Training Bandmasters in the art of conducting: the problems, the status quo, and the plans

The Victorian Bandmasters’ Association, approx. 1931
(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Archives)

Introduction:

There is no doubting that any band requires leadership and that the leaders of bands, whether they be musical – conductors/bandmasters, and Drum Majors – or in administration, require a set of qualities that are different from other band members.  This has been the case in our band movement from almost the beginning and many musicians have aspired to be in such leadership roles.  Often, they have succeeded.  At times, the needs of the band have not been met. There is no doubting that these roles require lots of hard work and skill, not only as a leader but also as a musician.

We will see some criticisms from the great British band adjudicators who nearly always had plenty to say.  Of course, we know that many Australian band conductors of the past were very highly regarded, but that fact was sometimes ignored by our British counterparts.  However, given this post will touch on some controversial histories of Australia’s band movement, we will probably end up with more questions than answers.  

Whatever we do in the band movement has some basis in history and tradition.  There are three aspects to this post that will provide some context and history.  Firstly, we will see some of the problems that existed in bands regarding musical leadership, mainly seen through the eyes of eminent band personalities.  The second part of this post will talk about the interesting status quo of recruiting conductors who just happened to be Cornet players as well.  In the third part of this post there will be an examination of possible solutions to musical training and knowledge, which was the cause of much hand wringing for many decades – good intentions were expressed, except many of these good intentions failed to come to fruition.

The problems at hand:

In 1902/03, Scottish band conductor and adjudicator James Ord Hume visited Australia and New Zealand to adjudicate at many Eisteddfods, and through this visit he imparted his knowledge and opinions whenever he had an opportunity.  This visit, and his subsequent visit in 1924 were detailed in a previous post (de Korte, 2021).  The influence he had on Australian bands, in conjunction with the tours by the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, was profound and he noted as much when he visited again in 1924.  In deference to the topic of this post however, his early impression of Australian bands was that they lacked “tuition”, and this he put down to the knowledge of the conductor – “…here it seems to be ‘Australia for the Australians,’ and that will not do in music at any rate” (“MR. J. ORD HUME.,” 1903).  James Ord Hume was noted for the forthright nature of his comments (Thirst, 2006).

Did James Ord Hume have a valid point?  He provided comment in 1902/03 when the Australian band movement was essentially at the start of rapid development.  Perhaps he was laying a foundation for Australian bands to build on, rather than direct criticism.  However, we cannot treat this as a purely isolated observation as other band identities, some of them visitors from the United Kingdom, made similar comments over time.  In a wide-ranging interview published in the Australian Star newspaper in 1908, “Mr William Short, chief trumpeter in the private band of King Edward” had plenty to say regarding Australian bands and what conductors should be focusing on (“AUSTRALIAN BANDS,” 1908). 

Your bands are badly in need of good tuition.  Bands should play like one man.  They should be taught by men who have a practical knowledge of the various instruments and a large experience. […] The bands in Australia want polishing up.  One or two are really good and the others are mediocre.  Teaching is everything.  The conductor should insist on having complete charge of the band.  He should not let anything slip.  Some of the bands I have heard have very much the appearance of being under divided control. 

(“AUSTRALIAN BANDS,” 1908)

Now, perhaps this was a little unfair given the times, but again, like the comments from James Ord Hume, not unwarranted and it reflects the leadership situation in the Australian band movement at the time.  

It must be noted that the tuition of bandsmen and bandmasters was a pet topic for Mr. Ord Hume and in 1909, an article written for the British Bandsmen magazine was reprinted in The Cairns Post newspaper (Ord Hume, 1909).  For the sake of brevity, his words on tuition will not be directly quoted however there are some aspects of his article that are pertinent to the next section – the article can be accessed by the link on the citation.

The Register, 04/10/1924, p. 8

When James Ord Hume visited Adelaide in October 1924 during his travels across Australia from Ballarat to Western Australia (and then back to England), he was interviewed by The Advertiser newspaper where he made some interesting observations.  Generally, he was in praise of the rise in standards.  However, he tempered this with some other pointed remarks about bands and conductors.

The chief fault in Australia in the lower sections he found was the lack of proper tuition.  However enthusiastic a bandmaster might be, the lack of that particular tuition was keenly felt.  Some of the bands in that section he had heard had no interpretative ability whatever.  They were very enthusiastic, but were led by bandmasters who themselves should have had better tuition.  That was a fault which should be remedied by the associations, which, to the best of his knowledge, did not permit others than bandmasters to train or conduct the bands. […] One band in particular played so poorly that he felt sorry for the bandsmen, who, in his opinion, were led like lost sheep.  He felt inclined to go up and ask the bandmaster if he might be permitted to conduct those selections again, even without a rehearsal, to show what the bandsmen could really do.  They lacked tuition, and that was the whole trouble.

(“A GREAT BANDMASTER.,” 1924)
(Foote) The News, 01/04/1925, p. 1. (Madge) The News, 23/01/1925, p. 10. (Levy) The News, 09/04/1925, p. 1.

Evidently, after James Ord Hume arrived back in England, he made some further remarks in relation to Australian bands, which touched off a war of words, most notably between several South Australian band identities.  First was Mr. William Foote, then bandmaster of the Adelaide Tramways Band where he quoted some of Mr. Ord Hume’s words in an article published by The News newspaper in early June 1925.  Mr. Foote stated,

It is the truth.  In saying that the bands are more advanced than the bandmasters he has put his finger on the root of the trouble.” said Mr. W. H. Foote, A.R.C.M. speaking of the criticism against Australian bands by Lieut. J. Ord Hume.

[…]

“We have the musicians, but we lack the men to direct them.” Mr. Foote concluded.  “The ‘painfully correct’ playing of which Lieut. Ord Hume complains is the direct result of the bandmasters’ want of artistry and skill.”

(“BAND CONDUCTORS,” 1925)

Mr. Foote was an ex-military bandsman from England with a high degree of orchestral training and he was brought out to work with the Adelaide Conservatorium and the Adelaide Orchestra.  He was appointed conductor of the Adelaide Tramways Band in 1922 upon the resignation of Mr. Christopher Smith (“AN ENTHUSIASTIC MUSICIAN,” 1921; “NEW DIRECTOR FOR TRAMWAYS BAND.,” 1922).

In the same article that quoted Mr. Foote, Mr. W. Levy, then President of the South Australian Band Association (SABA), also supported Mr. Ord Hume’s remarks.

He is correct so far as the conductors are concerned,” he said, “and through there are some find bandmasters, here there are many who can only bring a band up to a certain standard. […] Lieut. Ord Hume is one of the leading authorities on bands in the world, and his remarks should be treated with respect.

(“BAND CONDUCTORS,” 1925)

Almost immediately there was reaction from another member of the South Australian band community.  Two days later, a letter was sent to The News newspaper by Mr. C. J. Madge, bandmaster of the Unley Municipal Band where he was very critical of the attitudes of Mr. Ord Hume, Mr. Foote, and Mr. Levy.

…the latest statement of Mr. Foote, in which he criticises the ability of our present conductors, is an insult to the intelligence of a body of men who are freely giving of their best in the interests of bands in Australia.  The painfully correct playing of which Mr. Ord Hume and Mr. Foote complain was the playing that carried the Newcastle Steelworks Band ahead of the best bands that Britain and her conductors could produce.  But Mr, Hume went farther, and stated that that there were even better bands in Australian than that at Newcastle.  These better bands are conducted by Australian conductors whom Mr. Foote characterises as leading bands which only muddle along.

The remarks of Mr. W. Levy (president of the Bands Association) also call for comment.  It is hard to credit that the president of the bands criticises the men who work for practically no or little remuneration.  Certainly the conductors can improve, and from what we say of Mr. Ord Hume, while in Adelaide he, too, is not infallible, but it was hardly expected that our president would criticise bandmasters, and thus probably sow the first seeds of dissatisfaction in the bands he professes to cherish.

(Madge, 1925)

The colloquially titled letter writer, ‘Dulcet’ chimed in with a smaller letter published on the same day as Mr. Madge’s letter which suggested that Mr. Ord Hume “adapted his criticisms to suit various audiences” (Dulcet, 1925) – Mr. Ord Hume apparently said one thing in Australia and then upon returning to England he contradicted previous words – which may or may not be true – people had their opinions.

A day later after Mr. Madge’s letter had been published, Mr. W. Levy, wrote his own letter to clarify his previous comments and refute Mr. Madge.

It is not my intention to enter on a newspaper controversy, but I cannot allow to pass unnoticed the comment of Mr. C. J. Madge in regard to myself.  When I expressed my opinion respecting Mr. Ord Hume’s remarks on bands and conductors in Australia my intention was not to criticise “the men who work for practically no or little remuneration.”  I simply stated a fact as it presents itself to me, and shall indeed be sorry if the opinion expressed “sows the first seed of dissatisfaction in the bands I profess to cherish.

Unfortunately, the truth is hurtful at times, but one must sometimes be “cruel to be kind.”  No one more than myself holds conductors and bandsmen in higher regard, or recognizes to the full the amount of hard work and sacrifices entailed by these men.  Yet I cannot hide the fact that there are bandmasters who, unfortunately, for the bands concerned, have their limitations.  They work hard and conscientiously unto their limit.

(Levy, 1925)

It was all very well and good for Mr. Levy to make these comments in his letter, and to try to clarify his attitudes towards band conductors.  There is no doubting that he was trying to do the best he could for the band community.  Certainly, Mr. Ord. Hume was a highly respected band authority.  Maybe his remarks were taken out of context and misinterpreted by Mr. Foote and Mr. Levy…? 

Some days later, another letter from Mr. A. B. Michell, Honorary Secretary of The Mitcham Band was published in The News newspaper where he took apart Mr. Ord Hume’s remarks.

Lieut. J. Ord Hume states that “Australian bands are ahead of their bandmasters,” but he does not say in what particular.  Then he declares that “professional conductors are a necessity for the improvement of Australian bands.”  This seems ridiculous when the population of Australia is compared to that of Britain.  And you can count on ten fingers all the first-class all the first-class English bandmasters.

(Michell, 1925)

…and muddying the waters even more, Mr. Michell wrote,

I was surprised to learn of Mr. Foote supporting the statements of Mr. Hume because on one occasion when I spoke to him of Mr. Ord Hume, Mr. Foote said that he did not know of him in the musical world at home.

 (Michell, 1925)

One wonders what the public thought of these exchanges.

In concluding this section, we can see some valid points come across.  Firstly, the opinions of renowned bandsmen did not truly reflect or understand the Australian context.  No doubt these visiting bandsmen meant well and tried to support the local band movement as best they could, however, their opinions did cause some controversy.  Secondly, Australian bandmasters needed proper training to become bandmasters.  The bandmasters needed to know more than just conducting, they needed to be musicians and teachers, and this will be partly explored in the next section.  Thirdly, it was all very well saying tuition was the key, and the people that said this were probably correct.  If tuition is the key, then the solution of setting up training programs is obvious, and it was.  Except, as we will see in the third section of this post, that was easier said than done.

The status quo:

The Bunbury Herald, 16/09/1907, p. 3

WANTED, BANDMASTER, to teach WALCHA BAND.  Must be a Cornet Player.Applications close 24/7/’08.  H. DOAK, Secretary.

(Doak, 1908)

WANTED, CONTEST BANDMASTER.  Cornet-Player preferred.  Boulder City Band.  Salary £5 per week.  We have a good Band, 26 members, full instrumentation.  Apply early.  JAS. HARRIS, Sec., Box 19, Boulder, W.A.

(Harris, 1910)

Bandmaster / Cornetist:

If we were to read the many articles surrounding the bandmasters of old, we would see some common threads.  One thread is that for the smaller bands and mainly country bands, the bandmaster they gained was most often a local music teacher who possibly had some knowledge of brass instruments.  Mr. E. H. McKee, newly appointed bandmaster of the Port Macquarie Band in 1919 was a prime example.  He was reputed to be able to play almost all instruments and was essentially a teacher of “violin, piano, banjo” (no mention of his brass playing credentials) – however, he was certified from Trinity College London (“New Bandmaster.,” 1919).  There were many others like Mr. McKee.

The other common thread was that the bandmaster was a highly credentialed and trained Cornet player that had climbed the ranks of the brass band movement and was then encouraged or assumed the role of bandmaster.  Some of them were legendary musicians.  One can see by the photo of the Victorian Bandmasters’ Association at the top of this post that these musicians were the very pinnacle of bandsmen.  They were also very fine conductors and adjudicators (de Korte, 2020a).  So, within the band movement at the time, when it came to the appointing of new bandmasters, the preference was to gain a person who was also a Cornet player – the advertisements of the time which can be viewed through this section attest to this practice.

Examiner, 23/03/1911, p. 7

However, this was problematic, and it drew criticism.  In 1908 an article was published in The Age newspaper outlining what it would take to improve band music.  The author touched on many aspects, but one that stood out was tuition of bandsmen and bandmasters.  There were some quite pointed words.

Our bandsmen, save in some isolated instances, seldom achieve real mastery, not because they lack ability or the necessary perseverance, but because they get too little tuition.  What is more hampering, the tuition is not always of the best.  Most of it is done by the bandmasters, and these, putting aside one or two who can be credited with good work, are mostly unequal to the task.  They are as a rule cornet players, and their proficiency in this respect is supposed to give them the wherewithal to train recruits in the use of the saxhorn, the euphonium, the trombone, and what not.

(“IMPROVEMENT OF BAND MUSIC.,” 1912)
The Areas’ Express, 21/04/1911, p. 4

This may have been a very Australian way of doing things (and we can draw from Mr. Ord Hume’s remarks in 1902/03 about just how the Australian band movement tended to have its own way of operating).  As mentioned, James Ord Hume wrote a long article for The British Bandsmen in 1909 and the Cairns Post newspaper reprinted this article.  It was not specifically directed at Australian bands.  Although, we can see in his writing some indirect criticisms that would be applicable to Australian bands as evidently, some English bands were also appointing bandmasters who were Cornet players. 

