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

Malvern Town Military Band, approx. 1900. (Source: IBEW)


Cornets, Flugel Horns, Tenor Horns, Baritones, Euphoniums, Trombones, Tubas and Percussion.  This standard of instrumentation for a brass band has been in place for a good number of years.  Yet before this standard was settled upon, there was an amount of time where the range of instruments was less distinguishable, or available.  The brass band as we know it today is the result of years of evolution with the result being a largely homogenous sound across the ranges.  Composers and arrangers also moved with the time and we can see this in the sheet music.

This post will touch on one of the quirks of instrumentation in earlier brass bands, the use of woodwinds such as Clarinets and Saxophones, and even the odd Piccolo.  For the best part of forty years, some Australian brass bands included woodwind musicians amongst their personnel and allowances were made at some competitions, including the famous South Street.  This did not mean that there was widespread usage or acceptance of woodwinds in the brass bands.  However, there is evidence that some bands used them right up into the 1920s.

Tied into this is the naming of bands.  With the inclusion of woodwinds, some bands were still nominally called brass bands, but others were more inventive with names.  Some bands were sitting on the border of being brass or military in their instrumentation, as we can see with the photo of the Malvern Town Military Band above.

Nowadays the distinction between brass, military and symphonic bands (concert bands) is much clearer cut.  The earlier times was when the boundaries were pushed.

Names and Instrumentation:

A brass band usually means that it is wholly comprised of brass instruments, and then when it included Clarinets, Saxophones and Piccolos it was still called a brass band.  Such was the discrepancy in the names of early bands, a discrepancy that would cause confusion in the minds of modern musicians – today, names of bands generally indicate what kind of instrumentation they include.

The inclusion of Clarinets in a brass band was one of those holdovers from English brass bands.  Arnold Myers (2000), writing in a chapter titled Instruments and Instrumentation of British Brass Bands, explains that,

Often clarinets were used in what were otherwise all-brass groups, a usage which continued throughout the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, though not in major contests from the 1870s.  The presence of clarinets did not alter the essential nature of the brass band: they replaced one or more Bb cornets, or were used to provide brightness in the upper register in the role usually played by the soprano cornet. (p. 156)

In Australia, trends of instrumentation in brass bands tended to start and end much later than in the UK.  We know that brass bands held a prominent part in many towns, communities and industries across Australia.  We also know that various military bands, bands comprised of a more substantial variety of woodwind instruments, brass and percussion, had been a part of musical life since the early days of the colony.  Although, at times, they needed special explanation, as shown in an article published in the Geelong Advertiser in 1911 (Blakiston, 1911).  Mason (2013) in his thesis, tells us that “military bands provided music military and state functions, as well as performing for the general public and servicing as a source of musicians for cities’ orchestras and other ensembles.” (p. 81).  In their own way, the military bands have their own important history.  The early military bands served as a precursor to the many Defence Force Bands, school concert bands, community concert bands and symphonic bands that fill the musical landscape today (Mason, 2013).

Aside from the number of woodwinds, some commentators attempted to call out the brass bands which included clarinets for trying to be something they were not.  One interesting article was published in the Bairnsdale (Vic.) based Every Week newspaper in May 1918.  Titled “Clarinets in the Brass Band”, the writer used the premise that just because some brass bands included Clarinets (or other woodwinds) in their instrumentation, did not automatically make them a military band – and that they should not attempt to play military band music or arrangements.

