Choosing music and grading bands: The unenviable tasks of band associations and their music advisory boards

Introduction:

Administering band associations was, and is even now, never an easy task.  Granted, the first focus of early band associations was managing the affiliations of member bands, forming rules and running competitions.  These tasks aside, there was little else they did.  In this arcane and insular world of administration, decisions that the early band associations made were at times difficult to understand and criticism was rife.  It can be seen in previous posts on the history of the National Band Council of Australia and the experiences of bands in South Street just how peculiar some administrative decisions could be.  In their defence however, we can also see that the associations were acting on the information that they had available at the time, and that some questionable decisions can simply be attributed to a lack of communication.

This post is focusing on aspects of band administration where the difficult decisions of band grading and choices of music were made by sub-committees known as Music Advisory Boards.  These noted groups of bands people, often adjudicators and conductors, made recommendations to band associations.  While some records are not as informative as they could be, the Trove archive gives us some clues as to how they operated.

It is an interesting portion of band history where some bands people desired more of a focus on the music but recognized the value of association.  Balancing these two ideals was a challenge!

Music Advisory Boards and Choosing music:

19330706-(19330714)_VBL-AGM-P1
A section of the Victorian Bands’ League Annual Report 1933, p. 1 ( Source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League)
19200814_Herald_J-Booth-Gore
Herald, 14/08/1920, p. 16

Above is part of the first page of an annual report presented by the Victorian Bands’ League at their second Annual General Meeting on 14th July 1933.  Prominently displayed on this first page are all the officers of the League; Delegates, Administrators, Conductors and Adjudicators, representing country, regional and metropolitan areas.  A good mix of people at the time to run the fledging League!  There is one group of musicians listed on this page that warrants special mention and is nominally the focus of this post – the Music Advisory Board.

It was not always possible to discern why the Music Advisory Boards existed in the first place.  Through research in the Trove archives, it was mentioned that they did exist, but their exact purpose in assisting the Associations was harder to find – however their contemporary counterparts operate in much the same way so we can apply this knowledge back over the years.

This post is not trying to dismiss the operations of other State band associations and their MAB’s.  However, the Victorian Bands’ Association and Victorian Bands’ League provided the most information through newspaper articles as to who was included in their MAB’s over the years.  Which means it presents a perfect case study of how the personnel changed (or did not change) over the years.  Below is a table detailing the members of the Victorian MAB over a time period of thirteen years.  Knowing Victorian band history, we can see that these musicians were all eminent conductors/adjudicators who displayed an extensive knowledge of brass band repertoire.  And they were all conductors of Victorian A Grade bands.

1920 – VBL1922 – VBA1927 – VBA1933 – VBL
P. CodeJ. Booth-GoreP. CodeJ. Bowden
P. JonesL. HoffmanF. C. JohnstonJ. Booth-Gore
H. R. ShuggF. C. JohnstonP. JonesF. C. Johnston
 P. JonesR. McCaskillA. H. Paxton
 H. NivenH. R. ShuggH. R. Shugg
 H. R. Shugg  
(Source of table data: “BAND ADJUDICATOR,” 1920; “BRASS BANDS REGRADED.,” 1927; Drummer Boy, 1922; “VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1920; Victorian Bands’ League, 1933)
19200807_Herald_J-Bowden
Herald, 7/08/1920, p. 17

What is obvious here is the consistency of some of the appointments namely Percy Code, Percy Jones, Frank “Massa” Johnston, and Harry Shugg.  Some pictures of these bandsmen are on the side of this post.  We could assume that with the passage of time, if the same people were well-regarded in that role then they would continue to serve.  The interesting fact about the Victorian MAB members is that they carried through the changeover from the VBA to the VBL.  On a side note, given that many of these conductors were working with metropolitan bands at the time they would have been the instigators of the VBL in the early 1930s.