One of the members generally one who can blow a cornet, is the lucky choice as the bandmaster, regardless of his experiences or capability as a teacher, as long as he is good hard blower of the cornet.

[…]

No man appreciates the artistic cornet playing teacher better than I do.  I consider that an artiste upon his instrument is the very best instructor.  It is not to this class of cornet player I refer to but to the band that is continually advertising for a bandmaster – “cornet player preferred.”  Why does this band not advertise honestly for a cornet player and have done with it?  It is in such matters as this that ruination gradually comes in.  The best instrumentalists are not necessarily the best teachers, and more than the best teachers should be also artists and instrumentalists.

(Ord Hume, 1909)
The Mercury, 23/11/1932, p. 3

He wrote further in this article on the problems of tuition (it was one of his favourite topics after all) and there is much to be taken from this article.  But this did not end the criticism of the Australian band movement when it came to employing bandmasters.  Many years later in 1932, a Mr. Frederick J. Nott, teacher of “organ trumpet, harmony, counterpoint and composition” at the Melbourne Conservatorium was interviewed by The Mercury newspaper when he was holidaying in Hobart in 1932 (“MUSIC AND MUSICIANS,” 1932).  He was not a stranger to bands having played in A.I.F. bands and he understood the band movements in Britain and Australia.  He had a bit to say about the training and qualifications of Australian band conductors.

Reacting to the suggestion that more musicianly conductors would make a vast different to bands, Mr. Nott said: “Yes, the mistake is often made of appointing a man as bandmaster because he is a good cornet-player.  The proper place of such a man is as solo-performer, not as conductor.  The ideal conductor is a thoroughly trained musician, and, let me add, he should, if possible, have a practical knowledge of every instrument in the band.  A trained musician will not allow those crudities of interpretation to pass that are often heard from bands under the beat of solo-cornetists. […] In Australia on the other hand, a man who can play his cornet with a good tone and fair execution, without being able to explain the simplest problems in theoretical music, is considered a fit person to train and conduct a band.  This, of course, is all wrong.  It would be far better to get a trained musician as conductor, even if he could not play, as long as he understood the principles and the technique of the instruments.

(“MUSIC AND MUSICIANS,” 1932)
The State Band News, 4(6), p. 21

We can see the pattern of what Mr. Nott was describing simply through the many advertisements, so it is no surprise that he was criticising the fact that many band conductors in Australia had gained their position because they were Cornet players who just happened to be bandmasters as well, or vice versa.  Bearing in mind that this was some years after the comments from Mr. Ord Hume which is telling; it means that Australian bands were still hidebound by a practice of employing Cornetist-Bandmasters who may or may not have been good musicians.  Again, it signifies that training specifically designed for bandmasters was not available at the time, there was no Australian Band & Orchestra Director’s Association for example, nor were there the courses (ABODA Victoria, 2018).  So, in a sense, it wasn’t the fault of the Australian band movement that they kept to the status quo for so many years – there was no alternative.

The Daily Standard, 07/11/1914, p. 1

Qualifications:

Regarding the points made about the musical knowledge of conductors at the time, there were some interesting stories about conductors who prided themselves and were very confident about their abilities as conductors.  Once instance was in 1914 when the then conductor of the Wagga Town Band, Mr. W. G. Philpott took umbrage to malicious rumours that had been circulating about him – “Old Philpott and his mob” (and other rumours about drinking) – so he issued a challenge to Mr. A. Long, conductor of the Junee Municipal Band which was republished in various regional newspapers (“Bandmaster’s Challenge.,” 1914).

I, the undersigned, hereby challenge Mr. A. Long bandmaster, or prospective bandmaster of the Junee Municipal Band, to compete against me for a knowledge of the science of music, from the most elementary rudiments to the highest branches of theory, harmony, counterpoint, and fugue composition, and instrumentation; […] I also challenge Mr. Long to compete against me as a bandmaster for a knowledge of the acoustic properties of all brass band instruments and scientific tuning, band training and conducting.

(Philpott in “Bandmaster’s Challenge.,” 1914)

There was more to this challenge including getting the bands to face off against each other. It is interesting that the very facets of musical knowledge that Mr. Philpott is using as a challenge are the streams of knowledge that Mr. Ord Hume and others are saying that several Australian bandmasters lack. Perhaps they were right, and Mr. Philpott was an exception.  Further to this little story, this was all there was in the papers about this.  The challenge was issued but it appears there were no further developments.

St. George Call, 11/03/1916, p. 5

The Longreach Town Bank marching band in a procession to the Railway Station, leaving for Townsville to compete in the band contests at Easter, 1928. (Source: State Library of Queensland: 167364)

Bandmasters came to bands with a range of experiences and qualifications.  So what were bands after, aside from the seemingly obligatory cornetist? Let us look to the Longreach Town Band where in 1928 they undertook a search for a new bandmaster.  They presented a rationale for this decision which was at the head of a long article published in The Longreach Leader newspaper in June 1928.

At a meeting of the committee of the Longreach Town Band on Monday the terms under which the present Bandmaster (Mr. F. Affoo) was employed were fully discussed, and it was eventually decided that he could not be re-engaged under his terms, and applications are to be called through the Press for a new Bandmaster.

(“LONGREACH TOWN BAND.,” 1928)

The experience of the Longreach Town Band is actually a very useful case study as a month later, another article was published in The Longreach Leader newspaper which detailed some of the discussion of the committee and it detailed the qualifications and experience of all fifteen applicants.  There were some interesting points of view from the committee.

Mr. Cullimore contended that the first point to consider was the musical ability of the man they wanted and then the finance unless they got a good man it was certain they would not get the public support.

Mr. J. Coates did not agree; he thought the first and vital point to consider was finance, with musical ability next.  The Band was not in the fortunate position of the Longreach Football League who received big gates for their matches.  The Band had to depend upon money from concerts.

Mr. Browne disagreed with Mr. Coates.  For a little extra money that might be involved a good man would be far more satisfactory to the Band and the public; the public would support the band for a fist class man but not for a conductor that was no good.

(“New Bandmaster for Longreach.,” 1928)

From looking through the applications of the fifteen bandsmen who applied for the Bandmaster position at Longreach, we can see some patterns emerge.

  • Twelve out the fifteen were already conductors of bands with two of them having the additional experience of having conducted an orchestra and a choir.  The other three had no conducting experience with one of those three a Mr. Alf Cereso of Red Hill, Brisbane only stating that he had “wide experience in concert work.”
  • Eight of the applicants were Cornet players, some of whom listed their competition successes, others who just listed that they had fulfilled the role of Solo or Soprano Cornetists with various bands.  Five did not list which instrument they played. Unusually for an application to become a bandmaster, Mr. A. E. Gallagher from Wallsend, N.S.W. proudly noted that he had been the Solo Euphonium and Baritone of the Newcastle Steelworks Band on their tour to England – but he had no conducting experience.
  • Another interesting pattern can be observed from these applications.  Several of the bandsmen who applied listed that they had been part of many bands in the past, either as a player or conductor. We might call these bandsmen, ‘Journeyman Bandsmen’.  In a measure of where these bandsmen had been, eleven had experiences in multiple bands.  Out of those eleven, four had experiences with bands in other countries – two of them in New Zealand and two in England.  And out of those eleven, most had experience from interstate bands with Victoria and New South Wales being most prominent.  Some of the bands from interstate were impressive – Mr. V. Braddock (Warragul, Victoria) had played Cornet with the Malvern Tramways Band on their tour to New Zealand, Mr. F. A. Nicholls (Nundah) had once played professional cornet with the Geelong Harbour Trust Recreation Band Club, and it has been mentioned re Mr. A. E. Gallagher who had played Euphonium and Baritone with the Newcastle Steelworks Band.  And some of these applicants claimed military band experience as well.

(This data was summarised from “New Bandmaster for Longreach.,” 1928)

The band had to make a choice, and this was detailed near the end of the article.

After considerable discussion it was decided that Arthur J. Rees’ application should be accepted (terms £2/10/ weekly, with position, or £5 a week until a position could be secured for him.)

Mr. Fred Wedd, Innisfail was second choice, and Mr. Geo. B. Shakespeare (Longreach) was third choice.

 (“New Bandmaster for Longreach.,” 1928)

The application from Mr. Rees had been quite detailed.

Over 40 years of age, with more than 20 years experience as player and conductor of contesting bands at Home (England), and also several years experience as conductor of male choirs; in Australia six months: at present conductor of Parkes Band, which position he secured out of 17 applications; but was desirous of leaving because employment could not be found for him; started a band of learners at Parkes (19 strong), and about September or October next expected his two sons (17 and 19 respectively) from England, who were good solo cornetists at present playing for T. J. Rees, the well-known conductor of South Wales; these boys would be brought to Longreach if positions could be found for them later on; he was receiving £2/10/ – at Parkes.

(“New Bandmaster for Longreach.,” 1928)
The Sydney Morning Herald, 28/11/1918, p. 12

Employment outside of the band was a contributing, and necessary factor in these times.  A previous post about Australian bands during the Great Depression touched on the issues regarding bandsmen being employed in and around where bands were located (de Korte, 2020b).

There is much we can take from this section regarding the qualifications and experience of bandmasters, and the fact that bands wanted bandmasters who were skilled Cornet players.  Clearly, some disagreed with this practice, and they had their reasons.  While some Bandmasters were very experienced, it could be argued bandmasters on a whole needed some real training specific to their position.  This will be detailed in the next section.

To conclude, bandmasters were revered by many.  In October 1908, an impassioned letter was published in The Ballarat Star newspaper asking municipal authorities to do what they could so that Mr. Albert Wade, then conductor of the Ballarat City Band, might stay in Ballarat.  The letter was countersigned by many of the leading musical figures in Ballarat led by Mr. Fred Sutton (Sutton et al., 1908).

Cowra Free Press, 06/08/1926, p. 2

The many plans:

This section will examine the crux of the issues outlined in the first two sections, that of actual training for bandmasters.  Over the course of fifty years, many plans were put forward to provide training to bandmasters as it was perceived, and in some cases demonstrated, that bandmasters lacked proper training which was applicable to their positions.  However, this was where band associations and conservatoriums could have been more proactive.  The evidence shows that many plans were put forward to train bandmasters.  The evidence also shows that none of these plans came to be.  This is not to say that some of the training bandmasters were receiving through their experiences in bands was wholly bad as there were some legendary conductors coming through.  But overall, it could have been much better.

It must be recognized that many Australian bandmasters did not have the support of their local towns to send them overseas for more musical training, Percy Jones being a prime example as the city of Geelong paid for him to go to Europe to study (“BANDMASTER PERCY JONES.,” 1907).  An Australian system had to be found.

In the second section, an article on improving band music published in The Age newspaper was quoted with the author making some pertinent points.  The author also suggested some solutions regarding training.

England has its Kneller Hall, where bandsmen are trained in all that appertains to their work; other countries have similar institutions.  Why not Australia?  Here, if following the English model, bandsmen – training as professionals – could be taught music on the best academic lines, and these would be the men who would act the standard of band cultures throughout the country.  No very large amount would be required, and if the band associations move in the matter there seems no reason why a workable scheme should not take shape.

(“IMPROVEMENT OF BAND MUSIC.,” 1912)

There are a few things to unpack out of this paragraph that provide some context.  One is the issue of tuition for bandmasters.  Fair enough, they probably should have more knowledge to do their jobs and a school for bandmasters would probably be useful.  But setting up an institution like the famed Kneller Hall in Australia purely for the training of largely amateur bandmasters was probably a bit too much. It was not the first time Kneller Hall would be mentioned in connection with these plans.

The Town and Country Journal, 03/04/1918, p. 47

Mr. Henri Verbrugghen was a superb Belgian violinist and down-to-earth musician who was chosen to become the foundation head of the new N.S.W. Conservatorium of Music in 1915 (Carmody, 2006).  By all accounts, he was a truly great teacher and administrator, and he recognized that musical training should be open to all.  He also knew that there were many genres of music that people participated in, and he wanted to offer courses at the Conservatorium that would cater for all kinds of musicians, including those who were part of the brass band movement.

To this end special provision is to be made for the formation of a school of brass and military band instrumentation in the Conservatorium.  Classes for the teaching of all a well-equipped bandmaster ought to know will be formed, and those who direct or intend to direct bands will be given every opportunity for perfecting themselves in the art of conducting. […] The scheme will take a little time to perfect, but the director is confident that if sufficient brass and reed students present themselves there will be no difficulty in finding the instructors among our local professional ranks.

(“CROTCHETS AND QUAVERS,” 1915)

This was very forward thinking by Mr. Verbrugghen, especially when considering the local conditions at the time.  What is not apparent is whether these classes were fully introduced – it would have been transformative if they had gone ahead.  In saying so, he respected the band movement.  He adjudicated at the South Street Eisteddfod in 1921 where he was very impressed with the playing of the brass bands (“HENRI VERBRUGGHEN ON BRASS BANDS.,” 1921).  So much so, that after South Street had concluded, he invited the Malvern Tramways Band to perform with his own orchestra, a fine compliment paid to this band (“MUSIC.,” 1921).

Postcard: Conservatorium of Music, Sydney N.S.W.
(Source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

In the 1930s, a flurry of articles was published in Tasmania and Queensland newspapers advocating for institutions to be set up specifically for the training of bandsmen and band conductors.  Again, had these plans been carried beyond the talking stage then they would have made a difference.  Unfortunately, none of them did.  We see that in 1933 that comments were made by music critic Mr. F. Bonavia where he thought that conducting classes at music festivals might be a good idea, however, he acknowledged that a few weeks of teaching  would not be long enough (“Amateur Conductors.,” 1933). 

1934 saw the official launch of the Australian Band Council.  This was covered in a previous post, but one item that was mentioned was the setting up of a “school of band music, on lines similar to the Knellar Hall in England.” (de Korte, 2019; “HALL OF BAND MUSIC,” 1934).  A fine idea, but it was an idea that was subsequently dropped due to expense (“BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS,” 1934).

