Bands and Christmas. There are probably not too many bands people out there who have not participated in several Christmas engagements and will probably do many more in the future. They are one of the staples in the band calendar alongside the usual parades, concerts, ANZAC commemorations, community events, etc. It is a time where bands can get out and about and present the music of the season to their communities.
Let us go back to times past in the period from 1900-1950 where bands were the entertainment and very much embedded in their local communities. There are lots of little stories out there. This post will highlight some of the different stories from around Australia involving bands at Christmas time and no doubt some readers will get a sense of déjà vu. The times may have changed but the engagements have not!
Gifts and platitudes, carols, charity, concerts and competitions, townsfolk and tourists, and bands and band people. The compliments of the season from yesteryear.
The days before Christmas:
Christmas Eve and Day are of course the focus of all festivities, however, in the days leading up to Christmas, brass bands were always part of the events. For some bands, it was an achievement to even get this far, especially in the early years when they battled fluctuating membership and commitment.
In December 1905, the McPhail and Peak Hill District Band, located in the New South Wales Central West was one band that getting ready for some Christmas events. The band intended on following through on time-honoured tradition of playing Christmas carols to the local town as the brass bands did back in England (Etheridge, 2017; “McPhail and Peak Hill District Band.,” 1905). In an article published in the Peak Hill Express newspaper, we see a band confident that it would play in the right spirit for the season,
The Band intends, with their many friends, to follow up the old time-honoured custom of playing and singing during Xmas.
During the week our programme will be mapped out and advertised in next issue of the Express. Mr. J. S. Christophers assures the writer that the Band, as the old Band on 1903, are of the right mettle, and will not shirk any duty that they may be called upon to perform for the cause of charity. With a useful lamp, their present needs will be met, and during Xmas week a big effort will be put forth with that end in view.(“McPhail and Peak Hill District Band.,” 1905)
Aside from Christmas Day itself, we can see that lots of bands were out and about on Christmas Eve, often at late hours, to add to the festivities of the night…or to entertain late-night shoppers. A variety of events took place on Christmas Eve in those early years and there are lots of little stories to hear about. Thankfully, some articles were more detailed than others and we can see what the bands played, where they played and how the public responded.
When reading the old articles, it was evident that sometimes it was not about the band per se, but about the Christmas festivals themselves of which the local band took part. However, when bands did get a mention in the local papers, their efforts were very much appreciated as they helped to give atmosphere to the festivities. In the year of 1912, we find that the whole area surrounding Alexandra and Yea, Victoria is attracting a number of tourists who have taken the opportunity to relax in various towns and go fishing in the Goulburn River (“Christmas and New Year’s Eves,” 1913). The local newspaper reported on the various events in early January and the Alexandra Fire Brigade Band received praise for their playing in the street,
A new and pleasing departure in the Christmas Eve celebrations this year was the appearance of the Fire Brigade Brass Band in the street. As soon as they could get together, for some of the members detained in the stores till after 11pm, the crowd gathered around them. From 11 o’clock till midnight the band rendered the following programme :-
Quick march, Ringwood, by J. Sandegren
Valsette, Nada (T. E. Bulch)
Euphonium solo, Asleep in the Deep (W. Petrie)
Schottische, Daphne (Wright and Round)
Selection, Welsh Songs (G. A. Frost)
Quick march, Torchlight Parade (T. E. Bulch)
Cornet solo, Alice, Where Art Thou (J. Ascher)
Fantasia, Christmas Greetings (T. L. mHellings)
Carols after 12pm – Hark the Herald Angels Sing ; Christians Awake ; Sandon ; Adeste Fidelis ; Arizona ; Home Sweet Home ; National Anthem.
The effect was very pleasing, and gave a good finish to a very festive night.(“Christmas and New Year’s Eves,” 1913)
Some towns were doing it harder than others around Christmas time and in the towns of the Shepparton area of Victoria in 1915 they were afflicted by drought. But in the spirit of the Christmas season, the townsfolk seemed to forget their hardship and came together to celebrate the season. It is in the town of Rushworth that we find the local brass band has come out to play,
On the closing of the business places at Rushworth the members of the local brass band assembled at the rotunda and, under Bandmaster Williams, rendered a capital programme of music appropriate to the occasion. Then, later they divided into two parties and set out on their respective rounds of carolling. The financial result (£22 odd) was excellent, and again was previous records well maintained.”(“THE XMAS SEASON.,” 1915)
Likewise, on Christmas Eve in the Victorian township of Coleraine, the streets were full of people, shopkeepers were keeping up a good trade, and the music was provided by the Coleraine Brass band of which the local newspaper diplomatically noted was “showing distinct improvement” (“Coleraine Albion,” 1915).
