Earning points: proper deportment of band member’s

Inspection of the B Grade Bands at the South Street Eisteddfod, 1949. (photograph of The Courier photograph taken by Jeremy de Korte on 30/09/2021)

Introduction:

The secretary will arrange for supply of Brasso etc. for polishing all instruments on the journey and the management committee will inspect the instruments from time to time.  Members are asked to note that it is imperative to have hair cut very short (back and sides) and all wearing black shoes laced alike – with no tags showing.

(“Rules and Itinerary,” 1937)

If the above directive from the conductor and management of the Longreach Town Band seems a bit onerous, one could say it was a sign of the times.  Except, this was not a sign of the times.  It reflects the efforts that the band associations and individual bands went to ensure that all band members upheld the reputation of the movement.  Which could be summarised as looking sharp and behaving properly according to a defined set of rules.  Deportment of a band and band members was taken very seriously.  Contemporary band members will relate to these concepts even now.

Deportment was regarded seriously enough that points were won and lost in various contests if there was any infraction of the contest rules.  Inspection before the Quickstep section of a contest was part and parcel of the event, although some judges took it to extremes.  Rules was generally standard and enforced by band associations.  When a contest came down to mere points, the deportment of an individual mattered greatly.

In this post we will be exploring deportment in relation to the band movement and by default, the process of inspection and the governing rules.  While we may not see exactly where these rules on deportment eventuated (or why) this aspect of the band movement is interesting.  For a movement that prides itself on tradition, this is one tradition that holds true today.

Expectations:

Brisbane Courier, 02/04/1923, p. 6

Deportment can be literally defined as a “the way a person behaves” or “manner of bearing” (Cambridge English Dictionary, 2021).  For a band member, their deportment was judged by everyone who looked at them, with perception of their behaviour judged by others.  Throughout the newspaper articles that mention band competitions, or from some bands themselves, we can find references to deportment and the expectations that band associations and bands held for their members.  Were band members expected to model higher standards of behaviour and dress than that of other people?  If one were to believe the newspaper articles, then yes, they were seemingly held to higher standards.  Hence, lists of competition rules were created that band members were expected to adhere to – these will be examined later in the post.  Harking back to the expectations and standards the Longreach Town Band set for themselves, we find in the second-last paragraph of the article,

Win or lose, remember we are representing the far central west.  Impress people with your good conduct.  Be on the alert always to gain a point.  No arguments, no bad feeling, plenty of rest, and the good comradeship element will go towards successes in this ambitious effort.

(“Rules and Itinerary,” 1937)

This is but one example of expectations that a band held for their members.  Generally speaking, bands and band members were extremely well-behaved and dressed, and compliance with the many rules governing behaviour and dress were followed rigorously.  However, that was not to say that there were other problems; bandsmen were people too. Digging deeper we find an article from 1911 where the Band Association New South Wales (BANSW) scolded the behaviour of bandsmen in a general way.  This article published in the Daily Advertiser newspaper let everyone know that bandsmen were on notice – the start and end of the article are quoted here. 

It is probably that the New South Wales Bands’ Association will take some action at an early date in the direction of impressing on bandsmen when visiting contests the advisability of being as circumspect in their deportment and behaviour as the average citizen is expected to be.  On the march and when engage in the contest work, bandsmen as a rule are role models of discipline and behaviour. 

[…]

It should be unnecessary for the Bands’ Association to have to prescribe a standard of conduct for bandsmen, but unfortunately the utter disregard for the feelings of others displayed by some few of the members of the numerous bands appears to render that course desirable.” 

(“BANDMEN’S BEHAVIOR“, 1911)

This was not the first time and last time that the behavioural expectations of band members would be mentioned in print. The other side of this was a reminder to the public that band members were models of good behaviour, a way to promote bands as a very wholesome activity.  Writing about the setting up of school bands in a 1929 issue of The Australasian Band and Orchestra News magazine, the Editor wrote,

As they advance in their studies, the boys are in all probability invited to practise with the senior bands in their districts.  They become bandsmen, they find good occupation in their leisure, their minds are disciplined, and everyone knows that the good bandsman is never a bad citizen.

(“THE EDITOR’S BATON,” 1929)

A further reminder on deportment, this time to do with uniforms and dress, was issued by the Queensland Band Association in April 1930 when Mr. J. R. Foster (Secretary) was quoted in The Evening News newspaper, of which the article can be seen below. 

Evening News, 17/04/1930, p. 2

Many of the issues surrounding deportment was seemingly applied to male band members.  What of our female bands?  We know that from a previous post there were very few of them around Australia, and when we do see mention of them, there is some indication that they also took the behaviour of their members quite seriously (de Korte, 2018a).  The famous Sydney Ladies’ Band prided themselves on their behaviour and attitude.  An article published by the Australian Women’s Weekly in 1938 detailed some of the behaviours that were frowned upon.

