN BANDS LEAGUE.,” 1931)

A subsequent meeting of the V.B.A. in May 1931 acknowledged the formation of the new league, but was buoyed by the support of band associations from Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania (“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1931).  The official decision of this V.B.A. meeting was to treat the new league with “indifference” (“INTERSTATE BANDS TURN DOWN NEW LEAGUE,” 1931).

The V.B.L., in a proactive move, sent its officers into country areas to meet with district bands.  In June they headed to the Goulburn Valley region and met with representatives from the Shepparton, Kyabram and other bands and in July travelled to Bendigo to attend a conference of Bendigo bands (“NEW BAND LEAGUE.,” 1931; “VICTORIAN BANDS,” 1931).  The V.B.L. had simple, but effective messages for these country networks; that the VBA wasn’t functioning properly for Victorian banding and the VBL wanted to set up district associations and competitions.  The result of these meetings was that the Goulburn Valley bands were enthused by the new league and apparently bands attending the Bendigo conference promised that they would affiliate with the V.B.L. 

In August, the V.B.L .had its first substantial endorsement when S.A.B.A. broke away from its affiliation with the V.B.A. and decided to endorse the V.B.L. (“CONTROL OF BRASS BANDS,” 1931).  It’s interesting to note that only a few months earlier in May, S.A.B.A. had apparently indicated that it still supported the V.B.A.

The V.B.L. showed off its strength in September 1931 when it organised a massed bands event held at the M.C.G.  The Sporting Globe newspaper published an article highlighting how this event was to be undertaken.

Under the auspices of the newly-formed Victorian Bands’ League, a concert will be given at the Melbourne Cricket Ground tomorrow by 30 massed bands, which will march through the city, starting at 2.15.

An interesting feature will be the presence of bands from Mildura, Warracknabeal, Warrnambool, Yallourn, Trafalgar and Korumburra, which are paying their own travelling expenses to Melbourne.

Not for many years has such a gathering of bandsmen been held in Melbourne.  More than 700 bandsmen will take part in the recital of which a Fox Movie-Tone film will be taken.  

(“Bands League,” 1931)

In October the V.B.L. gained the affiliation of the South Street Society who were going to resume band competitions in 1932 under the auspices of the V.B.L. (“VICTORIAN BANDS’ LEAGUE.,” 1931).

Obviously the VBL had been busy since it was formed in April and such expansion and activity had not gone unnoticed by the V.B.A., of which had initially shown indifference to the VBL.  At a Ballarat conference called by the V.B.A. in November and attended by representatives of fourteen bands, consideration was given to the developments of the new league, however the V.B.A. did not consider it to be a real threat to its survival (“BAND CONFERENCE.,” 1931).  A final resolution of the meeting was “to wait upon the mayor and councillors of Ballarat and the South street society with the object of bringing about unity in the band movement, the governing centre to be in Ballarat” (“BAND CONFERENCE.,” 1931).

Coming into 1932 with the VBL firmly entrenched in the Victorian band movement and the V.B.A. fighting for survival, there was no slowing in the activities of the V.B.L.  In January the V.B.L. staged another massed band event at the M.C.G.  This event was reported on by a newspaper from Tasmania of which praised the V.B.L. for its initiative, and lambasted the V.B.A. for “failing to co-operate new League” (“Victorian Bands,” 1932).   The V.B.A. in the meantime continued to hold meetings of its remaining affiliated bands and tried to emphasise that their best interests did not lie in the V.B.L. with its perceived “centralisation movement” (“COUNTRY BANDS’ WELFARE.,” 1932).  By August the V.B.A. had lost the affiliation of the two Ballarat bands which were forced to affiliate with the V.B.L. due to the South Street Society band competition being run by the VBL (“SOUTH-ST. BAND CONTEST.,” 1932).

In 1933 we see the last meetings, and demise of the V.B.A. with reports noting the affiliation of most other State band organisations with the V.B.L. (“BAND UNITY MOVE,” 1933).  At a final meeting in July 1933, the V.B.A. reports that it “will shortly consider its future policy” and that “since April, the association has not received any registrations of bands” (“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION.,” 1933).  After these articles, there are no other reports on the activities of the V.B.A. with reports on banding activities focused on the V.B.L.

19330705_TheAge_VBA-Future
The Age, 5/07/1933, pg. 14

We can see in this picture of another massed bands’ event published in The Age newspaper, and from a pamphlet published by the VBL just how big these events are.  The V.B.L. had come unto its own. 

The Age, 25/09/1933, p. 13
Pamphlet: Victorian Bands’ League: Massed Bands’ Recital (source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League)

Conclusion:

Such was the state of the Victorian band movement over a period of just over 30 years.  This was not just a story on the V.B.A. and the V.B.L., it is a story on the loyalties of the band movement, and the politics.  The repeated actions of the metropolitan bands, although questionable at times, eventually brought unity to the movement and a new energy.  Perhaps the V.B.A. did not have that same drive or had become too complacent with belief in its own longevity.  There are probably many questions still to be asked and hopefully, further details will come to light.

References:

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