Brass bands have always been altruistic in Australia and were ready to assist for the sake of charity. They were also ready to provide good cheer to those in need and in Darwin at Christmas Eve 1920, the Darwin Brass Band went and played at the Darwin Hospital,
On Christmas Eve the Darwin Brass Band under Bandmaster W. Nuttall, paid a surprise visit and rendered a very fine selection of cheery music, which the aged and sick thoroughly enjoyed. The Matron, in a few well-chosen words on behalf o the staff and patients, thanked them for their kindness and they departed for the town with mutual good wishes and greetings from all sides.(“XMAS AT THE HOSPITAL.,” 1920)
Far south of Darwin in the South Australian township of Yorketown located on the Yorke Peninsula, the local brass band had announced it was going to present a program of music in the street of town (“CHRISTMAS EVE.,” 1920). As we can see in the article published in the Pioneer newspaper, their Christmas Eve program was quite long with one session of playing from “8p.m. until 9.30p.m.” and then “At 11pm the Band will visit various residences and render Christmas Carols.” (“CHRISTMAS EVE.,” 1920). This was also supposed to be a beneficial exercise for the band as well; they were taking up a collection for new instruments.
Then we have performances from bands on Christmas Even where the performance was their first-ever performance! In an article published in the Rockhampton Evening News January 1934, we find that the Springsure Brass Band held their first public outing on the night of Christmas Eve, 1933 (“SPRINGSURE BAND DEBUT,” 1934). Springsure is a township located inland from Rockhampton and Gladstone and we can in the article a fair degree of pride in this new band. Full congratulation was given to the musicians on the progress made in their playing.
In 1946 the Port Fairy Brass Band went out and about playing Christmas carols around town on Christmas Eve and earned praise wherever they played (“CHRISTMAS CAROLS.,” 1946). This was no less remarkable given the year when they played – one year after World War Two ended – and this was noted by the Mayor in the article,
The Mayor said he was pleased to welcome to his house, one of the best institutions in the town. What surprised him was that in spite of the war, and the number of members who enlisted, the band seemed to be as strong as ever. He did not know exactly the reason of their success, unless, it was the strong personality of their bandmaster.(“CHRISTMAS CAROLS.,” 1946)
Christmas Day and Night:
It was an early start for one band on Christmas Day, evidently, it was a very committed ensemble! So much so that on Christmas Day 1922 in the New South Wales South-West Slopes town of Tumut, the brass band was up and about at 4.30 in the morning,
On Xmas morning at 4.30 the Tumut Brass Band conveyed in Messrs Barker and Son’s motor bus, did a tour, commencing in the main street, and visiting every portion of the town and suburbs where there was any population, completing their self-imposed and laudable undertaking at 8.30. The music supplied by them was of a particularly enjoyable nature, and Mr Pitcher (bandmaster) and his body of performers numbering about 20 deserve the highest of congratulations for the treat afforded by them.(“Christmas,” 1922)
While the Tumut Brass Band were out and about in the morning, we can see some bands presented pleasing programs on Christmas night. The Clare Brass Band was to present a program of old English carols at 8.15pm on Christmas night and it was expected there was going to be a large audience, as there had been the night before when a local choir sang at the local rotunda (“CHRISTMAS CAROLS ON BAIN ROTUNDA.,” 1932).
Then there are the very big Christmas events of which Adelaide staged one on Christmas night in 1935. Presented in by The Mail newspaper and involving the South Australian Choral Association and the S.A. Bands’ Association, this appeared to be a massive musical undertaking by including a massed choir and a massed brass band. After many months of rehearsal, this event was to be presented at the Wayville Showgrounds and it is one of the early times where an event like this was conceived of in Australia (““Music in the Air” On Xmas Night,” 1935).
On Christmas Night in 1949, the Bathurst District Band was to present a very big concert involving thirty-five of their band members from both the senior band and their Boys’ Band (“XMAS BAND RECITAL,” 1949). The program of music for this concert was going to include the obligatory carols and a number of other items. The band was hoping that an attendance record would be broken (“XMAS BAND RECITAL,” 1949).
Not to be left out of the Christmas festivities were the bands that were part of events on Boxing Day. In an article published by the Myrtleford Mail and Whorouly Witness newspaper, it was reported that the “Bright Xmas Carnival” was the place to be on Boxing Day in 1917,
From early morning buggies and coaches brought big crowds into town, and the special train from Wangaratta was splendidly patronised and also conveyed quite a number of horses and competitors, assuring the social and financial success of the meeting.(“Bright Xmas Carnival.,” 1917)
The Wandiligong Brass Band was not forgotten and was said to have given “a fine programme of music both on the ground and before the performance at night” (“Bright Xmas Carnival.,” 1917).