There were some occasions regarding band competitions where MAB’s were not involved in choosing music.  We can see articles published in the Advocate newspaper in 1921 and 1927 that Percy Jones was the adjudicator of the popular New Year’s Day Burnie carnival band competition (“BURNIE.,” 1927; “BURNIE CARNIVAL.,” 1921).   However, it is in the 1927 article where we can see that Percy Jones himself made recommendations to the Burnie Athletics Club on the choice of music for the next carnival band competition:

Last year’s band adjudicator, Mr. Percy Jones, wrote recommending that “Gournod (Rimmer)” and “A Garland of Classics (Rimmer)” be chosen as test pieces for the B and C grade contests respectively, at the next carnival.  The recommendation was adopted, on the motion of Messers Southwell and Trethewey.  It was also decided to continue negotiations with a view to obtaining an adjudicator from New South Wales for the next carnival.  Last year’s rule that the own choice selection be made from National Airs was again adopted.”

(“BURNIE.,” 1927)

One notable criticism of the music choices made by MAB’s came from Cecil Clarence Mullen in his booklet, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951).  We know from a previous post that Mullen was very opinionated, and it is not clear how much influence he wielded through his writings, especially his booklet.  He wrote:

Some years ago the Advisory Board of selectors introduced a new type of Test Selection for South Street band contests.  These are mostly technical works and appreciated by bandmasters and players, the musicianship point of view has only been taken into consideration.  Our contests promoters and managers have been overlooked the fact that one party – the public who pay to attend contests – have been left out.  Statistics show clearly that all the largest crowds at the South Street competitions were in the years from 1900 to 1924, when the operatic brass band arrangements were chosen for Test Selections. […] Technical works are all very well for those of us who understand them, but they are cold and colourless to the general listener as he cannot follow them and does not know what they are all about.

(Mullen, 1951, p. 6)
19200911_Herald_P-Code
Herald, 11/09/1920, p. 14

Now while Mullen might be right about the years when the largest crowds attended the brass band competitions at South Street, it must be recognized that he was merely expressing his opinion and it might be a short stretch to link crowd numbers with choices of music.  He went on further in this section of the booklet to explain his reasons for wanting more operatic arrangements in the band competitions with the implied belief that they were far more musical than what current brass band composers were providing, and that they were more pleasing to the ears of the audience (Mullen, 1951).  He was especially taken with the operatic arrangements of Alexander Owen and he also wanted a sight-reading section to be introduced (Mullen, 1951).  This was not the first time Mullen wrote with favour on operatic works being played by bands.  In a later article he attributed the fine playing of bands in the early years to their playing of operatic works (Mullen, 1965).

Aside from Mullen, there appears to be a distinct lack of criticism in early newspapers regarding the choices of music made by the MAB’s.  Which contrasts with the criticisms levelled at State Band Associations and MAB’s regarding grading of bands.  Grading was a vexed issue, and this will be explored in the next section.

Music Advisory Boards, State band Associations and Grading:

To understand why grading does or does not work, it’s important to know a little history on how Associations applied grading to bands.  The first competition that included grading of some sort was in New South Wales at the 1896 Intercolonial Band Contest held in Sydney in November where bands were grouped into “first division” or “second division” (Greaves, 1996, p. 23).  In Victoria, the first five years of South Street from 1900-1905 were ungraded and, Mullen (1951) has provided some history as to how grading developed from 1905.

In 1905 the first “B” grade contest was arranged owing to some bands having progressed so much from the experience and tuition of former English bandmasters that it was thought younger combinations and country bands would have a better chance in a second class contest.  So fast did the better class bands progress, however, that it was thought that with many new bands starting that a “C” grade was held in 1909.

(p. 7)

Having only three grades was the status quo in Victoria until, according to available resources, a D grade was introduced in 1922 (“Victorian Bands’ Association,” 1922).