Bands which have few clarionets or even bands which have a goodly number of clarionets, but no other reed instruments, make a big mistake when they consider themselves “military bands” and aim to play military band arrangements.  They are really brass bands plus clarionets – a thing very far removed from a military band.(“CLARINETS IN THE BRASS BAND.,” 1918)

Excusing the seemingly blunt language, the writer was correct.  Brass bands that included Clarinets and Saxophones in their line-up were still nominally brass bands, they were not military bands.  Still, the naming of bands is interesting in itself.  Below is a picture of the North Hobart Concert Band taken in 1917.  We can see in the picture that four of the members have Clarinets and one member a Soprano Saxophone.  They also include all of the instruments that comprise a brass band.  If we were to apply the modern name and meaning of a concert band, we would assume it to have a full section of woodwinds.  However, in these early days, this was not the case.  On a side note, we can see that the Bandmaster is one of the members holding a Clarinet.  The Bandmaster in this photo, a Mr. A. W. Caddie, was appointed Bandmaster of the North Hobart Concert Band in 1916 after leading the Zeehan Military Band for a number of years (“NORTH HOBART BAND.,” 1916).  Mr. Caddie was a Clarionetist of some renown and won the Clarionet section at the Royal South Street brass solo competitions in 1912 (Trombone, 1912).

North Hobart Concert Band, 1917 (Source: IBEW)

Through this short discussion on instrumentation and naming, it is established that Clarinets and Saxophones existed in brass bands for a number of years and were accepted as such.  It was up to the music publishers to cater for them as well.

Sheet music:

The other side of including limited woodwinds in brass bands is of course the sheet music.  Brass bands that included limited woodwinds may not have had the instrumentation to play arrangements of military music, but they were able to play brass band music with added Clarinet parts – of which the writer of the article in Every Week pointed out (“CLARINETS IN THE BRASS BAND.,” 1918).  Given that the instruments in brass bands are predominantly keyed in Bb or Eb, it was easy enough to create parts for Clarinets and Saxophones as well.  Piccolos used in bands in those days were mostly keyed in Db or Eb which was different.  Parts were included with some editions of music, but this was not always the case.  It is easier to make a comparison between Clarinet and Cornet parts.

Below are two parts of the 1904 march “South Street” by Hall King (edited by T. E. Bulch).  Here we can see clearly that the Clarinet part neatly doubles the Solo Cornet, in parts up the octave (King, 1904a, 1904b).  The range of the Clarinet obviously makes this easy to do, and musically this would make sense. These Clarinet parts would be taken up by an Eb Soprano Cornet in todays brass bands.

(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)
(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)

Most of the brass band music that was printed in these times originated from large publishing houses in the form of journals, the parts above being published by Suttons Proprietary Limited.  Here we see that this particular journal of brass band music included parts for Reeds, so obviously Clarinets, and possibly Saxophones, were catered for.  Suttons was not the only Australian music publishing company that included parts for Clarinets in their journals of music.  The two march cards below of the marches “Artillery” by Alex Lithgow and “Newtown” by T. E. Bulch were published by Allans & Co. (Bulch, 1901; Lithgow, n.d.).

(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)
(Source: Victorian Bands’ League Library & Archive)

Obviously, the publishing companies found there was a market for Clarinet, Saxophone and Piccolo parts and composers would have been encouraged to include these parts in their compositions – although, given the similarities in keys, maybe this was up to arrangers.  After having some discussion with Dr. Richard Mason on this topic, extra money for publishers and composers to produce Clarinet parts was assumed (Mason, 2020).  Possibly the real reasons cannot be found, however, the production of specific music to cater for extra instruments added some legitimacy to woodwinds being included in brass bands.

Brass bands with woodwinds:

Wunghu Brass Band, 1906 (Source: IBEW)

As mentioned in the opening of this post, Clarinets and other woodwinds were part of brass bands in Australia for around forty years.  We can find some evidence of this from early newspaper articles.  It is claimed that Saxophones were added to brass bands in Australia as early as 1890, although, as mentioned in the linked article, this was a matter of conjecture (“The Saxophone,” 1934).  Other bands were more forthcoming over what they had in their band.  In August 1893, an article regarding the early history of the Dandenong Brass Band was published in the South Bourke and Mornington Journal. It seems that when the Dandenong Brass Band was formed in 1885, it comprised of ten members; three Cornets, two Piccolos, two Tenors, one Baritone and one Clarionet (using this unique spelling) (“DANDENONG BRASS BAND.,” 1893).  Likewise, in 1899, a public meeting was held in Tallangatta with the aim of (re)forming a brass band.  Several participants in the meeting spoke in support, one of them was a Mr A. J. Fortescue,