Boy-friends are not encouraged by the Band, because they would occupy valuable time that should be otherwise allotted to practice.

Married women are not accepted as members because their home ties distract them and they must ask their husbands’ permission to travel to country or interstate engagements. 

(“SPINSTERS ONLY is the SLOGAN of the BAND,” 1938)

Hilda Tansey, the conductor of the Sydney Ladies’ Band outlined some other expectations, and it appears, she had a very dim view of ladies who transgressed.

Occasionally we get ‘passengers’ in the band – girls who join just to show off to their boy friends in our smart green uniform.  But within a fortnight we discover them and we tell them in no uncertain terms that they have played their finale.

(Tansey in “SPINSTERS ONLY is the SLOGAN of the BAND,” 1938)

This photograph below of the Sydney Ladies’ Band from 1934 shows the members in the said uniform. 

Sydney Ladies’ Band, 1934 (source: State Library Victoria: pi007746)

The deportment of band members was an issue that held the attention of some band commentators, to the extent they even sponsored prizes in major competitions, for example, Cecil Clarence Mullen  (Royal South Street Society, 1959, 1964).  We saw in an earlier post that Mullen had much to say about the band movement, and deportment on the stage while playing and conducting was one of those issues he took to heart (de Korte, 2020; Mullen, 1951).  To refresh, Mullen was most displeased with “boys between 11 and 18 years in many cases taking a chair and sitting down to play their solo” (Mullen, 1951, p. 61).  He also took issue with bandmasters who let this happen in the first place.  Mullen was ever the commentator to let his opinions be known and although I cannot find any record of him adjudicating, he finished the little section on deportment in his book with these words,

On several occasions in recent years I have been called upon to judge solo competitions in school, suburban and country competitions and make no secret of the fact that I rang boys off very quickly for bad stage deportment.  The late Mr. E. T. Code, the best trainer of boys we have ever had, was very strict in these matters.

(Mullen, 1951, p. 62)

Mullen had reason to criticise the deportment of younger band members, especially while playing, and he was possibly right in saying that they should not be sitting down as it affected their breathing (Mullen, 1951).

Negotiating the issues surrounding the deportment of band members were complex and time consuming.  However, as we will see in the next section, some areas of deportment, namely looking smart, were easier to manage.  And for bands, being very much in the visual space as well as a musical space was important – cleanliness of uniforms was taken as seriously as behaviour.

Looking smart:

Issues about the supply and funding of uniforms were touched on in a previous post about supplying the essentials for bands (de Korte, 2018c).  Bands wanted to look smart on parade and expected their members to wear their uniforms with pride.  They also expected their members to look after their uniforms.  On occasions though, uniforms were the issue.  In an earlier post on the first band sections at South Street Ballarat, we found that the conductor of the Launceston Garrison Band lamented that his band lost points because of “the stained and worn-out state of the Government uniforms” which were “severely condemned by the military judge” (de Korte, 2018b; “THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST.,” 1900).

Uniforms were a much commented on part of bands in the media, even if the language of old newspaper might make us wince at times.  The word ‘smart’ was a common descriptor linked to deportment regarding dress.  In an article published by the Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette in 1924, each band that participated in the Toowoomba contest that year received some sort of comment regarding their appearance, bearing, colours of uniform, and cleanliness of instruments (“INSPECTION OF BANDS,” 1924).

The two pictures below from The Sun and Daily News newspapers showing the Sydney Ladies’ Band and the East Kew Junior Brass Band provide perfect examples of this language being used.  Although, in the caption for the Sydney Ladies’ Band, the word ‘pretty’ was also used to describe the members.  Nevertheless, a band that was dressed smartly attracted attention.  It spoke of a band that took pride in their appearance and demeanour.  And especially when participating in contests and other events where the band was on show, a proper uniform was a must.

The Sun, 14/10/1934, p. 3
Daily News, 28/03/1936, p. 3

The Quickstep and Inspection:

Unsteadiness in Ranks1 point for each offender
Untrimmed hair1 point for each offender
Unshaven1 point for each offender
Irregularities of Dress1 point for each offender
Irregularities of Footwear1 point for each offender
Incorrect Dressing1 point for each offender
Incorrect Intervals1 point for each offender
Dirty Instruments1 point for each offender
Talking in the Ranks1 point for each offender
(Australian Band Council, 1934, p. 17)

The band movement in Australia and New Zealand can be based on holdovers from the United Kingdom, with some key differences that become apparent in band contests.  Unlike their counterparts in the U.K., a feature of the band movements and contests in Australia and New Zealand was the Quickstep sections and the preceding military-style Inspection.  This post will provide a brief overview of the Quickstep and then focus on the Inspection, which is an aspect directly related to the topic of this post.