19210108_Herald_L-Hoffman
Herald, 8/01/1921, p. 11

Let us take a look at how bands moved up or down grades over some years.  Below are links to files that show the grades in certain years from Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia.  The Victorian dataset is more condensed as they show the grades in the years 1920, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1926 & 1927.  For Queensland, the dataset is more spread due to limited information and the files are based on information from the years 1913, 1919 & 1937.  Included is an example of grading presented by the Western Australian Band Association in 1932, which is very limited, however there’s an interesting discussion from the WABA meeting that took place that year.  All band lists were obtained from newspaper articles held in the Trove archive and can be accessed from the links in the citations.  The grade files will appear as PDF’s and can be downloaded.

Victorian Grades – 1920-1927:

(Source of Victorian grade data: “BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1923; “BRASS BANDS REGRADED.,” 1927; “CLASSIFICATION OF BANDS.,” 1926; “VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1924; “VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1920; “Victorian Bands’ Association,” 1922)

Queensland Grades – 1913, 1919 & 1937:

(Source of Queensland grade data: “Band Association.,” 1919; “GRADING THE BANDS.,” 1913; “NEW GRADING LIST,” 1937)

Western Australian Grades – 1932:

(Source of Western Australian grade data: Delegate, 1932)

19200828_Herald_P-Jones
Herald, 28/08/1920, pg. 19

The Victorian context is possibly a better example of grade history given the range of years.  Here we see a bulge– a smaller number of bands in A Grade and D Grade while B Grade is larger and C Grade having the most numerous amount of bands  Taking a look at the C Grade in particular, while the D Grade was introduced in 1922, in 1924 there is large expansion of bands in C Grade.  Whether this is down to the number of bands that affiliated that year, or general musical standard is open to interpretation.  1924 was certainly a golden year of bands, except for perhaps the A Grade where there were only three bands.  Regarding the A Grade, once the top bands were placed in that grade, they tended not to leave.  In 1926 and 1927 we see a jump in that number due to bands moving up from B Grade.

In Queensland it is a little more difficult to interpret the grading history given the lack of information, so a reliance on the available years is necessary.  However, there are some similarities with Victoria, especially in the middle grades.  In 1919 there is a large expansion in the number of bands in C Grade.  We also see some innovation on the part of the Queensland Band Association in 1937 where there is a D Grade, but there are also grades to cater bands that are from specific locations or age groups.  Here we see a “Sub D Grade (Country)” and a “Boy’s Band (Under 15 years)” (“NEW GRADING LIST,” 1937) which no doubt helped more bands participate in events.

The example from Western Australia is obviously small, but the list originates from an article published in the Sunday Times regarding a wide-ranging meeting held by WABA.  The regrading of bands was included in the discussion as an agenda item:

The matter of regrading the bands affiliated with the association was then proceeded with.  There are 17 in all, and prior to the 1931 contest these were graded as B or C.  This grading has since remained unaltered officially, but for the purpose of giving the 1931 contest a high “tone”, the grades were officially announced as A and B.  The question raised on Wednesday evening was whether to create a D grade from the smaller C grade bands or raise the status generally and make them A, B or C.  The latter course was eventually decided upon and each band was, after submission to the meeting, graded by a majority vote.  A suggestion that they should be graded according to the points awarded them by the adjudicator at the last contest was not accepted, though the idea found a good deal of support.

(Delegate, 1932)

Victoria offers more information on the roles of the MAB in the regrading process as the Queensland Band Association seems to have undertook this role themselves (there is no mention of a Queensland MAB).  The role of the MAB’s in advising on regrading is evident although it seems, at least in the early stages, that the V.B.A. undertook the regrading process with their MAB offering limited advice.  We see in 1920 that,

A report was submitted from the executive of the association dealing with the regrading of bands.  It contained replies from Messrs H. Shugg and P. Code, two of the advisory committee who both concurred in the proposed regarding as submitted by the executive…

(“VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1920)

However, in 1922, the Victorian MAB was responsible for the regrading process:

The advisory board of the Victorian Bands’ Association, the headquarters of which are at Ballarat, has regraded bands for the ensuring year as follows…

(“Victorian Bands’ Association,” 1922)

And mention of the role of the MAB in regrading bands is again mentioned in articles from 1926 and 1927 (“BRASS BANDS REGRADED.,” 1927; “CLASSIFICATION OF BANDS.,” 1926).