…speaking as a member, observed that the old band had died through want of proper management and lack of public interest.  If formed on proper lines, with a good committee, he thought a band would prosper there.  There were sufficient of the old brass instruments on hand for a start, but there would be some repairs needed.  There would be wanted a piccolo and two drums.  In reply to a question from the chairman, he stated that with a sum of £20 they could make a fairly good start. (“BRASS BAND FOR TALLANGATTA.,” 1899)

In January 1904 the Linton Brass Band held their annual general meeting, and they were another brass band that boasted a piccolo in their instrumentation.

The band has a stock consisting of one big drum, one side drum, three B flat cornets, two B flat Euphoniums, one E flat bass, one E flat piccolo. (“LINTON BRASS BAND,” 1904)

These were brass bands in their early years.  Yet twenty years later, as can be seen in the list of musicians in the Wagga Wagga Concert Band (below), a Clarinet was part of the ensemble (“WAGGA CONCERT BAND.,” 1921).  And in 1926 the Gnowangerup District Brass Band from Western Australia was proud to announce that they had added a new Clarionet to the band (“Gnowangerup District Brass Band.,” 1926).

Young Witness, 03/03/1921, pg. 2

There are of course numerous other examples of woodwind instruments appearing in early brass bands of which the above mentioned are a small number of instances.


When in competition, the woodwinds of brass bands were mostly treated the same as any other brass instrument, and they also received the same criticism as well.  There are some examples of woodwinds being mentioned in competition, although this was mainly related to Clarinets and Saxophones.  Even the famous Royal South Street competitions had sections for Clarinets and at times Saxophones over the course of a decade.

The year is 1899 and in September, Northcott’s Bendigo City Brass Band, conducted by Mr. O. Flight, had travelled to Echuca to take part in a small regional competition adjudicated by the famous Mr. E. Code.  The article here details the adjudication of their program and at one point both the Clarinet and Piccolo were mentioned:

Largo – Clarionet and cornets not in tune ; cornet has good taste ; accompaniments too loud ; cornet not clean at bar 17 ; piccolo a little out of tune at bars 18 and 19 ; bass too loud at bar 20. (“NORTHCOTT’S BENDIGO CITY BRASS BAND.,” 1899)

Regarding South Street, they added another layer of legitimacy by having sections specifically for woodwinds included in the brass solo competitions.  As can be seen in the lists of entries (which can be acccessed from the links), the Clarinet & Saxophone sections attracted musicians from all over Australia.  Below is a list of competitions held over ten years (with some gaps), with the woodwind instruments that were included each year:

(Royal South Street Society, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1911, 1914, 1915, 1916)

Unfortunately, there are some gaps in the list due to lack of data however, it is known that a brass solo competition was held in 1912 which included a Clarionet section (Trombone, 1912).

As well as the records from Royal South Street, we also have articles in newspapers that provide the adjudication of Clarinettists.  This article published in the Ballarat Star (below) in October 1915 is a prime example of an adjudication.  The adjudicator of this section was the famous Albert Wade (“SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS.,” 1915).

Ballarat Star, 22/10/1915, pg. 6

What of the Saxophonists?  It is seen in the Royal South Street lists that Saxophones were only able to compete in sections for four years.  However, other opportunities for them to integrate with bands were limited to military bands.  That does not mean they were completely forgotten.  In a forward thinking move, Saxophones were provided their own section in a “novelty” event at the Interstate Band Contest in Perth, February 1931 (“SAXOPHONE COMPETITION,” 1931).  The reasoning was understandable at the time.