The Quickstep:

The Quickstep section that featured in Australian and New Zealand band contests for over one hundred years semes to be an invention by the band movements of both countries.  Accounts are sketchy as to how it started, however, an article published in the Kalgoorlie Miner newspaper 1911 provides a little history.

The origin of the quickstep first came prominently before the Australian public at contests held in connection with the Druids’ Gala at Melbourne about 11 years ago.  On that occasion the drill performed was very much the nature of cavalry section drill, but it was subsequently modified to conform to the infantry manual.

(“BRASS BAND CONTESTS.,” 1911)

Based on this account and history, this would mean that quickstep sections first appeared in Australian band contests around the late 1890s, and we can find evidence of this in an account of the Druids’ Gala published by The Age newspaper on Monday 11th April 1898.

The marching and deportment of the men will be taken into consideration by the judge, Mr. F. Lyon, in awarding the prizes of £50, £20 and £10 offered for the military drill contest, the principal features of which were enacted at the gardens.  Each band fell in for inspection separately, and marched 100 yards in 120 paces within a minute, to a quickstep, following up this performance by wheeling and countermarching manœuvres to appropriate music.

(“THE EASTER HOLIDAYS.,” 1898)

Some British judges who were brought out to adjudicate the contests had never seen anything like it and commented favorably on the section and what it represented.  In 1902 James Ord Hume adjudicated at the famous South Street Eisteddfod and had this to say about the Quickstep section.

I thoroughly endorse the idea of this quickstep contests, as I am of opinion that brass bands, when marching, should always be spirited and also neat and uniform in the ranks.  The music should be always of a bright and military nature and, indeed, the band should always prove by its marching in public, its standard of excellence.

(James Ord Hume in “THE INTER-STATE BAND CONTEST.,” 1902)

Three years later the South Street contest was adjudicated by Mr. Albert Wade from Wales, and he also was impressed with the Quickstep section.

But the marching was of the best and Mr. Wade found in the military style of the civilian bandsmen an example for the straggling Britishers who compose the village band in the old country.

(“BIG BAND BATTLES.,” 1905)

Unfortunately, there seems to be no films of early Quickstep contests in Australia.  However, New Zealand’s Ngã Taonga Sound & Vision has in their resources a short film dating back to 1912 of the Dunedin Brass Band contests, Quickstep section (Gore, 1912).  The link below will show a short film of this Quickstep section where the military judges can clearly be seen pacing the bands and taking notes.

Dunedin Brass Band Contest, Quickstep (F9933)

The Inspection:

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 18/12/1938, p. 8

This part of the post started with a list of rules governing the Inspection published by the newly formed Australian Band Council in 1934.  Every aspect of appearance and behaviour were detailed in various rules, and Duncan Bythell (2000) notes that “The rules for marching contests achieved a terrifying complexity, with the marks for being awarded for smart appearance and successful drilling than for musicianship.” (p. 236).  Some bands bore the brunt of these rules with band members being penalised on numerous occasions at contests.  The Wellington Garrison Band travelled to the Bathurst contests in 1899 from New Zealand and found themselves on the receiving end of the rules when nine bandsmen were penalised because they were unshaven – the band apparently “forgot” the regulations (“Bathurst Band Contest.,” 1899; “UNSHAVEN BANDSMEN,” 1899).

The research by Bythell can be corroborated by the band journals of the day as controversy surrounding the inspection was never hard to find.  Accounts of an A.N.A contest in Melbourne were penned by many commentators in the January 1913 issue of The State Band News with a writer colloquially titled ‘Clarion’ detailing the inspection in his article, of which excerpts are quoted here.

For length of time occupied and the keen inspection each man received a “record” was easily established.

Some wags, who were getting impatient, struck up with great enthusiasm the “Midnight National Anthem”.”

The principal comment was – A contest does not consist of inspection.

Many bandsmen complained that points were taken off for marks on the slides of instruments – the said marks being put there for tuning purposes.

Beyond the general essentials of clean instruments, uniforms, haircuts, etc., no one seemed to know if any hard and fast rules were laid down for an inspection of this kind – evidently, it is left to the discretion of the drill judge.

The fact that Color Sergeant Humphries is the author of the official drill book used in connection with Quickstep Contests, no doubt is accountable for the very rigours inspection. 

(Clarion, 1913, p. 5)

The writer of the opening article in the mentioned issue of The State Band News pointedly recommended that the Victorian Bands’ Association (V.B.A.) limit the inspection process to “5 minutes per band.” (“Band Chat,” 1913, p. 2).

As in the Quickstep, the whole theatre and process of the Inspection was a measure of comparison between contests in Australia and the United Kingdom.  In 1907, Mr D. J. Montague, a musician from Ballarat, returned from an eight month tour of England, Scotland and Wales where he was fortunate enough to view many of the great band contests and compare them to the South Street Eisteddfod (“BRITISH VERSUS AUSTRALIAN BAND MUSIC.,” 1907).  His interview with the Ballarat Star newspaper was wide-ranging and provided an interesting account comparing the band movements in both countries.  Here in this article, we can see his thoughts on why the Inspection was a beneficial part of Australian and New Zealand contests.