This is not to say grading was always a smooth process and there were always levels of criticism from various parties, as well as disagreements between States – the rules were never fully unified.  As early as 1914 we can see letters in the papers regarding the grading of bands.  One letter from Mr S. E. Hambleton, then Secretary of the Collingwood Citizens’ Band stood out for its candidness.  Part of his letter was criticism while contributing his own ideas:

The band of which I am secretary has not won a cash prize for five years, and although I have made applications to be re-classified (claimed on two years’ rules), I am told that the Victorian Band Association would not listen to it as we are an A Grade band.  The other bands know this, and, of course, will not enter for the higher grade, with the promise, perhaps of a life sentence hanging over them.

Our band of 24 could be divided into three parts and absorbed by B Grade bands and allowed to play in B Grade.  Why not classify the individual players and thus stop good players in A Grade bands from becoming members of a lower grade through better inducements.  Collingwood and Prahran are the only two bands classed as A Grade, although there are four or five others advanced enough to compete in this grade.

Bands that have won C or B Grade contests should be placed in the class higher up and stay there for the stated time.  If they fail to secure a cash prize, allow them to go to the next grade down again.  Bands will not enter for a higher grade than they are classed in, for fear of winning a cash prize in it, being thereby debarred from competing in the grade that they had been classed in.

(Hambleton, 1914)

Again in 1914, a letter was published in Brisbane’s Daily Standard newspaper lamenting the grading process carried out by the Queensland Band Association after the Maryborough contests.  The writer, Mr W. Jackson, a Delegate of the Childers band, was obviously annoyed at the whole process and made this quite clear in his letter.  He wrote (in part),

…We were promised that the matter of grading the bands would be thoroughly gone into at an early date by the Q.B. Association.  What is the result?  Here we are three months before the August contest, and still in the same sorry plight.  Is it encouragement for the small country bands to go to Brisbane to contest against bands from the large cities as at Maryborough when the “C” grade championships was won by a band that probably should have been graded “B” at least?  I am afraid the same thing will occur again.  What I contend is that the “C” grade should be open for bands from the small country towns only, thus giving them some encouragement for them to fight on to better class music.

(Jackson, 1914)

It would be fair to say that both Mr Hambleton and Mr Jackson made some fair points re grading problems in their respective states.  They both knew their bands and how the administration worked.  We could assume that the State associations were trying their best in trying to please everyone but in some respects, it was never a perfect process.  Perhaps this was the reason MAB’s were formed to advise on grading.

As mentioned above, at times the rules and administration of different State associations came into conflict with each other regarding registration and grading.  One notable example was highlighted in Tasmania after another one of the contests in Burnie.  At a meeting of the Tasmanian Band Association in 1930, this was raised as an agenda item:

Very grave concern was expressed by the committee relating to the methods of grading and the registering of members of mainland bands which compete at the Burnie contests.  It was discovered by the delegates at the recent Burnie contests that one of the competing bands from the mainland had been able, only a few days before the closing date of registrations, to register no less than nine prominent players of other bands, and perhaps of a higher grade.  The regrading of bands on the registration for every contest might overcome the somewhat unfair aspect of this matter, but what is more desirable is uniform contests rules for all the States.  The T.B.A. is approaching the State association concerned on this occasion, with a view to a general tightening up of grading and registrations.

(“BAND ASSOCIATION,” 1930)
19210219_Herald_H-Niven
Herald, 19/02/1921, p. 16

…which is fine in theory but as discovered in the history of the National Band Council of Australia, unification of rules was an ideal that never really reached fruition despite the best intentions of State associations.