Hitherto the saxophone has not been considered to be a true brass band instrument, and therefore ineligible for registration under the W.A. Band Association contest rules.  The contest committee, however, obtained permission from the association to include the competition in its program, and fourteen entries have been received.  There are a number of capable executants among the entrants, and as the choice of the solo is left to the competitor, a varied range of saxophone music may be reasonably anticipated. (“SAXOPHONE COMPETITION,” 1931)

The recognition by competition societies that woodwinds had a place in their own sections was well-meaning and forward thinking.  It goes to show that while they were brass band centric, all instruments of the brass band were included, even if they were not strictly brass.


Brisbane Concert Band, 1910 (Source: IBEW)

The thought of woodwinds in brass bands would probably raise the eyebrows of many brass band purists. Yet, like many other stories of the brass band world, it is one that is worth exploring, if only for the novelty.  One wonders how these early brass bands would have sounded with limited woodwinds playing similar parts.  The history and sheet music tell us that woodwinds existed in brass bands.  As do some of the pictures, like the Brisbane Concert Band above.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King, H. (1904). “South Street” (1st Clarionet). [March Card]. Melbourne-Ballarat-Bendigo-Geelong: Suttons Proprietary Limited.

King, H. (1904). “South Street” (Solo Cornet). [March Card]. Melbourne-Ballarat-Bendigo-Geelong: Suttons Proprietary Limited.

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

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

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

Mason, R. W. (2020, 14 June) Phone call with Dr Richard Mason regarding the use of Clarinets in brass bands/Interviewer: J. D. de Korte.

Myers, A. (2000). Instruments and Instrumentation of British Brass Bands. In T. Herbert (Ed.), The British brass band : a musical and social history (pp. 155-186). Oxford: Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press.

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

North Hobart Concert Band. (1917). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm

NORTHCOTT’S BENDIGO CITY BRASS BAND : Conductor – Mr O. Flight. (1899, 22 September). Riverine Herald (Echuca, Vic. : Moama, NSW : 1869 – 1954; 1998 – 2002), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article115017023

Royal South Street Society. (1906, 30 October). 1906-10-30 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1906-10-30-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1907, 22 October). 1907-10-22 Brass Section. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1907-10-22-brass-section

Royal South Street Society. (1908, 20 October). 1908-10-20 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1908-10-20-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1910, 18 October). 1910-10-18 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1910-10-18-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1911, 24 October). 1911-10-24 Brass Band Solos. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1911-10-24-brass-band-solos

Royal South Street Society. (1914, 20 October). 1914-10-20 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1914-10-20-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1915, 21 October). 1915-10-21 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1915-10-21-brass-solo-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1916, 30 October). 1916-10-30 Brass Solo Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1916-10-30-brass-solo-contests

The Saxophone : Who Brought it to Australia. (1934, 06 January). Voice (Hobart, Tas. : 1931 – 1953), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article218832762

SAXOPHONE COMPETITION : Interstate Band Contest. (1931, 02 January). Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83492508

SOUTH STREET COMPETITIONS : Brass Section Continued : Mr A. Wade, Adjudicator : Clarionet Solo. (1915, 22 October). Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 – 1924), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article154562484

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

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

Wunghnu Brass Band. (1906). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]. Retreived from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm


Cecil Clarence Mullen: Enthusiastic commentator, historian and statistician of brass and military bands

Front Cover, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”. Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection


There has always been an ecosphere of activity surrounding brass bands, then and now ranging from retail to journalism and people who take a general interest in day-to-day activities.  This level of interest varies among people, and especially in the bands of old, there was an amount of engagement in these ensembles.  One only has to read past newspapers as a measure of this engagement.  Most readers of this blog know I dwell in the Trove archive to find information for these posts; it is through these newspaper articles that the life and atmosphere of these bands can be fully appreciated.