He remarked that one difference between the contests in Great Britain and those in Australia was that here time is not so much account as in the old land.  For instance, the great Crystal Palace and Belle Vue contests last only one day.  The bands travel all night from far distant parts of England and Scotland to reach London early in the morning, and numbers of bandsmen are playing in various parts of the day.  After the contest is over they hurry back by the night trains for home.  He found that the bandsmen were very careless over their instruments, which were nearly always dirty and unpolished, and he took occasion to introduce to the directors’ notice the inspection and drill system obtaining at South Street, which resulted in smart looking bandsmen and clean instruments.

(“BRITISH VERSUS AUSTRALIAN BAND MUSIC.,” 1907)

While it was evident that many band members were very responsible when it came to keeping clean and tidy, there are accounts of the supporters of a band helping when needed.  Maureen French, a local writer from Clunes in Victoria, wrote a book on the history of bands in Creswick titled ‘Following the bands : a journey down the years with the brass bands of Creswick’.  She wrote a section on the Creswick and District Band experiences in the Quickstep and Inspection and details this little anecdote about how the band tidied themselves up.

But the greatest contribution was made by the small army of womenfolk who accompanied the band at competitions.

Points could be lost for dirty shoes, missing buttons, untidy hair, etc.  With that in mind, once the players had assembled on parade, these good ladies would swarm over them, armed with clothes brushes, spit-and-polish, and all accoutrements required to remove a miniscule of fluff that could tarnish the image of their charges.  All this of course, was a labour of love.

(French, 2013, p. 64)

As mentioned, the Inspection could either win or lose a band points.  If we were to look at some of the accounts of contests where comments of judges were recorded, they are telling.  Below is an excerpt from an article published by the Shepparton News newspaper in February 1914 detailing the judges’ comments on the contest that was held in town.  These comments directly relate to the Inspection and the four bands that participated were the Shepparton Town Band, Rochester Brass Band, Benalla Brass Band and Shepparton Model Band (“INSPECTION.,” 1914).

Shepparton News, 16/02/1914, p. 3

Likewise, at a contest being administered by the Queensland Band Association in 1929, they left no doubt as to what would be taking place during the Inspection part of the contest (and every other event that was being undertaken during the day).

At the commencement each band is moved onto the grounds, and then marched to the oval and inspected by military judges, points being allocated for military deportment, appearance, smartness in the ranks, cleanliness of instruments and uniform.

(“TO-DAY’S PROGRAMME,” 1929)

Interesting that the expectation of the bands is that they display a military-like bearing, despite the bands (it is assumed) to be civilian.

No doubt the regulations on deportment were quite clear and it was up to the bands to adhere to them.  As a measure of how points were deducted, we can read what happened to the Mackay Concert Band during a contest in Rockhampton in 1934.

The discipline of the band on parade was somewhat lacking, inasmuch as points were lost for detail in dress, deportment, and drill.  For untidiness the band lost four points – two for untrimmed hair and two for unshaven faces, and for bad movements in drill four points were lost, making a deduction of 8 points from the maximum of 40, leaving the band with 32.

(“Concert Band.,” 1934)

One must not disregard all opinion of the Inspection process.  While it was an important part of contest proceedings (and still is to some extent), every so often bands people advocated for change.  One of them was Frank “Massa” Johnston, the famous band conductor from Melbourne who in 1939 was the conductor of the Melbourne Fire Brigade Band.  He made some comments after coaching the Maryborough Federal Band at the 1939 Bundaberg contest which were detailed in an article published by the Central Queensland Herald newspaper (“BAND JUDGING IN QUEENSLAND,” 1939).  One of his suggestions to the Q.B.A. was the Inspection of bands be eliminated as a separate part of the contest and instead “be incorporated with the diagram march with additional  points for drill and appearance” (“BAND JUDGING IN QUEENSLAND,” 1939).

While diagram marching has fallen out of favour at band contests, street marching, and the inspection remain a part to this day, especially at the Australian National Band Championships.  It is interesting to occasionally read commentary on the ubiquitous social media – modern bands people can be known to be passionate about rules and regulations.  Bearing in mind that much of what we do as bands and band members has some grounding in history.

Conclusion:

There is much we can still learn about how bands of old handled the rules and regulations on deportment, and how they managed expectations.  Pride in appearance and behaviour was one aspect, but there was also the public perception.  Perhaps if we were to take a critical view, maybe the Inspection was over-policed by band associations.  However, the Inspection, and the visual display of the Quickstep, were pointed differences between the band movements of Australia & New Zealand, and the band movement in the United Kingdom.  There was pride in doing something differently and doing it well.