The Mercury newspaper published an interesting article in 1934 where, again, the need for training conductors was highlighted, especially in the band movement.  This was the year that Capt. Adkins was taking the A.B.C. Military Band on tour around the country, and he was interviewed by various newspaper around the country.  The Mercury quoted and summarised Mr. Thorold Waters who had penned an article in the Australian Musical News.

Mr. Waters adds that as far as anyone seems to be aware there is not in the whole Commonwealth any place or man to whom the student might turn for lesson in conducting.  He stresses the urgent need to founding a school for conductors – not necessarily an institution as complete as Kneller Hall – but one where the bad fashions of conducting rife in Australia could be altered at small cost.

(“MUSIC AND MUSICIANS,” 1934)

This is probably the most useful statement on setting up a conducting school as it clearly says that a school is necessary, but it did not have to be like Kneller Hall of which so many writers and other administrators thought was needed for Australian bandmasters.

In a final word from these fifty years of plans and ideas, Mr. D. T. Beston, Secretary of the Australian Bands’ Council, suggested that “Tasmania should open up new fields for training bandsmen” – whatever this means (“TRAINING FOR BANDSMEN,” 1949).

Fifty years of plans with nothing much to show for it.  Thankfully, in recent times, the training of conductors has become fully ingrained with the Conservatoriums and we have professional associations like ABODA to provide specific courses (ABODA Victoria, 2018).

Conclusion:

There is no doubting that these three intertwined issues surrounding the training and qualifications of Australian bandmasters were complex, opinionated, fractured and not very forthcoming.  And history has not been kind.  Why would it be?  The Australian band movement faced an amount of criticism by those who did not really understand the Australian context or needs of Australian bands and bandmasters.  It was not the fault of the Australian band movement that some conditions, like the employment of Cornetist-Bandmasters was kept up for so many years in the face of no other option.  These ‘critics’ ignored the significant achievements of Australian bands at home and abroad.

Certainly, if the band associations and conservatoriums had worked to provide more training for bandmasters, a difference could have been made.  The musical leaders of the time probably felt let down.  But they persevered, and many of our bands survived.  The Australian band conductors of the past, present and future should be congratulated for their work.

References:

ABODA Victoria. (2018). About. ABODA Victoria. Retrieved 11 January 2022 from https://abodavic.org.au/about/

Advertising. (1911, 21 April). Areas’ Express (Booyoolee, SA : 1877 – 1948), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article219438866

Advertising. (1914, 07 November). Daily Standard (Brisbane, Qld. : 1912 – 1936), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article178849383

Advertising. (1926, 06 August). Cowra Free Press (NSW : 1911 – 1937), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article262027016

Almond, H. C. (1916, 11 March). Advertising. St George Call (Kogarah, NSW : 1904 – 1957), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162766364

Amateur Conductors. (1933, 08 February). Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article24710870

AUSTRALIAN BANDS : Lack Good Conductors : SAYS THE KING’S TRUMPETER. (1908, 13 November). Australian Star (Sydney, NSW : 1887 – 1909), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article229091651

BAND CHAMPIONSHIPS. (1934, 23 April). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1192269

BAND CONDUCTORS : Criticism Justified. (1925, 13 June). News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129736006

BANDMASTER PERCY JONES. (1907, 30 November). Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article149219732

Bandmaster’s Challenge. (1914, 20 June). Armidale Chronicle (NSW : 1894 – 1929), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article187607478

Carmody, J. (2006). Verbrugghen, Henri Adrien Marie (1873-1934). In Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 29 December 2021, from https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/verbrugghen-henri-adrien-marie-8913

CROTCHETS AND QUAVERS : CONSERVATORIUM PROGRESS : MILITARY BAND SCHOOL : THE MELBOURNE RECITAL. (1915, 17 October). Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), 22. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article221915763

de Korte, J. D. (2019, 05 June). Finding National consensus: how State band associations started working with each other. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2019/06/05/finding-national-consensus-how-state-band-associations-started-working-with-each-other/

de Korte, J. D. (2020a, 21 May). Choosing music and grading bands: The unenviable tasks of band associations and their music advisory boards. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2020/05/21/choosing-music-and-grading-bands-the-unenviable-tasks-of-band-associations-and-their-music-advisory-boards/

de Korte, J. D. (2020b, 18 October). Testing times: the resilience of Australian bands during the Great Depression. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2020/10/18/testing-times-the-resilience-of-australian-bands-during-the-great-depression/

de Korte, J. D. (2021, 16 February). Influences from Britain: James Ord Hume and “The Besses Effect”. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2021/02/16/influences-from-britain-james-ord-hume-and-the-besses-effect/

Doak, H. (1908, 24 July). Advertising. Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article238170790

Dulcet. (1925, 15 June). Band Conductors. News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129734100

Elwin, G. B. (1913). Wanted [Advertisement]. The State Band News, 4(6), 21. 

AN ENTHUSIASTIC MUSICIAN : Mr. W. H. Foote Interviewed. (1921, 16 March). Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63043619

A GREAT BANDMASTER : LIETENANT J. ORD HUME IN ADELAIDE : AUSTRALIAN BANDSMEN PRAISED. (1924, 30 October). Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article73434557

Green, W. C. (1911, 23 March). Advertising. Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 – 1954), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article50467046

HALL OF BAND MUSIC : Australian Proposal. (1934, 05 April). Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1930 – 1956), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70310251

Harris, J. (1910, 08 November). Advertising. Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article238666818

HENRI VERBRUGGHEN ON BRASS BANDS. (1921, 06 December). Toowoomba Chronicle (Qld. : 1917 – 1922), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article253315624

IMPROVEMENT OF BAND MUSIC. (1912, 02 March). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 24. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197401629

Levy, W. (1925, 16 June). Band Conductors. News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129729171

LISTEN TO THE BAND! : Appeal by President : MORE PUBLIC SUPPORT NEEDED. (1925, 09 April). News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129718612

LONGREACH TOWN BAND : FULL DISCUSSION ON BANDMASTER’S POSITION : APPLICATIONS TO BE CALLED FOR BANDMASTER. (1928, 15 June). Longreach Leader (Qld. : 1923 – 1954), 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article37342371

Madge, C. J. (1925, 15 June). Band Conductors. News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129734100

Michell, A. B. (1925, 29 June). Band Conductors. News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129735730

MR. J. ORD HUME : AN INTERESTING INTERVIEW : WHAT AUSTRALIAN BANDS LACK. (1903, 25 February). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article208462723

Mr. Verbrugghen’s Return. (1918, 03 April). Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1919), 47. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article263622163

MUSIC AND MUSICIANS : Mr. F. J. NOTT : Bands and Band Music. (1932, 23 November). Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article24688707

MUSIC AND MUSICIANS : SCHOOL FOR CONDUCTORS : Urgent Need. (1934, 14 March). Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article24918478

Musical band procession in Longreach, 1928. (1928). [photographic print : black & white]. [167364]. Brisbane John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Queensland. https://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/132618

New Bandmaster. (1919, 18 January). Port Macquarie News and Hastings River Advocate (NSW : 1882 – 1950), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article105147517

New Bandmaster for Longreach : CONDUCTOR OF PARKES BAND APPOINTED. (1928, 27 July). Longreach Leader (Qld. : 1923 – 1954), 21. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article37340861

NEW DIRECTOR FOR TRAMWAYS BAND : Mr. W. H. FOOTE APPOINTED. (1922, 18 February). Daily Herald (Adelaide, SA : 1910 – 1924), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article106648236

The Newly Formed Victorian Bandmasters’ Association. (1931). In S6.3.1 – Album Projects (Photocopies) (Photocopies of printed photographs ed., Vol. Album 3). Victoria: Victorian Bands’ League Archive.

Ord Hume, J. (1909, 04 November). Training a Bandsman : THE AFTER EFFECTS OF POOR TUITION : (By Mr. J. Ord Hume, in “The British Bandsman.”). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article39381330

PERSONAL. (1924, 04 October). Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article57882534

Rose, G. (n.d.). Conservatorium of Music, Sydney, N.S.W. [Postcard]. [The Rose Series P. 5055]. Rose Post Cards, Armadale, Victoria. 

SAVE THE BAND : VIEW OF MR. FOOTE : Corporation Levy Favored. (1925, 01 April). News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129711540

Smith, A. (1907, 16 September). Advertising. Bunbury Herald (WA : 1892 – 1919), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article87152593

Sutton, F., Gude, W., Opie, T., West, H., Mooney, J. T., Eyres, C., Bailey, J. C., Boustead, W. M., Hautrie West, W., & Herbert, G. (1908, 27 October). CORRESPONDENCE : THE CITY BANDMASTER : To The Editor of ‘The Star’. Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218563934

Thirst, T. (2006). James Ord Hume 1864-1932 : a friend to all bandsmen : an account of his life and music. Timothy Thirst. 

TRAINING FOR BANDSMEN. (1949, 03 November). Advocate (Burnie, Tas. : 1890 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91771050

UNLEY MUNICIPAL BAND : Progressive and Ambitious : CREDIT TO CITY. (1925, 23 January). News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129828551

Wales, N. S. (1918, 28 November). Advertising. Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15813101

Influences from Britain: James Ord Hume and “The Besses Effect”.

Postcard: Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1908) (Source: Jeremy de Korte collection)

Introduction:

The visit of one of the premier bands of Britain to Australia would be an event of great interest, and Mr. Hume, speaking on the matter, said that if the railways would guarantee to grant free passes to the members, he could almost promise that either the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, of Lancashire or the Black Dyke Band, of Yorkshire, would come out.  That the venture would be a success Mr Hume says he has not the slightest doubt, and he considers that the playing would come as a revelation to Australians.

(“MR. J. ORD HUME.,” 1903)

Australian bands, to put it simply, are an extension of the movement started in Britain and bands are one of Britain’s great cultural exports.  As has been noted in other posts, the influx of people from the British Isles and other places carried their music with them.  It is no surprise that in the early years, bands were established in localities across Australia. 

There was no shortage of enthusiasm for starting a band, and no shortage of budding musicians willing to learn.  However, training them, supporting them and giving them inspiration was at times problematic.  Musical training was sometimes left up to those willing to take the job of bandmaster, whether they had brass band skills or not.  This was the case in some places but not others as some bands became very proficient, very quickly. 

Not that this mattered to some untrained ears.  Many towns and localities were simply glad to have a band (a source of civic pride).  Although the bands that were founded in the late 1800s and early 1900s possibly realised that their playing was not up to English standards.  Bands were willing to learn, it was just a matter of whom to learn from.  It was not until the advent of organised competitions and visits from English bands that the standard of playing was given a critical ear and adjudicators provided bands with helpful comments on how to improve.

This post will examine what was probably the greatest shift in musical standards amongst Australian bands that took place over the period of two to three decades.  This rapid improvement was partly inspired by the visits of the eminent Scottish band adjudicator James Ord Hume and the famous Besses o’ th’ Barn Band from England.  Thankfully, for the purposes of this post, we can see the comments of James Ord Hume over the course of his two visits as he judges the bands.  We will also see that while the tours of Besses were significant in themselves, it is the lasting effect these visits had on Australian bands that deserves attention.  This is a combined story; a story of how British band musicians did their best to inspire and help Australian bands to be the best they could be.

James Ord Hume, 1902-1903:

National Advocate, 13/11/1902, p. 5-6

Lieutenant James Ord Hume was an “eminent English and Scottish bandmaster, composer, critic and adjudicator” (Mullen, 1965, p. 40).  A lifetime of musical training in the British Army and civilian bands had provided him with a unique connectedness with all sorts of musicians, and he had utilised his opportunities to the full by learning to play all band instruments and study musical theory (Thirst, 2006).  His reputation as a musician preceded him and he was highly sought after as an adjudicator and clinician.  As Thirst (2006) writes in his bookJames Ord Hume 1864-1932 : a friend to all bandsmen : an account of his life and music’,

He was a popular adjudicator throughout the British Empire, and frequently visited Australia and New Zealand to judge in the famous contest at Ballarat and elsewhere

(p. 47)

This was not an idle statement as many accounts of James Ord Hume show him to be a very forthright person with his adjudications and opinions, and he was appreciated by bandsmen all over Australia and New Zealand (“Bathurst Band Contests.,” 1902).  One might say that with his attitude he was a bit free with his advice.  Nevertheless, Ord Hume acted with the best intentions and sought to bring the standards of Australian bands up to where he thought they should be and provided solutions on how Australian bands might achieve this.  Certainly, his foretelling that Australian bands would view the “playing” of Besses o’ th’ Barn Band as a “revelation” came to fruition some years later (“MR. J. ORD HUME.,” 1903).

When Ord Hume talked, Australian bandsmen listened and there are some notable examples of his advice being applied literally and quickly.  He greatly followed developments in the brass band world, and it is because of him that Australian bands stopped using valve trombones – Ord Hume could not stand them.  The article below published by the Molong Argus newspaper is testament to his comments, and it seems James Ord Hume was quite happy to repeat this mantra to whomever asked him about it (“About Trombones.,” 1902; “Bathurst Band Contests.,” 1902).

Molong Argus, 28/11/1902, p. 15

James Ord Hume first visited Australia in 1902-1903 where he adjudicated at various eisteddfods around the country, starting with the South Street band sections in Ballarat.  Ord Hume was greatly impressed with the concept of the South Street and before the competitions had even begun, he had given them praise – and also a taste of what to expect.

He said he had always had a desire to visit Australia, and only demurred on receiving the invitation from the South-street Society to adjudicate at this year’s contests because of want of time.  However, the musical people of England wanted to know how they stood with Australia in competitive work, and the mission he entered upon was to give a candid opinion of all that occurred in a general report.  The musical contests of South-street were certainly the greatest in the world.