This post is different from previous posts where the focus is not on bands per se, but on a bands person who described himself as very involved in the brass band movement, Cecil Clarence Mullen.  I am very thankful to have been gifted one of his rare booklets, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951).  He wrote another article on the history of Victorian bands in 1965 for The Victorian Historical Magazine.  However, there is more to explore in his writing, including some of the opinions on the band movement and the work he did as a brass band statistician.

Mullen had a role to play documenting the band history of Victoria and it is unfortunate that his work is not really well known.  We will see where Mullen’s work was at its most valuable, but also where some of his work could be questioned – this post will be taking a subjective view of some of his writing and opinions.  It must be recognised that at the time, Mullen did not have the information resources at his disposal like we do now.  However, what he did do was make an effort to record and compile results in a way that was unique.

C. C. Mullen (1895-1983):

It was difficult to build a full picture of Mullen’s life as some resources were not comprehensive.  Through the research of State records (Public Records Office Victoria and Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria), it is found that he was born in 1895 and initially lived in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond.  For much of his further life, he lived in the nearby suburb of Abbotsford and was still residing in that suburb when he died in 1983 at the age of 88 (Mullen, 1983).  As for employment, it is listed in some records that he worked as a Clerk at the Argus newspaper and various other local newspapers (Ruddell, 2010)

Mullen’s amateur interests were extensive and varied including music, sports, local history and it seems youth and education as well (Ruddell, 2010).  He was complimented on his work with local youth groups of which he made every effort to prepare youth for further work and education (“Richmond Boys’ Club,” 1932).  It is through further research in the Trove archive that we see a fuller picture of Mullen’s mindset as he was an avid contributor of letters to the newspapers.  He wrote on all sorts of topics; youth, education, transport, parks, library opening hours, manners at the opera, sports, politics, etc (Mullen, 1937, 1946, 1947, 1952a).  The articles displayed below are only a tiny sample of his letter output.

Argus, 17/12/1937, p. 10
Age, 10/07/1940, p. 6
Herald, 18/12/1947, p. 15
Argus, 03/01/1952, p. 6

Regarding his letter writing, it seems he did not write to the papers on one of his favourite topics, brass bands, except for one instance when he requested photos of the Kalgoorlie brass bands for his brass band history collection (Mullen, 1951a).  It is also in this letter that we see that Mullen has described himself as a “statistician and historian of brass and military bands” (Mullen, 1951a).

Kalgoorlie Miner, 13/01/1951, p. 2

This post will not dwell on Mullen’s interests in other subjects however they do provide some clues as to how Mullen went about doing things, and what his personal attitudes were like.  He gives the impression of being an egalitarian person and was a firm advocate for youth groups (Mullen, 1952b).  He did not like some of the aspects of competition, taking aim through one of his letters at “the selfish competition of mankind, instead of the co-operation of mankind” (Mullen, 1940).  In another one of the newspaper letters he advocates for the abolition of school sports, and in his booklet, he advocates for the abolition of grades in band contests (Mullen, 1937, 1951b).  In saying so, Mullen still supported the aims of the Royal South Street Society band competition sections and sponsored trophies for “Best Drummer” in 1958, another trophy in 1959, and a trophy in 1964 for “Bandmaster showing Best Deportment” (Royal South Street Society, 1958, 1959, 1964).   As for his historical work, we will examine his band history research in the next sections, however, it should be noted that there is an amount of conjecture over the accuracy of his sports history writing and statistics (Hay, 2010).

An enthusiastic commentator is probably an apt description of Mullen given his penchant for writing on all manner of subjects.  His band history work is what provides the most interest (for this post) and we will see a person who clearly enjoyed his statistics.

C. C. Mullen: Historian of Brass & Military Bands:

There is no doubt, through reading his works, that Mullen was an enthusiastic advocate, documenter and historian of brass and military bands.   Both his main works on the subject, his booklet and his later article attest to this.  This section will review his booklet first, then his article from 1965.