References:

Australian Band Council. (1934). Australian Band Council : Constitution : Contest Rules : Quickstep Regulations and Instructions  [Constitution]. Oxford Press. 

Band Chat. (1913). The State Band News, 4(6), 2 & 4. 

BAND JUDGING IN QUEENSLAND. (1939, 20 April). Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1930 – 1956), 59. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70844529

BANDMEN’S BEHAVIOR. (1911, 26 May). Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga, NSW : 1911 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article143079764

BANDSMEN ON PARADE. (1939, 18 December). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article135450896

Bandsmen, Please Note! (1930, 17 April). Evening News (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1924 – 1941), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article202494392

Bathurst Band Contest : Complaints from New Zealand. (1899, 17 November). Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 – 1904), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63910068

BIG BAND BATTLES : IN CITY OF STATUES : MEN FROM BOULDER CITY : ARE AUSTRALIA’S CHAMPIONS. : (From our special representative). (1905, 07 November). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), 7. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article113288815

BRASS BAND CONTESTS : The Quickstep. (1911, 30 August). Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91325368

BRITISH VERSUS AUSTRALIAN BAND MUSIC : INTERVIEW WITH MR D. J. MONTAGUE. (1907, 08 January). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article210885760

Bythell, D. (2000). The Brass Band in the Antipodes : The Transplantation of British Popular Culture. In T. Herbert (Ed.), The British brass band : a musical and social history (pp. 217-244). Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press. 

Cambridge English Dictionary. (2021). Deportment. In Cambridge English Dictionary. Retrieved 16 October 2021, from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/deportment

Clarion. (1913). A.N.A. Contests. : Contest Side-Lights. The State Band News, 4(6), 4-8. 

Concert Band : CONTEST ADJUDICATOR’S COMMENTS. (1934, 05 April). Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article173312584

de Korte, J. D. (2018a, 22 April). Early female brass bands in Australia: they were rare but they made their mark. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/04/22/early-female-brass-bands-in-australia-they-were-rare-but-they-made-their-mark/

de Korte, J. D. (2018b, 22 December). The first South Street band contest in October, 1900. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/12/22/the-first-south-street-band-contest-in-october-1900/

de Korte, J. D. (2018c, 08 July). Instruments, sheet music and uniforms: how the bands of old obtained the essentials. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/05/13/instruments-sheet-music-and-uniforms-how-the-bands-of-old-obtained-the-essentials/

de Korte, J. D. (2020, 06 March). Cecil Clarence Mullen: Enthusiastic commentator, historian and statistician of brass and military bands. Band Blasts from the Past : Anecdotes, Stories and Personalities. https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2020/03/06/cecil-clarence-mullen-enthusiastic-commentator-historian-and-statistician-of-brass-and-military-bands/

de Korte, J. D. (2021). Lake Wendouree, Vic. : The Courier (Newspaper) : 1949 Royal South Street Band competitions – City Oval : B Grade Bands – Inspection [Photograph (Newspaper photograph)]. [IMG_6741]. Jeremy de Korte, Newington, Victoria. 

THE EASTER HOLIDAYS. : DRUIDS’ GALA. : OPENING DAY. : A GREAT ATTENDANCE. (1898, 11 April). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article191489906

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

French, M. E. C. (2013). Following the bands : a journey down the years with the brass bands of Creswick. Maureen E. C. French. 

Gore, H. C. (1912). Dunedin Brass Band Contest, Quickstep [Moving Image]. New Zealand / Aotearoa, New Queens Theatre, Dunedin. https://ngataonga.org.nz/collections/catalogue/catalogue-item?record_id=67764

INSPECTION. (1914, 16 February). Shepparton News (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129652799

INSPECTION OF BANDS. (1924, 19 April). Toowoomba Chronicle and Darling Downs Gazette (Qld. : 1922 – 1933), 6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article253775325

THE INTER-STATE BAND CONTEST : MR. J. ORD HUME’S CRITICISMS : WHAT HE SAYS ABOUT TASMANIAN BANDS : DETAILS OF RESULTS : (“Ballarat Star”). (1902, 06 November). Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article9590543

THE INTERCOLONIAL BAND CONTEST : Return of the Second Battalion Band. (1900, 11 October). Daily Telegraph (Launceston, Tas. : 1883 – 1928), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article153769022

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

Regent Studio. (1923, 02 April). A GRADE TEST SELECTION. Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 5-6. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article20611772

Royal South Street Society. (1959). 1959-10-23 Brass Band Contests [Eisteddfod Results]. Royal South Street Society Results Database. https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1959-10-23-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1964). 1964-10-24 Victorian Brass Band Championship [Eisteddfod Results]. Royal South Street Society Results Database. https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1964-10-24-victorian-brass-band-championship 

Rules and Itinerary : CORONATION BAND CONTEST : EASTER 1937 : LONGREACH TOWN BAND. (1937, 13 March). Longreach Leader (Qld. : 1923 – 1954), 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article37363142