(“SOUTH-STREET COMPETITION’S,” 1902)

It would be fair to say that, barring some exceptions, he was not overly impressed with what he heard in the band contests and was quite clear about this in his comments (“BALLARAT COMPETITIONS.,” 1902).  His parting comments were a measure of contrast.  Of the good bands he said…

…had given splendid performances which would compare favourably with the best heard at contests in the old country.

(“BALLARAT COMPETITIONS.,” 1902)

And he was scathing about bands at the other end of the scale…

On the other hand some were distinctly bad.  Their principal fault was a lack of tone; the men had not blown out their instruments as they should have done.  If a player just obtained a good loud tone he could easily subdue it without losing breath and character.  In the constant effort to play softly this was all lost.

(“BALLARAT COMPETITIONS.,” 1902)

This being said, he also offered practical advice on how bandsmen could improve.

To obtain tone he advised bandsmen to practise slow scales, and plenty of steady moving psalm tunes.

(“BALLARAT COMPETITIONS.,” 1902)

Timothy Thirst (2006) did note in his book that Ord Hume was “known to be sometimes rather sarcastic and outspoken in his comments.” (p. 55). 

Ord Hume provide similarly forward comments when adjudicating in Bathurst, Sydney and New Zealand for various competitions, such was the hectic schedule of his visit.  However, there are some indications that Australian bands were beginning to pick up their musical standards.  After adjudicating in Sydney at the end of 1902, Ord Hume provided some observations.

He said that since he had been in Australia he had noticed an improvement in the playing of the bands.  He had observed at Ballarat and Bathurst, and now here.  He was about to proceed to Castlemaine (Vic.), and thence to New Zealand, and on his return the results of his observations would be published.

(“CHAMPIONSHIP BAND CONTEST.,” 1902)

When Ord Hume returned to Ballarat in 1903 prior to his travel back to England, he was asked what Australian bands needed to do to achieve a more excellent standard of playing.

“They require tuition” he said.  “In many cases it has come to this, that the men have to come to know as much as the conductor himself, and in such a case the progress made is not very great as you may imagine.  In New Zealand this fact is not so noticeable and it explains the reason why their bands, generally speaking, are much better than those here.  They possess over there many instructors who have come out from the old country, but here it seems to be ‘Australia for the Australians,’ and that will not do in music at any rate.”

(“MR. J. ORD HUME.,” 1903)

As mentioned, Ord Hume was appreciated for his direct commentary and aside from his work adjudicating he was afforded all kinds of civic receptions at the conclusion of events.  Perhaps this is understandable given his status as an eminent musical authority, but it was also for his honesty – what he said, he said with conviction.  Granted, some bandsmen might have been offended.  But in his own way he was trying to educate.  Band Associations were very pleased to have someone of that calibre adjudicate which is why, after the 1902 Ballarat event he was made an Honorary Life Member of the Victorian Bands’ Association (“SOUTH STREET SOCIETY.,” 1902). 

Frank Wright, the great Australian-born bandsman, summed up the first visit of Ord Hume to Australia when he wrote an appreciative article in the June 15th, 1935 edition of British Bandsman after Ord Hume’s passing.

No other event in band history, except, perhaps the tour of the famous Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, can be compared with his visit, as having equal influence in setting the standard for Australian bands.  He encouraged the young ambitious bandsman, and it was this personal interest that endeared him to the Australian people.

(Wright, 1935, p. 4)

If Ord Hume was an instigator of change in the way Australian band did things, the tours of Besses fanned further improvement as they provided a practical example of how an elite band sounded and operated.  The Besses band was no stranger to Ord Hume and it appears there was some mutual admiration and respect.  Ord Hume even arranged a Polka for Besses which can be heard below (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band Channel, 2022).  This radio broadcast recording from 1940, played by the City of Ballarat Municipal Band was provided to the Besses band by the Ballarat Band historian Bob Pattie, and uploaded to YouTube by the historian of the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, Stephen Hughes – thank you both! (This video was updated in January 2022)

Besses o’ th’ Barn Polka (Cornet Solo: Broadcast 1940). Soloist Jack Allan. Band: Ballarat City

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 1907 & 1910:

The welcome parade of the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band to Melbourne. The parade is being led by a combined 22 brass bands under the direction of Edward Code and is turning the corner from Collins St into Swanston St in front of the Melbourne Town Hall. (Source: Manchester Digital Music Archive, 13953)

The tours:

Much of the particulars of the two Besses tours were detailed in a previous post (de Korte, 2018a).  In summary, the famous Besses o’ th’ Barn Band from Lancashire undertook two massive tours in the space of three years which took them all over the globe (Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, 2018).  While in Australia, they were afforded concerts and engagements in towns and cities all over the country and never failed to please audiences – such was their reputation (“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907a; “BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907c).  Civic welcomes were par the course and the photo above of the parade turning the corner from Collins Street to Swanston Street at the Melbourne Town Hall is a case in point.  Besses were greeted at Spencer Street Station by a combined twenty-two bands directed by Edward Code which led them in a procession up Collins Street to the Town Hall (“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907e).  It is said that 70,000 people turned out to watch this procession, which would have been an amazing sight to see! (“Besses o’ th’ Barn Band,” 1907).

Herald, 23/10/1920, p. 4

Besses toured Australia again in 1910 and during this tour, lead Cornetist William Ryder left the band to join a local theatre ensemble and then became the first bandmaster of the then Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band in 1911 (de Korte, 2018b; Quickstep, 1920b).  Cornetist Percy Code, son of Mr Edward Code, took his place on the tour (Quickstep, 1920a).  The Herald weekly columnist ‘Quickstep’ provides some insight into this development through separate articles which detail the band lives of William Ryder…

Leaving England as principal cornet soloist with the famous Royal “Besses o’ th’ Barn” Band on their second world tour, Mr Ryder left the band on the completion of its Victorian trip and settled in Melbourne.  He was immediately engaged to play solo cornet in a picture theatre orchestra.

(Quickstep, 1920b)

…and Percy Code.

At the time the famous “Besses o’ th’ Barn” Band was touring Australia and Percy Code was offered an engagement which he accepted.  While he was abroad, his brilliant playing was favourably commented on by British press.  One leading band journal styled him “Percy Code the golden-toned,” also crediting him as one of the finest cornetists in England.  Study in orchestration and composition was undertaken, under the guidance of Mr Alexander Owen, of Manchester, known as the greatest authority on brass band music in the world.

(Quickstep, 1920a)
Herald, 11/09/1920, p. 14

Mr Alexander Owen at the time was the conductor of Besses during the first tour and part of the second tour and he was highly regarded in Australia and around the world – newspapers of the day were effusive in their praise, the Evening Telegraph newspaper from Charters Towers being one of them (“Mr. Alexander Owen.,” 1907).  After the tour, the Assistant Conductor of Besses, Mr Christopher Smith accepted a position as conductor of the Adelaide Tramways Band (Seymour, 1994).

Herald, 25/07/1907, p. 3

By all accounts, the two tours of the Besses band were huge successes and they opened up the ears and eyes of all who heard them. 

The influence:

Postcard: The Royal Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1907) (Jeremy de Korte collection)

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band made a lasting impression on the Australian band movement.  Notwithstanding their reputation prior to their visits to Australia, they certainly grew in stature on this unique part of their tours.  One hallmark of their visits was the fact they were very much a band full of critical listeners, teachers, advocates and gentlemen who were always willing to offer advice and help.

Hundreds of newspaper articles were published during the two Besses tours, so it is impossible to reference them all.  Buried in these articles are hints of information as to how the visits were perceived by Australian bandsmen, and what they learnt from the visiting band.  In July 1907 the Besses band were giving a concert in Goulburn, New South Wales and after the concert they were entertained by the local Australian Horse Band.  The Mayor of Goulburn was also present at this supper and his comments were noted in an article published by the Goulburn Herald.

He welcomed then not merely as bandsmen from the old country, but as brothers, and hoped their stay here would be a pleasurable one.  He was sure it would be great value from an educational point of view to the bands in Australia.  […] He hoped with all sincerity that the visit of the Besses would be crowned with the success it deserved, and that they would be able to say that the Australians were a loyal and patriotic people – which they were right up to the hilt – and pleased to accord their support to organisations such as the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band, which came so far to educate them.

(“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907a)

It is interesting to note the language here from the Mayor of Goulburn, not so much for the comments on patriotism but the words on education.  Besses were not really touring to educate Australia bands per se however, that was an inadvertent effect of them being in Australia.  Further comments were made by Mr. Cody, Bandmaster of the Australian Horse Band in the same article.

The visit of Besses could have none other than a good effect on band music in Australia.  The various bands would be moved to do greater things than in the past, and they result would be beneficial all round.

(“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907a)

Besses visited Adelaide in August 1907 and comments made in the Register newspaper were equally full of expectation on what the Besses visit would mean for Australian bands.

…the Besses’ performances must unquestionably stimulate band music in the State, which has been the case of every town they have visited on the Australian tour.  The artistic methods employed by Mr. Owen in conducting the Besses in their playing are said to be a revelation in technique and phrasing, and have been described by a leading Sydney bandmaster as being “an entirely new musical language for colonial bands to study”.

(“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907c)

After touring Australia for a couple of months, in September 1907, Besses were in Bendigo and in an article published by the Bendigo Advertiser, perhaps, we can see some real analysis and insight into the benefits the Besses visit would bring to Australian bands.

There are two things which especially distinguish the Besses.  In the first place the high degree of finish that characterises their playing, so that all bandsmen that have heard them have confessed that something new in band music had been revealed to them, possibilities in brass that were previously undreamed of, and in the second place, the courteous and obliging urbanity in which the conductor, Mr. Alexander Owen, and members of his corps, have done whatever they could to help those colonial bands which have appealed to them for advice and instruction.  The present generation of bandsmen will never forget their impression of the Besses, which will more or less in the future influence their aspirations and efforts, and when a young generation of Tubal Cains grow up, whose lips are not yet too tender for the resounding brass, they will hear abundant reminiscences of how this or that passage was taken up by the Besses, until not impossibly, they will wish that at last that the Besses had never toured through Australasia.

(“BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND.,” 1907b)

As mentioned, Besses undertook a second world tour and in 1910 they were back in Australia.  Alexander Owen stepped down from his conducting duties during this tour and Mr Christopher Smith took over to no less acclaim from audiences, such was the ability of this ensemble.  Australian bands were also changing, and this had been noticed by various writers, which was attributed by the visit of Besses three years before.  Said a writer in an article published by The Ballarat Star newspaper in June 1910.

It might truthfully be said that the standard of band music underwent an appreciable change for the better as the result of the visit of this celebrated combination.

(“AMUSEMENTS.,” 1910)

Mr. W. Bogle, manager of the Besses band during their second tour provided some interesting comments comparing band movements of the U.K. and Australia in a wide-ranging interview which was published by the Evening News newspaper in August (“THE MUSIC OF THE BAND.,” 1910).  While his interview is too much for this post, the advice he provided was obviously valuable to the Australian band movement.  And again, there were indications that Australian bands were heading the right way.

They had no doubt that the public of Australia would encourage the improvement of brass bands, and it was particularly pleasing to see they were assisted by the municipal bodies.

(“THE MUSIC OF THE BAND.,” 1910)

The legacy:

The influence of the Besses tours should not be viewed as just bands and band members attending their concerts or being instructed, advised and then feeling very much inspired.  It can also be seen in other ways.  William Ryder, Percy Code and Christopher Smith, bandsmen who had all been associated with Besses at high levels brought the Besses influences with them to their own bands, playing and adjudication.  Australian bands began to rapidly improve after the first Besses tour and inspiration from the band itself.  Instruction and adjudication from these men helped carry things further.  Mr Christopher Smith, once a deputy conductor of Besses, gave high praise to certain bands and was in no doubt that Australian bands could compete with the best (“WOULD CAPTURE LONDON,” 1922).  He adjudicated at South Street in 1922 and gave a general comment on the standards that were set.

“The standard was appreciably higher than when I judged bands here two years ago.” He said, “and what is pleasing to me is to find the unsuccessful bands more closely approaching the standard set by the victorious bands in all the grades.”

(“WOULD CAPTURE LONDON,” 1922)

He left his highest praise for the famous Malvern Tramways Band which had just won all the A Grade band sections of the 1922 South Street competition.

Malvern Tramways Band is such a cultured musical combination that it would capture English audiences by its playing.  It would do so by sheer merit.

(“WOULD CAPTURE LONDON,” 1922)

And in a final remark he highlighted advancements of bands in the lower grades.

Mr Smith went on to say that marked advances had been made by the “B” grade and “C” grade bands in their contest pieces.

(“WOULD CAPTURE LONDON,” 1922)

High praise indeed and this provided a good indication of where Australian bands were at, and where they were going just over a decade from the last Besses tour.  The bands were definitely improving!

Interestingly, the tours of Besses were still being talked about in the early 1930s as the legacy of the visits still resounded in the band movement.  The Daily News newspaper in Perth published an article in September 1930, essentially on Mr Hugh McMahon, the genius Cornetist but also mentions the state of brass bands in Western Australia as a whole.  The article also had this to say about the legacy of the Besses tours.

Most memorable had been the visit of the Besses of the Barn Band which had shown what a brass band could do in the way of interpreting certain classes of music.  The visitors had given a revelation of the playing of hymn tunes equal to that of any organ and had set a new view before Australian players.

(“EMPEROR OF CORNET,” 1930)

To finish this section on the Besses tours and the influence they left behind, we have these comments from a person speaking at the annual banquet of the Queensland based Howard and Torbanlea Citizens’ Band in December 1933. 

After a loyal toast, the toast of the Howard and Torbanlea Citizens’ Band was proposed by Mr. G. J. Edmunds who stressed the many advantages of having a band in the community.  Mr. Edmunds declared that the visit of the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band many years ago was the running point in the standard of band throughout the Commonwealth, and today, quite a number of bands had reached that standard.