What we have seen in this small history are situations where the grading process was fraught with difficulty, did not please everyone and criticism was rife.  And it was a thankless task as the reputations of the early bands hinged on success in competition and the decisions of the State associations.  Most of the time it was done correctly.  On occasion there were problems.  With the influx of bands starting up and wanting to participate in events, grading them was a necessity that called upon the State associations to try to find solutions.  When this went wrong, the administration was generally found to be lacking.

Conclusion:

For the MAB’s involved in the processes of choosing music and advising on band regrading, generally they did the right thing and all they could really do was offer advice.  Thankfully, the reputations of the MAB members carried them through some of the decisions made by State associations.  Evidently the fact that many of the Victorian members held their positions for many years is a testament to their authority as prominent bandsmen.

We should thank these early members of the MAB’s for the foundations that they laid as the members of the modern MAB’s carry out their tasks in much the same way as they did back then.

19200724_Herald_H-Shugg
Herald, 24/07/1920, p. 11

References:

BAND ADJUDICATOR : For Newcastle Contest : Mr. Percy Jone’s Career. (1920, 04 December). Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162621130

BAND ASSOCIATION : Deciding Championship. (1923, 21 August). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213824101

Band Association : Grading for the Contest. (1919, 20 November). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article176840373

BAND ASSOCIATION : Registering and Grading. (1930, 24 January). Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article29151289

BRASS BANDS REGRADED. (1927, 18 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3885887

BURNIE. (1927, 17 June). Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article68241846

BURNIE CARNIVAL : New Years Day : Bright Prospects. (1921, 16 November). Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69316043

CLASSIFICATION OF BANDS. (1926, 18 May). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3782670

Delegate. (1932, 21 August). BRASS BANDS : W.A. Association News : And General Notes. Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article58669392

Drummer Boy. (1922, 21 October). BANDS AND BANDSMEN. Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93411340

GRADING THE BANDS. (1913, 27 October). Queensland Times (Ipswich, Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article118654062

Greaves, J. (1996). The great bands of Australia [sound recording] [2 sound discs (CD)]. Australia, Sound Heritage Association. 

Hambleton, S. E. (1914, 13 January). EFFECT OF GRADING. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241657411

Jackson, W. (1914, 08 May). BAND GRADING : (To The Editor). Daily Standard (Brisbane, Qld. : 1912 – 1936), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article178879778

Mullen, C. C. (1951). Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951). Horticultural Press. 

Mullen, C. C. (1965). Brass bands have played a prominent part in the history of Victoria. The Victorian Historical Magazine, XXXVI(1), 30-47. 

NEW GRADING LIST ISSUED BY QUEENSLAND BAND ASSOCIATION. (1937, 12 November). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article183521534

Quickstep. (1920a, 28 August). Bandsmen’s Gossip : A Knight of the Baton. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 19. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242311544

Quickstep. (1920b, 14 August). Bandsmen’s Gossip : A Meritorious Career. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242305795

Quickstep. (1920c, 07 August). Bandsmen’s Gossip : An Enthusiastic Conductor. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 17. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242306287

Quickstep. (1920d, 11 September). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Australia’s Great Soloist. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242308980

Quickstep. (1920e, 24 July). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Leader of Two Famous Bands. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242308343

Quickstep. (1921a, 19 February). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Noted Musical Qualities. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242256082

Quickstep. (1921b, 08 January). Bandsmen’s Gossip : St Vincent’s Bandmaster. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242259553

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION : Classification of Bands. (1924, 19 August). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213535974

VICTORIAN BAND ASSOCIATION : Special and General Meeting. (1920, 18 May). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article211906214

Victorian Bands’ Association : Grading for the Year. (1922, 24 August). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205773169

Victorian Bands’ League. (1933). Victorian Bands’ League : Annual General Meeting : Annual Report [Annual Report]. Victorian Bands’ League. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b6a740621ea691478e4b482

Victorian State school brass bands: their legacy lives on

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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