SPINSTERS ONLY is the SLOGAN of the BAND : Musical Girls who Have Little Time for Cupid. (1938, 19 February). Australian Women’s Weekly (1933 – 1982), 40. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article51590948

Sydney Ladies’ Brass Band [picture]. (1934). [1 photographic print on cardboard mount : gelatin silver, hand col. ; 30 x 40 cm.]. [pi007746]. State Library Victoria, Tansey family collection. http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/336537

TO-DAY’S PROGRAMME. (1929, 18 August). Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1926 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article97690827

UNSHAVEN BANDSMEN. (1899, 10 November). Hawke’s Bay Herald. https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/HBH18991110.2.22.1

Early female brass bands in Australia: they were rare but they made their mark

Introduction:

If one were to read various articles or histories of brass bands or view photos from a period from 1900-1950s, they would notice an almost total lack of material relating to women playing brass instruments.  This is not to say that women were not involved in brass banding with the many women’s’ auxiliaries supporting bands.  However, when women did play brass instruments it was reported very differently to male brass bands.  It did not help matters that some articles from newspapers were patronizing in tone and that female brass bands when they were formed, were treated as a novelty – until they started playing!

It was a different time, and in the period from 1900 to the 1950s society was in almost constant upheaval with two world wars and the Great Depression to contend with.  However, people craved things that were familiar to them so in some cases where male brass bands were not available, a female brass band was formed.  The Salvation Army was at the forefront of female brass bands but even their bands were treated as a novelty.  What is evident from the research is that there were pockets where female brass bands were welcomed, but in other quarters attitudes were hard to shake.

This is an aspect of Australian band history that is probably not well known, however, it is important to recognize the fact that while female brass bands were rare, they certainly made their mark and paved the way for more females to join bands in the latter half of the last century.  The story here will cover some of the more notable female brass bands that were formed, and some personalities.  Yes, there was some underlying sexism, and this will be touched on – we wonder at these attitudes today.  These historical pictures and articles tell an amazing story of life and from this, we can see the achievements of female band musicians.

Unfortunately, there appears to be no definitive list of female brass bands in Australia. However, due to the rarity of female brass bands, others have attempted to create a listing and the list by Gavin Holman has included the more notable Australian female bands (Holman, 2018).  Hopefully, in the near future, a more substantial list will be produced.

19330000_Streaky-Bay-Ladies_Brass_PRG-1555-2-1
Photograph of the Streaky Bay Ladies’ Brass Band, 1933 (source: State Library of South Australia: PRG+1555/2/1)

Enter the Salvation Army:

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Daily Telegraph, 16/08/1905, p. 8

The Salvation Army has always been well-known for the quality and musical standard of their brass bands, and this reputation has stretched back for many decades.  So it was near the start of the 1900’s that the Salvation Army, having run male brass bands for many years, started a female brass band and it is from this decision that the Daily Telegraph publishes an article in 1905 with a patronizing headline (“AN AMAZON BRASS BAND.,” 1905).  This is but one early example where the formation of a female brass band is treated as a novelty, despite being formed by the Salvation Army.  As can be read in the article, part of it focuses on the uniforms the members will be wearing, but nothing on the women playing instruments.

This band is taken on tour and is used as a demonstration band in various towns and cities.  On the 8thof February 1906, the Barrier Miner newspaper covers the visit of the “Austral Brass Band” to town and the article is a perfect display of attitude giving way to admiration (“THE AUSTRAL BRASS BAND.,” 1906).  As the reporter has written,

Some curiosity has been aroused by the advent in Broken Hill of a ladies’ brass band having for its name “The Austral” and being comprised of 21 lady performers dressed in Salvation Army costume.  As these bandswomen took the tram to the southern suburb last night, many observers speculated on what their bright faces must suffer when puffed up at the end of a bass instrument or when trying to sustain a long passage on the cornet.

From the opening number it was easy to see that the Austral Band is one that is worth listening to.  The bandswomen do not stand when rendering a selection, but are seated in four rows, and seem to exert themselves no more than is absolutely necessary.  The effect of the music in the piano passages is much sweeter and less masculine than a men’s band, while the forte portions of the selections are surprising in their volume of sound.  The attention to time and harmony which was evinced in last night’s performance discloses the long training which the Austral Band must have been through under a good master.”

(“THE AUSTRAL BRASS BAND.,” 1906)

Very much an article of two halves and the language is varied.  Unfortunately, the perception that females should not be playing brass instruments due to the aesthetics of playing is one that is published occasionally, as will be seen in a later article.