(“BAND BANQUET,” 1933)

Australian bands had begun to reach the pinnacles set by Besses.  And in the 1920s, with tours to England by the Newcastle Steelworks’ Band and the Australian Commonwealth Band, both conducted by Albert Baile, Australian bands proved they could match the much-vaunted English bands and win their competitions (Zealley & Ord Hume, 1926).

A side note, Mr John Dixon, Agent for Boosey & Co.:

James Ord Hume provided much advice to the Australian band movement on how to improve, and the Besses o’ th’ Barn Band clearly displayed an excellence in musicianship.  One aspect that could be considered is that Australian bands needed the best of instruments and British instrument manufacturers saw opportunities in Australia & New Zealand for additional sales.  Travelling with James Ord Hume in 1902 and on the first Besses tour in 1907 was an agent for the Boosey & Co. instrument manufactures, Mr John Dixon (“MUSIC ADJUDICATOR,” 1929).

Near the end of the 1800s and into the 1900s, Boosey & Co. “was flourishing, supporting a staff of 100 employees” (Howell, 2016, p. 61).  John Dixon was one of their agents and he travelled the world to create find new markets and build contacts, so when James Ord Hume and Besses went on their respective tours it presented an opportunity for John Dixon to go along as well. 

Unfortunately, not much is known about John Dixon’s life, but from brief range of articles we can see that he made extensive contacts in the band world (“An Exhibit of Musical Instruments,” 1906; “MUSIC ADJUDICATOR,” 1929; “Personals,” 1903).  Writing a long letter to Wright & Round’s Brass Band News on February 1st from New Zealand (published in their April 1st issue), he noted of his experiences,

…In Coolgardie I met John Cox, late of Lassodie, now bandmaster Coolgardie City Band.  He has a son a good cornet player.  He asked me about a great many Fifeshire bandsmen, and I was able to tell him something about all.  He asked me specially to remember him to Mr. James Carmichael of Cowdenbeath, Mr. George Peacock of Fauldhouse, Geordie Pemann and all the Penmans, muckle fat Geordie in particular said he, to Archie Carmichael of Glasgow, and many more.  I met an old Bury lad full of the Lancashire love of contesting at Kalgoorlie, where he is bandmaster of the Town Band.  Mr. Richard Weber is his name, and a fine fellow he is.  He sends his best regards to all his old friends in the Bury, Radcliffe, and Besses districts, not forgetting “Trotter,” whom he says is a “corker.” (He must have meant an uncorker.)  At Boulder City I met and heard Mr, Hugh McMahon, the Alex Owen of Australia who took his band 4000 miles to compete at Ballarat and at Bathurst.  He is a wonder on the cornet and deserves his title.  At Adelaide I found the Loco. Band very good and in charge of an enthusiastic viz., Mr. Charles Allison. […] I have had a very successful tour so far in a business sense, and have established a good many agencies.  Give my regards to all old friends and tell them I shall be with them again when the flowers bloom in the spring tra-la.  I leave Auckland on February 25th and travel via., Fiji, Honolulu, Canada, New York, and Glasgow.

(Dixon in “Personals,” 1903, p. 7)

It is clear that John Dixon was good at his job and certainly found lots of band friends throughout Australia.  His comments on the standards of Australian bands and bandsmen were certainly interesting.  It could be debatable whether the sale of Boosey instruments to bands made them any better.  However, Boosey (like numerous other instrument companies), milked the fact that certain bands and bandsmen were using their instruments to win competitions – a strong selling point in those days (Boosey and Co., 1919).  

The Australian Band News, 12(10), 26/06/1919, p. 18

James Ord Hume, 1924:

In January 1924 there was much excitement in the band community as it was revealed that James Ord Hume would be making another visit to Australia to adjudicate, twenty-two years after his last visit in 1902 (“MR. J. ORD HUME,” 1924).  The Ballarat Star newspaper published a long article full of praise for the work of Ord Hume in 1902 with a brief record of what he did in Australia in his first visit, read out by the President of the South Street Society, Mr Scroucher.

…There is no need for me to tell you who Mr J. Ord Hume is, for with the exception of the very young members of the club, all bandsmen will remember him.  He came to Australia some twenty-odd years ago.  He judged the South street contest, asked for more tone, told the bandsmen to throw the valve trombone on the scrap heap, gave the prizes to the right persons, and then skipped across to Bathurst.  In Bathurst he judged all the musical items from piano right through the list, including all instruments, except, possibly, the bagpipes.  He didn’t judge the pipes because there were none to judge.  From Bathurst he went to New Zealand, did a lot of work there, created a breeze and skipped back to Sydney, where he judged a big contest.  He also did other work, and good work too.  Through his criticism and acting on his advice, many bands became better musical organisations.  And now, after all these year he is about to visit us again.

(“MR. J. ORD HUME,” 1924)

Part of the rest of the article comprised of a ditty, which will not be written here for the sake of brevity.  Needless to say, the ditty highlighted the delight in knowing that Ord Hume was coming back to Ballarat.

Frank Wright also eloquently wrote of the second visit in his memorial article for the British Bandsman in June 1935.

But since those early days a new generation of Australian bandsman had sprung up.  A generation to whom the name of J. Ord Hume is no less magical than it was to those enthusiasts of 1901.  It is little wonder then, that his second – and last – visit in 1924-5 was hailed as an even greater event than the first.

(Wright, 1935, p. 4)

Given that Ord Hume visited in 1902 and had provided advice to bands on how to improve, Besses toured in 1907 and 1910 and cast a lasting legacy over Australian bands, the fact that Ord Hume visited again in 1924 provides us with expert assessment on which standard Australian bands had reached.  We need to only look at his words which were published in an Argus article in October 1924 upon his welcome to Ballarat.  This was the only competition Ord Hume was to adjudicate in Australia this year.

Mr. Hume referred to the successes of the Newcastle Band in England, and said that it could rank with the cream of British bands.  Australian bands had improved wonderfully, but he could not say the same of the English bands. […] His object in visiting Ballarat was not only to judge, but also to advise.  If he could do anything to further raise the standard of band music in Australia it would be done.  When in Melbourne on Sunday he had heard the Malvern Tramways Band, and he had been delighted with its excellent tone.  It should always be the aim of a brass band to develop a good tone.

(“AUSTRALIAN BANDS.,” 1924)
Famous Bands of the British Empire‘, 1926, p. 6

Ord Hume was always one to make further comments and in 1926 he teamed up with Canadian Lieut. Alfred Edward Zealley to write a book, ‘Famous Bands of the British Empire’.  This book was essentially a list of the best bands, military and brass, that they perceived to be the finest of the time.  Four Australian bands made the list: New South Wales Lancers band, Malvern Tramways Band, Newcastle Steelworks Band and The Australian Commonwealth Band.  It is in the section detailing the exploits of the Malvern Tramways Band thus far that we can find more of the story on Besses and Ord Hume in Australia.  What is written here is a perfect response to his prophecy from 1903 at the top of this post.

Famous Bands of the British Empire‘, 1926, p. 60

Conclusion:

There is enough evidence to suggest that the visits of James Ord Hume and the Besses band to Australia were the great catalysts in boosting the standards of Australian bands.  It is a fascinating story, and there is much that could have been added as there are always side stories that link into this central theme.  It could be argued that there were other influences that were working on Australian bands.  Certainly, in the early 1900s, there was a crop of highly skilled bands people coming through the ranks that were gaining notice in the band movement.  However, help was provided from these British experts and their legacy, and memory, lives on.

References:

About Trombones. (1902, 28 November). Molong Argus (NSW : 1896 – 1921), 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article144160543

AMUSEMENTS : BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND : THE BALLARAT SEASON : OPENING PERFORMANCES. (1910, 04 June). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article216365174

AUSTRALIAN BANDS : GREATLY IMPROVED : Visiting Adjudicator’s View. (1924, 15 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 22. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2050652

BALLARAT COMPETITIONS. (1902, 08 November). Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904), 36. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article161788993

BAND BANQUET : Howard Function : ANNUAL MEETING. (1933, 21 December). Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. : 1860 – 1947), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article149267526

Bathurst Band Contests : A Warm Sort of Judge : His Remarks at Ballarat. (1902, 06 November). Mudgee Guardian and North-Western Representative (NSW : 1890 – 1954), 18. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article157697522

Bathurst Musical and Literary. (1902, 13 November). National Advocate (Bathurst, NSW : 1889 – 1954), 5-6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article157251693

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band Channel. (2022, 02 January). Besses o’ th’ Barn Polka (1940) [Video (1940 Radio Broadcast)]. YouTube. Retrieved 02 January 2022 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PE5vkyi1vIg

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND. (1907a, 24 July). Goulburn Herald (NSW : 1881 – 1907), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article100454780

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1907, 09 August). Quiz (Adelaide, SA : 1900 – 1909), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166338966

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND. (1907b, 06 September). Bendigo Advertiser (Vic. : 1855 – 1918), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article89858023

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND. (1907c, 10 August). Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56528158

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1907). [Photograph]. [13953]. Manchester Digital Music Archive. https://www.mdmarchive.co.uk/artefact/13953/BESSES_O’_TH’_BARN_BAND_PHOTOGRAPH_1907

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND : A NOTABLE CONDUCTOR. (1907d, 25 July). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243298679

BESSES O’ TH’ BARN BAND : WELCOME TO MELBOURNE. (1907e, 29 July). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10125983

Boosey and Co. (1919). A Famous Soloist [Advertisement]. The Australian Band News, 12(10), 18.

CHAMPIONSHIP BAND CONTEST : INTERESTING COMPETITIONS. (1902, 29 December). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14480823

de Korte, J. D. (2018a, 14 October). International band tours of the early 1900’s: bringing music to Australia. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/10/14/_international-band-tours-of-the-early-1900s-bringing-music-to-australia/

de Korte, J. D. (2018b, 02 March). William Ryder: The first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/03/02/william-ryder-the-first-conductor-of-the-prahran-malvern-tramways-employees-band/

EMPEROR OF CORNET : Some Triumphs of Genius : AUSTRALIA’S BAND MUSIC. (1930, 20 September). Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article79474044

An Exhibit of Musical Instruments. (1906, 13 October). Star, 7. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/TS19061013.2.94.5

Howell, J. (2016). Boosey & Hawkes: The rise and fall of a wind instrument manufacturing empire (Publication Number 16081) [PhD, City University of London, School of Arts, Department of Creative Practice & Enterprise – Centre for Music Studies]. City Research Online. London, UK. http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/16081

Mr. Alexander Owen : THE GREATEST BRASS BAND CONDUCTOR IN THE WORLD. (1907, 01 July). Evening Telegraph (Charters Towers, Qld. : 1901 – 1921), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article214932270

MR. J. ORD HUME : AN INTERESTING INTERVIEW : WHAT AUSTRALIAN BANDS LACK. (1903, 25 February). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article208462723

MR. J. ORD HUME : POPULAR WITH BANDSMEN. (1924, 26 January). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article213955763

Mullen, C. C. (1965). Brass bands have played a prominent part in the history of Victoria. The Victorian Historical Magazine, 36(1), 30-47.

MUSIC ADJUDICATOR : Death of Mr. J. Dixon. (1929, 22 July). News (Adelaide, SA : 1923 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129174877

THE MUSIC OF THE BAND : AUSTRALIA’S FUTURE : CHAT WITH BRITISH EXPERTS. (1910, 12 August). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115252341

Personals. (1903). Wright & Round’s Brass Band News(259), 7. http://usir.salford.ac.uk/id/eprint/45510/

Prestwich, M. (1906). Besses o’ th’ Barn Band [Postcard]. Martin Prestwich, Manchester, United Kingdom.

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

Quickstep. (1920b, 23 October). Bandsmen’s Gossip : Celebrated Conductor. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242245731

The Royal Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band : The Finest in the World. (1907). [Postcard]. Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band.

Seymour, C. (1994). Adelaide’s Tramway Band. Trolley Wire, 35(4), 3-10. https://www.sydneytramwaymuseum.com.au/members.old/Trolley_Wire/259%20-%20Trolley%20Wire%20-%20Nov%201994.pdf

SOUTH STREET SOCIETY : A SOCIAL FUNCTION : TO MR J. ORD HUME. (1902, 04 November). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article208361692

SOUTH-STREET COMPETITION’S : Inaugural Concert. (1902, 03 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article9062176

Thirst, T. (2006). James Ord Hume 1864-1932 : a friend to all bandsmen : an account of his life and music. Timothy Thirst.

WOULD CAPTURE LONDON : Malvern Band Praised : “CONDUCTOR A GENIUS”. (1922, 30 October). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243776990

Wright, F. (1935). The late J. ORD HUME : An Appreciation. British Bandsman, 4-5.

Zealley, A. E., & Ord Hume, J. (1926). Famous Bands of the British Empire : Brief Historical Records of the recognized leading Military Bands and Brass Bands in the Empire. J. P. Hull.

Australian bands, gramophones and wireless: adapting to new technology

19290722_Argus_Wireless-Broadcast
The Argus, 22/07/1929, p. 18

Introduction:

The Old Town Band
(Written for “The Land”)

The band was the life of the old town
The zest of its great events
When the great Pooh-Bah himself came down,
Or the prize merinos brought renown
Or the circus raised its tents.

There was music in the trombone
A martial note in the drum
And the boom of the bass was on its own
In the days before the gramophone
Ere the wireless craze had come.

Those were the day when the township band
Filled a place in pioneer life:
Cheered the struggle with virgin land
And gave the old battlers a helping hand
When droughts or plagues were rife.

Today the baton is laid aside
And the bandsmen rest in their graves:
They played their way o’er the great divide,
And are bandsmen now on the other side
In paradisian naves

And o’er the earth in tones forlorn
The saxophone raises its call.
The engines start their shrieks at dawn
The gramophone laughs the band to scorn,
And the wireless mocks them all.