Gifts and giving:
When researching for this post, it was also evident that band-related gifts and platitudes were exchanged of which here are two examples (there were probably more). On the 16th December 1921 the conductor of the Malvern Tramways Band, Mr Harry Shugg gave a postcard picturing his prize-winning band to a Mr W. Boina with a short message wishing him the “Compliments of the Season” and as can be seen on the back of the postcard below, in brackets, “(Winners South St 1921)” (Muntz Studio, 1921). No doubt Harry Shugg was very pleased with his band – and rightly so.
For Christmas 1927, the members of the Cleve Brass Band gave their conductor, Mr W. Gillings, an aneroid barometer “suitably inscribed” as a gift in thanks for all the work he had done for the band (“Cleve Brass Band.,” 1928). This was a wonderful token of appreciation and one which the conductor would no doubt have treasured.
Thinking of home at Christmas time:
We know that music can invoke all kinds of emotions and at Christmas time this feeling is no less poignant. There were some who were away from their hometowns at Christmas in faraway places. Published in the Carcoar Chronicle on Friday 19th of February 1915 was a letter from a local man, Mr Jack (John) Collyer who had enlisted in the Australian Expeditionary Forces and was then stationed in Egypt. While he wrote extensively of his Christmas Day experiences in the Army camp, he made special mention of a brass band who reminded him of home,
I woke at 5 a.m. to hear splendid music, a brass band playing Xmas carols, a hundred yards away from my tent. Talk about thrill – it was glorious. I lay awake listening to the grand strains of ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,’ and others and my mind wandered to Mudgee”(“XMAS IN EGYPT.,” 1915)
Music is synonymous at Christmas time and as we have seen, the many brass bands were in their element by eliciting town pride and enlivening the festivities. These little stories were some of many, there were too many to list such is the activity of Australian bands at this time of year. As I said at the beginning of the post, the times may have changed but the engagements have not!
I’d like to thank all the people who have read posts from Band Blasts From the Past over the past year and I hope you have found the posts informative. I’d like to take this opportunity to wish my readers a very Merry Christmas and I hope the coming year, and decade, is a safe, healthy and prosperous one.
Jeremy de Korte (22/12/2019)
BrightBright Xmas Carnival. (1917, 04 January). Myrtleford Mail and Whorouly Witness (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138709194
Christmas. (1922, 29 December). Tumut and Adelong Times (NSW : 1864 – 1867; 1899 – 1950), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article139029474
Christmas and New Year’s Eves : The Tourists. (1913, 03 January). Alexandra and Yea Standard and Yarck, Gobur, Thornton and Acheron Express (Vic. : 1908 – 1949), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article61188518
CHRISTMAS CAROLS. (1946, 28 December). Port Fairy Gazette (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88009047
CHRISTMAS CAROLS ON BAIN ROTUNDA : Clare Brass Band to Play Old English Carols on Xmas Night. (1932, 23 December). Northern Argus (Clare, SA : 1869 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article97616336
CHRISTMAS EVE : Band concert at Yorketown. (1920, 18 December). Pioneer (Yorketown, SA : 1898 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article199107675
Cleve Brass Band. (1928, 13 January). Eyre’s Peninsula Tribune (Cowell, SA : 1910 – 1950), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219285198
Coleraine Albion. (1915, 30 December). Coleraine Albion and Western Advertiser (Vic. : 1902; 1914 – 1918), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article119606385
HistoryInPhotos. (2009, 21 February). The School Band at Beechworth, Vic, in 1931 [Photograph]. flickr. Retrieved 11 November 2019 from https://www.flickr.com/photos/26421213@N08/3295771357
McPhail and Peak Hill District Band. (1905, 15 December). Peak Hill Express (NSW : 1902 – 1952), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article107246068
Muntz Studio. (1921). Malvern Tramways Band, 1921 [Postcard : L12.5cm – W8.2cm]. Victorian Bands’ League, Victoria Collections. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b1ccc9521ea69132c023cd5
“Music in the Air” On Xmas Night : Big Wayville Festival. (1935, 14 December). Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article55719008
SPRINGSURE BAND DEBUT : Big Event of Xmas. (1934, 03 January). Evening News (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1924 – 1941), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article201260331
Wandiligong Brass Band. (n.d.). [Photograph]. [phot13253]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html
XMAS AT THE HOSPITAL. (1920, 28 December). Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Darwin, NT : 1873 – 1927), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3303945
XMAS BAND RECITAL. (1949, 23 December). National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161655263
XMAS IN EGYPT : Some Interesting News. (1915, 19 February). Carcoar Chronicle (NSW : 1878 – 1943), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article103560632
THE XMAS SEASON. (1915, 01 January). Murchison Advertiser and Murchison, Toolamba, Mooroopna and Dargalong Express (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article130086316