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Salvation Army “Austral Lasses” Band, 1906 (Source: IBEW)

Around the States, but mainly in South Australia:

The formation of female brass bands was not consistent across Australia and it is evident that in some States the idea of female brass bands was not supported.  Nevertheless, it is interesting to note where they formed (and which bands they were).  Holman (2018) has listed these bands as having existed in the time period from 1900-1950:

New South Wales:Queensland:South Australia:
Silver City Ladies’ Brass BandBrisbane Ladies Coronation Brass BandBurra Cheer-up Girls Brass Band
Sydney Ladies Brass BandClare Girls’ Band
Largs Orphanage Girls’ Brass Band
Streaky Bay Ladies’ Brass Band
(p. 71-723)

As can be seen, by this list, South Australia had a number of female brass bands during this time and as Holman has written that this was mainly due to bandsmen enlisting in the armed services for WWI, and the women stepped forward to form bands (Holman, 2018).  Certainly, this was the case for the bands from the towns of Burra and Clare (Sara, 2014).  The Streaky Bay Ladies’ Brass Band was formed in 1919 and built themselves up over many years (“A LADIES’ BRASS BAND.,” 1919).  The Largs Orphanage Girls’ Brass Band is interesting as it was obviously formed in the same manner as other orphanage bands, although by looking at the photo in their article they included woodwinds as well (“WEEK’S PICTURES,” 1923).  The playing from this orphanage band was well regarded and appreciated (“THE BRIGHTON CONTINENTAL.,” 1922).  The photos below attest to the presentation and demeanor of these ensembles.

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Courier-Mail, 07/03/1934, p. 10

Both New South Wales and Queensland had female bands, but these were formed much later than the bands in South Australia, although obviously, the Salvation Army female band is an exception.  The Silver City Ladies’ Brass Band was formed in Broken Hill in 1940 and the Brisbane Ladies band was formed around the same time (“Concert To Mark Formation Of Women’s Brass Band In City,” 1940; Holman, 2018).  On a side note, it is the idea of a female band forming in Brisbane that brought out another bout of sexist (and instrumentalist?) behavior in the media with the publication of a letter in a local newspaper in 1934 (Incredulous, 1934).  As can be read in the letter, the language says it all and mirrors that of the writing from 1906 – old attitudes don’t seem to go away.  In later years, as mentioned in a previous blog post, a girls’ brass band was started at Balranald High School and a picture of them is in this article from 1949 (“GIRLS and a BRASS BAND,” 1949).

The story of the Sydney Ladies’ Brass band will be brought up later in this post as it has a special story which is interlinked with a story from Victoria.

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Clare Girls’ Band, 1914 (Source: IBEW)
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Brisbane Ladies Coronation Brass and Reed Band, 1940 (Source: IBEW)
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Silver City ladies’ Band, 1940 (Source: IBEW)

Female bands in Victoria?:

Victoria has long been regarded as a center of bands however when it came to female bands there was a distinct lack of progression.  Through research, it appears that the first real proposal for starting a female brass band appeared in 1937, which is late compared to South Australia (“LADIES’ BAND PROPOSED,” 1937).  One could perhaps view this as bandsmen conservatism.  All was not lost in Victoria as the Salvation Army formed a ladies’ band in 1945, as can be seen by the picture below.

Melbourne Ladies’ Salvation Army Band, 1945 (Source: IBEW)

However, in amongst this came the remarkable story of Hilda Tansey who eventually became Australia’s first recognized female band conductor (Bound for Australia, 2014).

The cited blog post outlines much of Hilda’s life in brass banding. In summary, Hilda learned brass from her father and traveled with her father around Victoria (Bound for Australia, 2014).  Her father (who was a noted bandsman in his own right) eventually became the bandmaster of the Traralgon Brass Band and it is here where we first see a picture of Hilda with her Tenor Horn sitting in amongst the other band members (see below) (Bound for Australia, 2014).  This was obviously an extreme rarity in Victorian banding to have a young female playing brass in a proper brass band.  Yet soon after this photo was taken, Hilda is listed as a member of the Traralgon soloists that were entered in the A.N.A competition (Melbourne) in 1917 (“Bandsmen to Compete at A.N.A Competitions.,” 1917).  Hilda’s career in bands progressed from this time.

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Traralgon Brass Band, 1915? (Source: IBEW)

The Sydney Ladies’ Band:

The Sydney Ladies’ band deserves special mention for being the most well-known of all female brass bands in Australia, and even more so after Hilda was appointed conductor in 1934 (Bound for Australia, 2014; Holman, 2018).  Again, much has been written about the Sydney Ladies’ Band by Holman and the Bound for Australia blog post, so this is a summary of the life of the band.  The band was formed in 1930 but had early financial difficulties however Hilda and other ladies took it over in 1934 and had the debt repaid through member contributions, paid engagements and social functions (Holman, 2018).