(Excerpts from “The Old Town Band”, James, 1929)

So wrote Mr. A. A. James in 1929 for The Land newspaper in response to an article published in the Riverine Grazier which lamented the fact that the town of Hay in Southern New South Wales had lost its town band.  His prose was published in several other country newspapers at the time, as many town bands faced the same challenges.  Mr James singles out the gramophones and wireless as contributing factors, but was he right in suggesting so?  Was this new technology which proliferated during the early 1900s detrimental to our bands? It depends on the perception of the history at the time.  And thankfully, there is much history to examine.

In this post, the effects of new broadcasting technology on Australian bands will be looked at.  The early 1900s were a period of rapid technological change and our bands were nominally affected by these changes.  Throughout this early time from 1900 – 1950, and Mr James’s poem sits roughly in the middle, a new life of music and entertainment was brought into the homes of Australians – enthusiastically so.  With this adoption of gramophones and wireless sets came the start of commentary and opinions from citizens which were written up in the newspapers.  Radio program notes published in newspapers became essential reading.

Through this all we find the relationships between audience and bands being rapidly changed.  Perhaps this is the deeper meaning of Mr James’s poem – he identified that people were more enamoured with sounds coming out of a box of wires than live instruments and musicians.  Both sides of this issue will be explored as some bands took advantage of the radio and found new audiences, while other bands could not compete.

Early transmissions:

Live performance was very much the norm of Australian brass bands in the early 1900s and engagement with audience was centred around this type of performing.   As well as this, the popularity of brass bands was obvious through their music and the crowds that they attracted.  Reports of 70,000 people cramming the streets of Melbourne to see the famous Besses o’ th’ Barn Band in a parade and 20,000-30,000 people watching the South Street marching sections were not uncommon (“Besses o’ th’ Barn Band,” 1907; Greaves, 1996).  Later in the 1920s there are stories about 5,000 people attending community song nights in local gardens, as was the case at Central Park in Malvern where the Malvern Tramways performed every week (Young, 1923).

In amongst the many accounts on live performances are a couple of unique stories.  In an earlier post regarding bands on Australian islands, the remarkable story of a performance by the Kingscote Brass Band (Kangaroo Island) was highlighted.  On the 20th of November 1906, the band performed a lunchtime concert which was transmitted via telephone to lighthouses at either end of Kangaroo Island – one seventy miles to the West of Kingscote and the other thirty miles to the East (“MUSIC FOR WATCHERS BY THE SEA.,” 1906).  According to the article in the Register, the concert was “very much appreciated” by both lighthouse keepers (“MUSIC FOR WATCHERS BY THE SEA.,” 1906).

However, this was not the first brass band concert broadcast via telephone in Australia.  According to an article published in the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin, this took place in the preceding century, although the exact date is unclear.

A band conducted by Mr Edward Brown was practising at the old fire brigade station […] when the late Messrs Harry Batchelor and W. Pummell, compositors of the “Morning Bulletin” suggested that the playing be put “over the phone”.  Mr Rosenads, then in charge of the Rockhampton Telephone Exchange, agreed to the proposal.  There was a function at the School of Arts that night and the band was heard there “by quite a few who took turns at the earphone”.  Later the band was playing outside the Oddfellows Hall in Denham Street and by means of a “link-up” was heard at Mount Morgan.  “And very well, too” said Mr Brown.

(“Band Music “Broadcast” Here Last Century,” 1945)

No doubt transmitting a performance via telephone would have seemed innovative and inventive, especially in these early times.  However, these were extremely rare and were not substitutes for live performances, they were mainly done out of opportunity – a way to see whether it could be done.  The major changes that were taking place were the recordings of bands on gramophone records, and the beginnings of radio broadcasts.

The band movement is cautious:

In Australia, the pace of change from predominantly live music to a mix of live music, recorded music and broadcast music took place within the space of a couple of decades.  There were many commentators at the time who saw fit to try to warn of a decline of community bands and one or two had their voices repeated through many regional newspapers.  One of them was a Mr Will Lewis formerly of the Toowoomba Municipal Band who expressed a pessimistic attitude:

He was of the opinion that the day of the amateur brass band was waning, and gave as a reason the fact that the gramophone, by which one could hear the world’s greatest bands and orchestras – jazz and otherwise, was creating serious inroads upon the brass band, and further, that the advent of the radio was also having much to do with the decline of brass band popularity.  Even band contests were becoming less popular every year – at least with the general public – and the wireless and the gramophone were the two disturbing elements.  Bandsmen, naturally, would be the last persons to recognize this serious fact.”

(““DAY OF AMATEUR BRASS BANDS WANING.”,” 1927)

Some might consider Mr Lewis to be alarmist, he could not predict the future, but he was commentating on the present.  For the brass bands it was a time of upheaval and some of them were rightfully concerned.  It could be said that many bands went defunct at this time due to the technological change however it is hard to document this at this time of writing.

The worry of band people was not helped by this small snippet of news in 1930 about the Royal Melbourne Show dropping the brass bands in favour of recorded music being played through loud speakers – and saving £140.00 (“MELBOURNE SHOW.,” 1930).

19300409_Brisbane-Courier_Melb-Show
The Brisbane Courier, 09/04/1930, p. 24

In 1938 a passionate call to old times was made by the Committee of the Sunshine Brass Band, based in western Melbourne.  While the crux of the article published in the Sunshine Advocate was to solicit funds and support, they also lamented the fact that times had changed, and that local brass bands were victims of change.  Below are some excerpts from the article:

Most old-established customs and usages have felt the influence of modern times, and not the least of these are district brass bands, which have had to fight against canned music retailed hourly over the wireless.  Gramophone recordings of the world’s best bands are sandwiched in between talks and appeals to buy somebody’s pills to improve health.

[…]

The older generation was a music loving people.  The possession of a piano was a hall-mark of respectability, and the education of the children was not considered complete unless music was included in the curriculum.

[…]

To hear a local band in the gardens on a Sunday afternoon and a warm evening were events that were looked forward to by the older generation.  They were delightful times, and people held communion with one another to the strains of pleasant and beautiful music, which acted as a tonic to their nervous system.

The Sunshine band committee realises that a return to the customs of other days is due, and propose to play near the railway station on warm Sunday evenings.

(“Sunshine Band Needs More Public Support,” 1938)

This article was interesting in its sentiment and information.  We have here a brass band from the Melbourne environs trying to bring back former times through playing quality live music in a local place.  By this time however, music broadcasts were well and truly accepted so their words might have struck some memories amongst parts of the population. They were telling it as they saw it.

A similar sentiment to Mr. Lewis and Mr. James was also expressed in 1938 in an article published in the Sydney Mail by a contributor with the initials of W. P. T.  This article was more of a reminiscence of times gone by and he mentions several brass bands.  The opening of his article reads:

The brass band of the small country towns plays a very important part in the social life of the country, although such bands are not nearly as common as they were before the days of radio.

(W. P. T., 1938)

It is an interesting observation to make and clearly some connection had been made in the minds of people that radios were somewhat to blame for the demise of smaller bands.

The other side to these views is that several bands had begun exploring what the new technology could do for them from the very beginning.

The band movement adapts:

In 1996, noted band historian Jack Greaves assisted in the compilation of several old recordings into a two-CD set titled “The Great Bands of Australia” (Greaves, 1996).  This CD set is remarkable not only for the breadth of recorded music from full band works, marches and solo items, performed by a large selection of famous Australian bands.  From reading a catalogue entry of this work (linked), we can see that the recordings date back to 1912.  Some of the music can still be heard thanks to the work of the National Library of Australia and the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA).  Below is a link to one recording which is on the NFSA website:

The Newcastle Steelworks Band (1924) playing the “Honest Toil March” by William Rimmer

The gramophone meant that people could acquire recordings of music groups and play them in their own homes at a time of their choosing.  They did not have to go out to concerts or community events, or the band competitions.  It was one cause of alarm for the band movement, but some bands obviously saw fit to record their work and bring their playing to new audiences.  Recordings by many of the top bands of the day still exist and enthusiasts have made digital copies of old recordings.

Aside from the gramophone, the utilisation of the radio probably brought about the greatest change to society and to the band movement.  Referred to early as the wireless, Australia followed developments out of America and the United Kingdom and set up its own network of stations.  It is in the early 1920s when this was happening.

19230800_Box-Hill-Band_Radio-Studio
Newspaper unknown at the time of writing (Source: Box Hill Historical Society)

The year is 1923 and in the Melbourne suburb of Box Hill the first transmission of a live brass band over the wireless took place on the 1st of August (Elsum, 1924).  The picture above is reputed to be the Box Hill Brass Band sitting in the home of Mr H. Beattie, a wireless enthusiast who resided in Box Hill.  However, in some newspapers the band that participated in the first transmission was named as the Nunawading District Brass Band (“NUNAWADING BRASS BAND,” 1923).  This conjecture can be easily explained as Nunawading and Box Hill are near neighbouring suburbs and the then Parish of Nunawading encompassed Box Hill.  (The Box Hill Historical Society shares my confusion as the newspapers were not forthcoming as to the true identity of the band that was actually broadcast (Harris, 2020)).  Despite the confusion in the newspapers, the fact remains that a brass band of the local area had their music transmitted via wireless.

This first transmission was actually a modulation test and the band was heard over all of Melbourne, parts of Victoria, and even interstate!  Much of the article published in the local Reporter newspaper listed the locations where the transmission was heard and the praise that was given:

For the next few days letters arrived from all points of the compass congratulating Mr Beattie and the Band, and expressing appreciation also of a speech by Cr. W. Young.  From Footscray to Armadale, from Sandringham to Camberwell, Essendon, Hawksburn, and wherever else in the metropolitan district, receiving stations listened in, the unanimous opinion expressed that it “was the best music ever heard by wireless”.  Wonthaggi sent a tribute, and the amateurs of Ararat wrote “Encore, we want more”, while far away Terang announced that the enthusiastic listeners in there were delighted.  The most interesting letter came from Strathfield, Sydney, 592 miles from the spot the Band played, stating that a number of visitors sat around a three-valve set with a loud speaker, and heard the performance from start to finish, announcing the strength and modulation to be perfect, and stating that after the Band had concluded with the National Anthem, local transmitters around Sydney could be heard enthusiastically discussing the test.

(“NUNAWADING BRASS BAND,” 1923)

An achievement indeed!  Although this achievement had to be defended.  In early 1924, the Vice-President of the Nunawading District Brass Band, a Mr. W. M. R. Elsum wrote a letter to the Argus newspaper disputing that the Newcastle Steelworks Band was the first full band to have broadcasted a concert via wireless (Elsum, 1924).

Once people in Australia realised that music of this nature could be transmitted successfully, there was no stopping the progress – it is to say, in colloquial terms, the horse had well and truly bolted!  Radio stations and transmitters were set up all over the country and within years, much of the population could listen to a variety of programs (““Listening In”,” 1923).  The Queensland Government for example, started setting up a State based broadcasting service in 1925 (“STATE RADIO.,” 1925).  In New South Wales, innovation in programming was highlighted with the organising of a Radio Eisteddfod by the New South Wales Broadcasting Company which involved a section for brass bands (“RADIO EISTEDDFOD.,” 1928).  Although, the articles of the day were not clear as to who competed and if brass bands made it to the finals.

For the brass bands, radio stations seized upon them as a ready-made musical item and for some of the bands it led to new popularity – some, because radio stations were tending to use the same top-quality brass bands over and over again.  Additionally, as explored in a previous post, in 1930 the A.B.C. Military Band was established (“MILITARY BAND AT 3LO.,” 1930).  Initially conducted by Harry Shugg, it was further strengthened in 1933 and quickly became a stalwart of A.B.C. radio programming alongside the brass bands (“A BRASS BAND RECITAL.,” 1940; “Radio Programmes,” 1939).

S6.2_20180609_19310000_ABC-Military-Band_Postcard
1930 Postcard of the A.B.C. Military Band in a studio, conducted by Mr Harry Shugg. (Source: Victorian Collections: Victorian Bands’ League)

The Advertiser newspaper in Adelaide noted that “Brass band concerts have been remarkably popular” and one of the brass bands that station 5CL presented was “Holden’s Silver Band” (“5CL FEATURES,” 1930).  A highlight in Victoria of station 3LO’s programming was the “State Schools’ Brass Band contest, which was won by Wonthaggi.”  (Armadale came second and Princess Hill was third with Northcote awarded an honourable mention) – a contest which was adjudicated by the famous Percy Code (“RADIO SHOW.,” 1930).

Of course, like the concerts mentioned earlier in the post that were broadcast via telephone, there were other broadcasts that could be classed as novelty events.  In November 1932, thirty members of the Young Australia League band were taken up in the “Southern Cross” aircraft flown by Charles Kingsford-Smith where they were to “broadcast music at a height of 5000ft” (“MUSIC IN THE AIR,” 1932).

Now that radio broadcasting was fully entrenched and brass bands were a seemingly popular item, there were times when radio through it would be in the best interest of the band movement to have their events transmitted to the world.  The Victorian Centenary celebrations of 1934 were a case in point.  The Herald newspaper took aim at the Victorian Bands’ League for not being ambitious enough with their proposed event:

From the point of view of broadcasting, it is regrettable that the Victorian Bands’ League does not see its way to conduct at the Centenary celebration its proposed international brass band championship.  This would have been an event of exceptional interest, extending to distant peoples who know little of Australia and its progress.  More than that, good band music will be an influence joyous and vital.  If an international contest cannot be arranged it should be possible to provide an Imperial one.

(“Broadcasting And Brass Bands,” 1933)

Through better technology and transmission, Australia was also exposed to performances from around the world.   Perhaps one of the more unusual concerts that was received was in 1935 when the Imperial Ethiopian Brass Band was heard via short-wave radio in Brisbane (“IMPERIAL ETHIOPIAN BRASS BAND,” 1935).  The transmission was reported to have been heard with “remarkable clarity” (“IMPERIAL ETHIOPIAN BRASS BAND,” 1935).  Over in Western Australia, the Kalgoorlie Brass Band conducted by Mr. Ted McMahon made history in 1937 when it was broadcast and relayed nationally through stations 6GF, 6WF and 6WA as part of a program to highlight local artists (“Kalgoorlie Band For National Broadcast,” 1937).

These formative years of radio shaped the way Australians heard and digested music.  Clearly the brass bands were a useful addition to radio programs, and they presented some quality music.  Obviously, some bands, namely country bands, had been left out of this success.  What were the feelings of the listeners?

Too many bands or not enough bands?:

As mentioned, the first wireless transmission of a brass band took place in 1923 so another part of this story is the opinions of listeners, and there were many opinions.  Most accounts were diplomatic about the popularity of brass bands, but some listeners and commentators asked whether there were too many bands, or could the broadcasters play more bands.  Opinions were divided; Australians clearly had their choices.

As early as 1925 letters were seen in newspapers criticising the musical choices of radio stations.  Some of the language was blunt as this letter signed by “Condensor” and published in the Herald shows:

Sir,  – We quite agree with your correspondent “Radio” who complains of the number of brass bands broadcast from 3LG.  Night after night we have to put our phones down, sick and tired of brass.  Surely one night a week is enough to satisfy anyone.

(Condensor, 1925)

Interestingly we also see opinions from commentators.  A Mr Robert McCall, writing for the Australian Women’s Weekly column, “Music Radio” asks a question at the head of one his columns, “Band Music On the Air Will it be Overdone?” (McCall, 1933).  He asked the question because of a decision by the A.B.C.:

Is the Australian Broadcasting Commission overdoing band programmes?  Next week there will be bands on the air on six nights – one night the popular brass ensemble from the Malvern Tramways and on five the newly-formed A.B.C. Military Band.

(McCall, 1933)

He went on to write:

Bands, both brass and military, always have been popular in Australia and the commission will find a vast and most receptive audience for its several months season by the band conducted by Captain Adkins from Kneller Hall.

[…]

The bands’ programmes are sure to stimulate the already widespread interest in band work, but I feel that their greatest service should lie in lifting the usual band repertoire out of the ruck of the commonplace.  It is about time that such hardy perennials as “Zampa,” “Poet and Peasant,” “Light Cavalry,” and those ill-sounding selections from grand and light operas were given a rest.

[…]

At the same time it should not be forgotten that in recent years some of the most important composers of the day have been seized with the possibilities of bands.  Men such as Holst and Elgar have written compositions specially for them.  Nor are these works complex and unlistenable.

Band music gives pleasure to thousands.  It can still do so, and yet be artistic and original.

(McCall, 1933)

McCall provides an interesting opinion.  It seems he was not against the idea of bands being programmed six nights in a row.  Rather, he was taking the view of a music critic and expressing concern that the usual repertoire played by bands per se was not palatable to the ordinary listener.

To counter some of the detractors, there were always people who liked the regularity of brass and military bands on the radio.  The target of their letter writing was the radio stations themselves and certain listeners scolded the A.B.C. in particular for altering the programming of regular band programs (Breynard, 1934; Mounsey, 1939).  One of the stronger responses came from Mr J. L. C. White, then Secretary of the Victorian Bands’ League of which his words were quoted in an article published in The Argus newspaper in March 1951:

Victoria’s 3,500 registered brass bandsmen and their fans were receiving no encouragement from the A.B.C. or commercial broadcasting stations, Mr. J. L. C. white said yesterday.

[…]

He was commenting on a letter to The Argus pointing out that packed houses for the Black Watch band had proved that good bands were still popular.

The letter asked why radio listeners were not given more band music.

Mr. White said: “A poll would show that 90% of radio listeners enjoy band music.”

“More bands than ever are being formed now, and their music is as popular as ever.”

(“He wants more band music broadcast,” 1951)

It is of course some months after this article was published that the A.B.C. Military Band was made redundant in October 1951 (“A.B.C. Band’s Farewell,” 1951).

After these formative times, the status quo of brass bands had changed.  Live performances continued, but radio and recording also occupied the bands.  Some bands found a new market by producing small recordings of marches for use in schools and marching groups of with three such recordings are cited with details of the recordings linked here (Malvern Municipal Band, 1958, 1970; Preston Municipal Brass Band, 1956).

Conclusion:

In the course of these years it is possible to follow divergent streams of opinion.  Firstly, there were the bands who were concerned by the impact of new technology and were worried about the erosion of their traditional ways of doing things.  Then there were the bands that embraced recording and broadcasting.  And of course, the second divergent opinion was evident regarding the content of radio programs and programming.  It was not exactly win-win situations for everyone.  Strength of feeling in the band movement was strong.

It is doubtful to see whether the same debate would take place nowadays regarding new technology.  There was a time past in the early days of the internet when community bands could not see the use of a website or email.  It would seem that history keeps repeating itself whenever there is a new technological development.

To finish this post, it would be remiss not to end with another old recording.  Here is a YouTube with the Newcastle Steelworks Band of 1924 playing the piece “Zelda” by Percy Code with famous Cornetist Arthur Stender as the soloist (Vintage Sounds & Code, 2019).

References:

5CL FEATURES : Brass Band Concert. (1930, 23 August). Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30503444

A.B.C. Band’s Farewell. (1951, 15 October). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205334832

A.B.C. Military Band – Conductor: Harry Shugg. (1930). [Postcard : L13.8cm – W8.8cm]. [0016]. Victorian Collections, Victorian Bands’ League. https://victoriancollections.net.au/items/5b39988221ea6d0008c461a6

Band Music “Broadcast” Here Last Century. (1945, 16 October). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56391096

Besses o’ th’ Barn Band. (1907, 09 August). Quiz (Adelaide, SA : 1900 – 1909), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166338966

A BRASS BAND RECITAL. (1940, 28 May). Macleay Argus (Kempsey, NSW : 1885 – 1907; 1909 – 1910; 1912 – 1913; 1915 – 1916; 1918 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article234489582

Breynard, S. (1934, 10 August). RADIO SERVICES : Brass Band Music : To the Editor. Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), 24. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article74106904

Broadcasting And Brass Bands. (1933, 21 February). Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243056460

Condensor. (1925, 27 August). TOO MUCH BRASS. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243624609

“DAY OF AMATEUR BRASS BANDS WANING.”. (1927, 14 September). Casino and Kyogle Courier and North Coast Advertiser (NSW : 1904 – 1932), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article233826047

Elsum, W. M. H. (1924, 23 February). BROADCASTING BY WIRELESS : To the Editor of the Argus. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 20. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1934742

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

Harris, H. (2020). Re: Brass band 1st radio broadcast. In J. D. de Korte (Ed.).

He wants more band music broadcast. (1951, 13 March). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23036508

IMPERIAL ETHIOPIAN BRASS BAND : Heard by Short Wave Wireless. (1935, 29 November). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 14. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35923328

James, A. A. (1929, 25 January). The Old Town Band : (Written for “The Land”). Land (Sydney, NSW : 1911 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article117237132

Kalgoorlie Band For National Broadcast. (1937, 16 July). Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article87578534

“Listening In” : The Wonders of Wireless. (1923, 04 September). Horsham Times (Vic. : 1882 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article72734927

Malvern Municipal Band. (1958). On One Fine Day [Vinyl, LP, 10”]. W & G Distributing Co. Pty. Ltd. https://www.discogs.com/Malvern-Municipal-Band-Under-The-Direction-Of-Bandmaster-WJ-Philpott-One-Fine-Day/release/8933573 

Malvern Municipal Band. (1970). On Marching with Malvern [Vinyl, LP, Album]. W & G Distributing Co. Pty. Ltd. https://www.discogs.com/Malvern-Municipal-Band-Marching-With-Malvern/release/11048679 

McCall, R. (1933, 23 December). MUSIC RADIO : Band Music on the Air : Will it be Overdone? Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), 16. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article51189093

MELBOURNE SHOW : Brass Bands to be Superseded. (1930, 09 April). Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 24. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21518117

MILITARY BAND AT 3LO. (1930, 29 October). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 15. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4214065

Mounsey, T. B. (1939, 20 December). Brass Band Broadcasting. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205593992

MUSIC FOR WATCHERS BY THE SEA. (1906, 21 November). Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 – 1929), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56693536

MUSIC IN THE AIR : Y.A.L. Band at 5000ft. Will Broadcast. (1932, 19 November). Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article230575146

Newcastle Steelworks Band. (1924). Honest Toil March [This 1924 gramophone recording of W Rimmer’s ‘Honest Toil March’ is performed by the Australian Newcastle Steelworks Band.]. Aeolian Company. https://aso.gov.au/titles/music/honest-toil-march/clip1/

NUNAWADING BRASS BAND : Unique Wireless Demonstration. (1923, 10 August). Reporter (Box Hill, Vic. : 1889 – 1925), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article257201010

Preston Municipal Brass Band. (1956). On Under the Baton [Vinyl, LP, 10”, Album]. Cyril Stevens Recording Studios Pty. Ltd. https://www.discogs.com/Preston-Municipal-Brass-Band-Conducted-By-Charles-Smith-Under-The-Baton/release/4595545 

RADIO EISTEDDFOD. (1928, 05 October). Macleay Argus (Kempsey, NSW : 1885 – 1907; 1909 – 1910; 1912 – 1913; 1915 – 1916; 1918 – 1954), 9. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article234464548

Radio Programmes : A.B.C. Highlights for Next Week : Brass Band Recitals. (1939, 03 February). Nambucca and Bellinger News (NSW : 1911 – 1945), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article214648292

RADIO SHOW : Schools’ Band Competition. (1930, 25 July). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article202468625

STATE RADIO : World Range : Erecting the Station. (1925, 21 January). Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1907 – 1954), 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article61570872

Sunshine Band Needs More Public Support : Committee’s Plan to Stimulate Interest. (1938, 21 January). Sunshine Advocate (Vic. : 1924 – 1954), 4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75199111

Vintage Sounds. (2019, 25 October). Australian Newcastle Steelworks Band – Zelda (Percy Code) (1924) [Video (Recording)]. YouTube. Retrieved 27 April 2020 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Fn8VgZK9Yc

W. P. T. (1938, 28 December). Brass Bands of the Bush. Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 – 1938), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166525297

WIRELESS BROADCASTING : New Service Begins. (1929, 22 July). Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), 18. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4023301

Young, G. (1923). The Malvern Tramways Band : An Appreciation. In Community singing : St. Kilda Esplanade every Wednesday evening : words of songs & program (pp. 24). Malvern Tramways Band. 

Names and status: the rare National and State bands

Postcard: Australian Silver Band, 1925. (source: Jeremy de Korte Personal Collection)

Introduction:

For the most part, the naming of bands is logical based on location, type, or business association. It stands to reason that if a band was associated with a town, then that would be the town band, however, there were a number of exceptions  – the naming of some of the early private bands comes to mind. Likewise, if a band was in a locality and associated with an industry, a similar naming convention would follow, such as Newcastle Steelworks or South Australian Railways.  This gave the bands identity and a purpose.  Where two bands existed in the same area, there was undoubtedly some disagreements, although not generally over naming but over status and prestige…and performances!  If a band was given an Australian or State name, that lifted their reputations almost immediately, yes?  Possibly, but there were other factors involved.

The focus of this post is to explore a level up from the local bands where we delve into the rare State and National bands.  Granted, there were not many of them.  In fact, in the time period that is being focused on in this post, these types of bands were thin on the ground.  In a previous post, the life of the ABC Military Band was explored, a unique ensemble in its own right and one that included bandsmen from all over Australia.  This was a representative band but different from the more common brass bands in that it included woodwind and percussion.  In this post, we will highlight brass bands.

Admittedly, there was some difficulty finding material on these rare bands due to their short periods of existence.  That being said, there were other bands in Australia aside from the more notable ones and mention will be made of them.  We will also see how a certain State band raised the ire of the governing body of its home State.

There is no doubt that being part of a National or State band was one that bandsmen aspired, and for the National bands, the best bandsmen were picked for a proposed or grand world tour.  The one State band that was set up did so in unusual circumstances and the naming of them as a State band brought them much recognition and pride.  With this in mind, National and State bands did exist and although they were sporadic and formed mainly for tours, they developed reputations in their own right and gave more bandsmen another musical outlet.

Early attempts:

State and National bands were mainly set up by organizations that had the resources to undertake such ventures.  Remembering that this was an older Australia where the distances between places were sometimes very vast, and it was not easy to move people anywhere. Yet in the first instance, we can see that the Salvation Army pulled this off in 1898 with the formation of a Federal Band.  An article which was published in the South Australian Register on the 14th of February 1898 is very informative and details the formation of the band and the tour it had undertaken thus far:

There is now in Adelaide an interesting band of clever musicians picked from the ranks of the Salvation Army.  It is styled “the Salvation Army Federal Band” and has twenty-five playing members, exclusive of Major Taylor (Victoria), who is their director.  The bandmaster is Ensign Cater (New Zealand), who takes up an instrument.  Counting in Major Taylor, the seven colonies of Australia are represented in the following order: – Victoria, eight; South Australia, five; Western Australia; four; New South Wales, three; New Zealand, three; Queensland, two; Tasmania, one; total, twenty-six.

(“SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION.,” 1898)

The Salvation Army had begun planning for this band twelve months in advance, with the aim of the band being “the kind of which should tour the colonies and encourage the members of the Army, and by producing music of a high order raise funds for the work in the different parts of Australasia” (“SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION.,” 1898).  By the time the band had reached Adelaide it had already toured from Melbourne to Western Australia, back to South Australia and from there had been to the Yorke Peninsula and Broken Hill (“SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION.,” 1898).  According to another article published in The Advertiser, the Federal Band was a very fine combination of musicians and presented a wonderful concert (“SALVATION ARMY.,” 1898).  As it is ever thus with Salvation Army bands.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 1/04/1908, p. 8

In 1908 a tiny article was published in The Sydney Morning Herald in which the title is misleading. As you can see in the article (pictured), there is no “Commonwealth Brass Band” that has been formed.  Rather, it is a proposal to secure the services of the Newtown Brass Band to perform at the Anglo-French Exhibition (“COMMONWEALTH BRASS BAND.,” 1908).  By all accounts, the Newtown Brass Band was very famous having won numerous competitions by this time and could have probably served as the Australian band at the exhibition (Greaves & Earl, 2001).  However, the Prime Minister apparently rejected this proposal for reasons unknown.