The band was quite busy in Sydney and participated in numerous parades and other events (Bound for Australia, 2014).  In 1936 the band broke even more ground by becoming the first female brass band to enter the City of Sydney Interstate Band Contest in the Open D Grade section against eight male brass bands (“WOMEN’S BAND,” 1936).   During the years of WW2 the band was involved in entertaining troops at various camps, however, later in the war years “the R.S.L. refused to let the band march on ANZAC Day 1945, and this was a contributing factor to the members’ decision to disband.” (Holman, 2018, p. 73).  As for Hilda Tansey, she kept up with her brass band activities and is seen in a picture from the 1960s playing with the Randwick District Town Band (Bound for Australia, 2015).

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Sydney Ladies’ Band, 1934 (Source: State Library Victoria: pi007746)

Conclusion:

Against some odds, there were female brass bands in Australia and these bands, for the brief time they were in existence, made their mark and gained favorable reputations.  It is unfortunate these bands did not survive; however, it is shown that their legacy lives on.  Who is to say if they were ahead of their time as some bands were started out of a social necessity, whereas other bands were started as recreation and training for women and girls.

We can look back at those times and wonder what it was like and thankfully there are the articles and photos that allow us to do that.  We can also look back and wonder at the attitudes and language from some quarters where they felt that women should not play brass instruments due to aesthetics! Nevertheless, where there was a will, there was a way as Hilda Tansey clearly demonstrated with the Sydney Ladies’ Band.

I hope that the history of female brass bands becomes better known in Australia instead of the patchwork of little histories.  In amongst all the other histories of banding in this country, this is one of the special stories.

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Burra Cheer-up Ladies Band, 1918 (Source: IBEW)

References:

AN AMAZON BRASS BAND. (1905, 16 August). Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), 8. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article237688608

THE AUSTRAL BRASS BAND. (1906, 08 February). Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), 3. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article44491455

Bandsmen to Compete at A.N.A Competitions. (1917, 11 December). Gippsland Farmers’ Journal (Traralgon, Vic. : 1893 – 1896; 1914 – 1918), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88813153

Bound for Australia. (2014, 29 November). Hilda and the Sydney Ladies’ Brass Band. Bound for Australia: Stories from the families of those brave ancestors who made the sea voyage to Australia. https://boundforoz.wordpress.com/2014/11/29/1779/

Bound for Australia. (2015, 31 January). Dockside with the Randwick District Town Band. Bound for Australia: Stories from the families of those brave ancestors who made the sea voyage to Australia. https://boundforoz.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/dockside-with-the-randwick-district-town-band/

THE BRIGHTON CONTINENTAL. (1922, 20 January). Southern Cross (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1954),1. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article167027361

Brisbane Ladies Coronation Brass and Reed Band. (1940). [Photograph]. [phot15753]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Burra Cheer-up Ladies Band. (1918). [Photograph]. [phot16239]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Clare Girls’ Band. (1914). [Photograph]. [phot3428]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Concert To Mark Formation Of Women’s Brass Band In City. (1940, 08 March). Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article48343327

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

Holman, G. (2018). Women and Brass: the female brass bands of the 19th and 20th centuries  [eBook]. Academia. https://www.academia.edu/36360090/Women_and_Brass_the_female_brass_bands_of_the_19th_and_20th_centuries 

Incredulous. (1934, 07 March). That Ladies’ Band. Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), 10. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1177047

LADIES’ BAND PROPOSED. (1937, 27 February). Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954), 30. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article223891110

A LADIES’ BRASS BAND : Formed at Streaky Bay. (1919, 31 May). West Coast Sentinel (Streaky Bay, SA : 1912 – 1954), 2. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article168197030

Melbourne Ladies’ Salvation Army Band. (1945). [Photograph]. [phot16298]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Salvation Army “Austral Lasses” Band. (1906). [Photograph]. [phot1877]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Sara, S. (2014, 25 April). Burra Cheer-Up Ladies Band: Keeping the music alive during war’s dark days. ABC News. Retrieved 18 April 2018 from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-25/burra-cheer-up-ladies-band/5404654

Silver City Ladies’ Band. (1940). [Photograph]. [phot9302]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

Sydney Ladies’ Brass Band [picture]. (1934). [1 photographic print on cardboard mount : gelatin silver, hand col. ; 30 x 40 cm.]. [pi007746]. State Library Victoria, Tansey family collection. http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/336537

Talbot, O. M. (1933). Photograph of the Streaky Bay Ladies’ Brass Band [Photograph (print), black and white]. [PRG+1555/2/1]. State Library of South Australia. https://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/PRG+1555/2/1

Traralgon Brass Band. (1915?). [Photograph]. [phot6409]. The Internet Bandsman Everything Within, Vintage Brass Band Pictures : Australia. http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.html

WEEK’S PICTURES——IN AND AROUND THE CITY. (1923, 17 March). Mail (Adelaide, SA : 1912 – 1954), 26. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63776526

WOMEN’S BAND : In Interstate Contest. (1936, 18 January). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 11. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17222570