The Australian Imperial Band:

Postcard: Australian Imperial Band, 1924 (source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

In terms of true Australian brass bands, the main one that is spoken about is the ‘Australian Commonwealth Band’ which was conducted by the great Albert H. Baile on two world tours – but more will be talked about this band in the next section (Sharp, 1993).  However, preceding the ‘Australian Commonwealth Band’ was another ensemble which was known as the ‘Australian Imperial Band’ (AIB), formed by Mr. W. M. Partington in 1924 (“AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND.,” 1924).  Mr. Partington is mentioned in some references –  he did conduct the Ballarat City Band from 1909-1910 and numerous other bands (Pattie, 2010).  That did not stop certain newspapers like the Ballarat Star waxing lyrical about his musical and organisational abilities (“AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND COMING.,” 1924).  Nevertheless, it is evident that in much later years he managed to form a true National band and while it seems he never took the band to England, he did take it on tour throughout Australia.

Morning Bulletin, 9/01/1924, p. 8

1924 was an interesting year for Australian bands.  Perhaps the most notable event was the tour of the Newcastle Steelworks Band to England where it achieved astounding success in competition under the baton of Albert H. Baile (Greaves & Earl, 2001).  The AIB had wanted to go to England to compete but were unable to make the trip due to a lack of funds.  The Newcastle Steelworks Band then went in their place (Cameron, 2020). We see in an article from the Daily Telegraph in June 1924 that there was an amount of work going on to try and secure more funds:

In Sydney, the Lord Mayor (Ald. Gilpin) now is issuing an appeal for funds, which should meet with a good response, as it is necessary for each State to provide a proportionate amount of expenses to send the band to Wembley and to compete in the Crystal Palace contests.

(“AUSTRALIAN-IMPERIAL BAND,” 1924)

However, as discussed in a previous post on bands that went on tour, it is a very expensive undertaking and the picture of the AIB (below) published by the Mirror newspaper in Perth is telling.  One could assume that by the time the AIB reached Perth, their general touring money had run out.  Which is probably a reason why there is no mention of the band traveling to England.

19240809_Mirror_Aust-Imp-Band-Money
Mirror, 9/08/1924, p. 1

The length of time this band was in existence was short however they managed to get themselves together and go on a grand tour of Australia, to some very favorable reviews.  There is not much mention of the personnel of the band but given there were many quality bandsmen in the country at the time, finding gifted musicians was probably not a problem.

The Australian Commonwealth Band:

Postcard: Australian National Band – Concert Position, 1926 (source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)
Postcard: Albert H. Baile, 1926 (source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

Albert H. Baile was one of the most famous band directors of this time and he had a masterful way of conducting his bands (Greaves & Earl, 2001).  No sooner had Baile returned to Australia in 1925 with his Newcastle Steelworks Band, he made moves to reform the band in Sydney as the Australian Silver Band and apparently included some Queensland bandsmen in the new ensemble (“AUSTRALIAN SILVER BAND.,” 1925).  Including some bandsmen from another State could probably justify the name change an Australian band. However, given the huge reputation of the Newcastle Steelworks Band after their competition wins, the name change stuck and the band proceeded on their first international tour to wide acclaim (“AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND,” 1926).

The Daily Mail, 29/09/1925, p. 10

The band name seems to have begun evolving into the Australian Commonwealth Band in various media with the dropping of the world ‘Silver’ from it, hence the more recognizable name is etched in history.  We see in the various photos and ephemera included in this post that they were a very smart looking ensemble and that they had a distinctly Australian look with slouch hats.

Aside from the way the name of the band continually evolving in the newspapers, this did not discount the fact that it was an extremely fine ensemble made up of the best brass soloists and led by Baile himself.  Certainly, reviews from Australian newspapers as well as those from overseas, gave high praise to the sound of this band likening it to an “organ” or an “orchestra” (“Australian Silver Band,” 1925; “VISIT OF AUSTRALIAN BAND,” 1926).   The newspaper article published by the Todmorden & District News (UK) in 1926 was very informative as to the concert it gave in their area, attended by 5,000 people, and the quality of the soloists, in particular, the Solo Cornet player, Mr Arthur Stender (“VISIT OF AUSTRALIAN BAND,” 1926).  Below is a list of the band members as published in the book, “Legends in Brass : Australian Brass Band Achievers of the 20thCentury”:

Postcard: Australian National Band, 1926 (source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

Front row: Len Ryan, Norm Forbes, Alf Cornish, Fred Myers, Vern Beacroft, Albert Baile, Clarrie Collins, Jack Stokes, Tom Bennett, Ossie Forbes
Middle row: Bob Gibson, Joe Clay, Len Atkinson, George Robertson, Stan Ryan, Albert Ovenden, Bill Murphy, Jack Murphy, Harold Hewson
Back row: Archie Moore, Harold Collins, James “Scott” Armour, Arthur Stender, Alfred Paxton, Joe Hardy

(Greaves & Earl, 2001, p. 51)

The Australian Commonwealth Band undertook two Australian/World tours, the first from 1925-1926 and the next from 1926-1928.  As in their first tour, they received rave reviews during their second tour, of which an article in New Zealand’s Evening Post from February 1927 provides a brief summary (“COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND,” 1927).  This second tour was not all plain sailing.  While the band was traveling around Australia, the Australian Musicians’ Union was up in arms about a boycott of the Commonwealth Band while it was touring America (“COMMONWEALTH BAND,” 1927).  The Union started lobbying for retaliatory action against musicians visiting from overseas.  It is unclear how this action was resolved however it is interesting that despite the reputation of the Commonwealth Band, there was this hiccup while on tour.

19271203_Figaro_Aust-Comm-Band-Farewell
Queensland Figaro, 3/12/1927, p. 1

The Australian Commonwealth Band was disbanded in Sydney in early 1928 after they had finished their last tour of Australia (Greaves & Earl, 2001).  There is no doubt that this was a truly remarkable ensemble, started from the players of the Newcastle Steelworks Band to become a unique band in its own right. And it certainly boosted the reputation of Australian bands in general.  The legacy of this fine ensemble was felt for years to come.

The Queensland State Band:

In the early 1930s, we see the formation of the one and only State band, the Queensland State Band.  This was formed in unusual, but possibly well-meaning circumstances as the musicians were notionally “unemployed” (“QUEENSLAND STATE BAND.,” 1933b).  The other aim of the band was to try to emulate the success of previous tours by the Newcastle Steelworks Band and the Australian Commonwealth Band by touring overseas and competing in England.  Nevertheless, the band formed in September 1933 and included previous members of the Australian Commonwealth Band (“QUEENSLAND STATE BAND TOUR.,” 1933).

The Northern Herald, 9/09/1933, p. 19

Almost immediately this band raised the ire of the Queensland Band Association (QBA) of which sent an annoyed letter to the Courier Mail published on October 9th, 1933.  In the letter, the QBA Secretary of the time, Mr J. R. Foster made some forceful points about the State band not being “tested for proficiency” under QBA rules, and the fact that the State band was professional yet had excluded some Queenslanders by bringing in bandsmen from Southern States (Foster, 1933).  In addition, apparently, the Lord Mayor of Brisbane had allowed the State band to perform in a park while excluding other Brisbane metropolitan bands (Foster, 1933).  It is fair to say that this letter (and the QBA) failed to have much impact on the operations of this band.

After being brought together, the Queensland State Band commenced a tour of Queensland where they visited many towns and rural centers north of Brisbane. The receptions they received were enthusiastic and many a town newspaper gave them favorable reviews of their playing (“QUEENSLAND STATE BAND.,” 1933a).  Indeed, they also inspired many local town bands and schools, and it is noted that they played for a combined total of 20,000 people over the course of the tour (“STATE BAND DOGGED BY RAIN,” 1933).  After this part of the tour ended, they were supposed to tour through Northern NSW and also raise finances for a trip to England, of which either activity does not appear to have happened.

As mentioned, this is one of the only instances during this time where a State band was formed.  It is unclear why other States did not form their own representative bands.  However, it does indicate that where there is a drive, things will happen even if all the aims are not met.

One more band:

There was only one more band to carry an Australian name during this time period, a band that was very short lived – the ‘Australian Girls’ Brass Band’ which was formed in 1934.  We know how rare female bands were through a previous post, so perhaps this was a tokenistic ensemble.  However, they were formed and presented one concert in Sydney where they were not exactly complimented for playing, but apparently looked very smart in green & gold uniforms (“Australian Girls’ Brass Band,” 1934; “FIRST CONCERT,” 1934).  There is no more record of this band doing anything else beyond this one concert.

Conclusion:

If there is anything showing from the stories of these ensembles it is a distinct similarity between them.  They were all formed basically for the one activity, which was touring.  Except that this aim was obviously dependent on having enough money.  That being said, the Australian Commonwealth Band took things a few steps further by acting on their aims to compete in England and tour around the world, and it was a band that was in existence for the longest time.  Certainly, the fact that the Commonwealth Band undertook two world tours in quick succession is a testament to the organization and prowess of its manager and conductor, no doubt both well-honed from the previous Newcastle tour.

In any case, once again we see that these bands added to the reputation and life of Australian banding and through them, we have seen some interesting histories.  Perhaps there are lessons to be learned and no doubt there are further stories to be unearthed.  We do have a unique history of bands in this country and having bands that carried the Australian name or a State name gained for themselves a distinct historical legacy.

Postcard: Australian National Band – Soloists, 1926 (source: Jeremy de Korte personal collection)

References:

THE AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH BAND. (1927, 03 December). Queensland Figaro (Brisbane, Qld. : 1901 – 1936), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article84901454

AUSTRALIAN COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND. (1926, 02 February). Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232244596

Australian Girls’ Brass Band. (1934, 24 January). Sydney Mail (NSW : 1912 – 1938), 19. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article166103727

AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND. (1924, 09 January). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54107997

AUSTRALIAN IMPERIAL BAND COMING. (1924, 03 June). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article214257314

AUSTRALIAN SILVER BAND. (1925, 29 September). Daily Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1903 – 1926), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218269176

Australian Silver Band. (1925, 27 November). Te Aroha News. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/TAN19251127.2.15.1

AUSTRALIAN-IMPERIAL BAND. (1924, 24 June). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article245712884

Cameron, K. (2020, 12 August). Actually the steelworks band benefited from this group’s misfortune. The Newcastle band filled the Wembley exhibition dates that had been… [Comment]. Facebook. Retrieved 12 August 2020 from https://www.facebook.com/groups/1404925869759642/?post_id=2612055202380030&comment_id=2612128729039344&notif_id=1597219322511437&notif_t=group_comment&ref=notif

COMMONWEALTH BAND : Retaliatory Proposals. (1927, 01 November). Western Argus (Kalgoorlie, WA : 1916 – 1938), 13. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article34420586

COMMONWEALTH SILVER BAND : What others think. (1927, 09 February). Evening Star. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD19270209.2.93

FIRST CONCERT : Girls’ Band in Gold and Green. (1934, 18 January). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1931 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article248959700

Foster, J. R. (1933, 09 October). QUEENSLAND STATE BAND : To the Editor. Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1128247

Greaves, J., & Earl, C. (2001). Legends in brass : Australian brass band achievers of the 20th century. Muso’s Media.

Minton Witts Studios. (1924). Australian Imperial Band in Sydney (Conducted by: Mr W. M. Partington) [Postcard]. Minton Witts Studios, Sydney, N.S.W.  

Pattie, R. (2010). The history of the City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band 1900-2010 : one hundred and ten years of music to the citizens of Ballarat (Rev. ed.). City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band. 

Photogelatine Engraving Company Co. Ltd. (1926a). Albert H. Baile (Musical Director) : Australian National Band (World Tour) [Postcard]. Photogelatine Engraving Company Co. Ltd., Ottawa, Canada. 

Photogelatine Engraving Company Co. Ltd. (1926b). Australian National Band (World Tour) [Postcard]. Photogelatine Engraving Company Co. Ltd., Ottawa, Canada. 

Photogelatine Engraving Company Co. Ltd. (1926c). Australian National Band (World Tour) Concert Position : Albert H. Baile, Musical Director [Postcard]. Photogelatine Engraving Company Co. Ltd., Ottawa, Canada. 

Photogelatine Engraving Company Co. Ltd. (1926d). Australian National Band (World Tour) Soloists [Postcard]. Photogelatine Engraving Company Co. Ltd., Ottawa, Canada. 

QUEENSLAND STATE BAND : Brilliant Conductor. (1933, 28 October). Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article41230080

QUEENSLAND STATE BAND : Six Months Tour : Trade Propaganda. (1933, 09 September). Northern Herald (Cairns, Qld. : 1913 – 1939), 19. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article150003898

QUEENSLAND STATE BAND TOUR. (1933, 29 September). Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 20. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1124687

SALVATION ARMY : The Federal Band. (1898, 14 February). Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article35105401

SALVATION ARMY FEDERATION : A Capital Band. (1898, 14 February). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54519628

Sharp, A. M. (1993). Baile, Albert Henry (Bert) (1882-1961). In Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 22 March 2019, from https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/baile-albert-henry-bert-9402

STATE BAND DOGGED BY RAIN : Northern Tour Ends : Successful Results. (1933, 30 November). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article181171770

VISIT OF THE AUSTRALIAN BAND : Magnificent playing to big crowds. (1926, 20 August). Todmorden & District News,2. https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0001940/19260820/182/0002

“WE WANT SOME MONEY-GIVE US SOME, DO!”. (1924, 09 August). Mirror (Perth, WA : 1921 – 1956), 1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article76437154