1951: “Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”:

The first impression that is given about the booklet is that he clearly wrote this booklet as an outlet for his interest in brass bands and musicians. The aim of this booklet, as Mullen notes in the preface, was to publish

…for the first time in the history of brass bands in this country, a condensed history of bands and players who have taken part in most important annual band competitions in Australasia – that of South Street, Ballarat, Victoria. (Mullen, 1951b, p. 1)

With this aim, he achieved his goal and the book contains the names of musicians, the bands they were associated with, and which instruments they played.  Below is small except from one of the lists which makes up many of the pages of this booklet.:

Excerpt from p. 15, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”, Bb Cornets. Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection

In the preface, Mullen outlines his life in the brass band movement.  In summary he:

  • was a pupil of Edward Code,
  • apparently knew all the famous bandmasters of the day,
  • was embedded in the administration of the early Victorian Bands’ Association, and later the Victorian Bands’ League,
  • was a contributor of articles to all the famous band magazines (Mullen, 1951b).

He notes that the famous Bandmaster Edward Code was a great influence on his early life and that he felt honoured as a former pupil to have published this booklet (Mullen, 1951b).  Interestingly, both Edward Code and Mullen are buried in the same cemetery in Melbourne, the Coburg Pine Ridge Cemetery in Melbourne’s north – although 65 years apart.

Mullen was not afraid of expressing his opinions on bands and the administration of bands.  On page four of his booklet is a one-page treatise on the importance of brass bands to the community, with a paragraph (below) on his thoughts of bands in schools (Mullen, 1951b).  A previous post has touched on the historical discrepancies with the starting of school bands in Victoria and Mullen adds his own discrepancy when he declares “I had the first band in Victoria composed of schoolboys” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 4).  When reading this paragraph, it brings to mind a piece of writing in one of the old brass band magazines where the writer had some choice words for the headmasters of the day about not starting bands (“THE EDITOR’S BATON,” 1929).  Perhaps it was Mullen himself who wrote the article in this 1929 issue of The Australasian Band and Orchestra News, but we may never know for sure.

Excerpt from p. 4, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”. Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection

In finishing his one-page treatise on the importance of brass bands, Mullen laments that the State and National controlling bodies have not done enough to promote bands.  He states,

It is up to our band controlling bodies and the Australian Band Council to take this matter up seriously and see that more cannot be done to keep the importance of brass bands before the people of Australia. (Mullen, 1951b, p. 4).

The main aim of this booklet, as mentioned, was to document the prize-winning brass band musicians and bands who had participated in the South Street competitions over a number of years.  Two pages of the booklet are devoted to a poem Mullen wrote on South Street.  Another section of the book was written by a contributor, “Baton” who wrote a history of the band sections at South Street (Baton, 1951).  This contribution is comprehensive and valuable and adds to the existing histories of the band sections at South Street.

Mullen also wrote other small sections in the starting pages and ending pages of the booklet, where, we still see that he is using the booklet to express his own opinions – which is understandable.  Some section headings in the starting pages are telling;

  • “Test Selections need revising” (he felt that operatic works instead of technical works made better test pieces),
  • “Band grading should be abolished” (he felt the grading system had outgrown its usefulness)
  • “Bad drumming of class marches” (Apparently Bandmasters were not teaching or paying attention to the drummers about learning their parts properly) (Mullen, 1951b, pp. 6-8)

In the later pages of the booklet, Mullen provides some useful historical information on the South Street competitions, South Street judges, how Britain developed band music in Australia,  the Quickstep section and the formation of the Victorian Bands’ League (Mullen, 1951b).  Still, he is wanting to express his opinions in these pages and makes comment on how “Grand Opera assists bandsmen” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 61).  Mullen, as we’ve seen, is also a great advocate for the young and has used a section to advocate for young band conductors.  Also, in another section, while he congratulates young soloists for participating in South Street, he also took aim at their onstage deportment – Mullen obviously did not like young soloists who sat down while playing and he gave a serve to bandmasters “who encourage this sort of thing” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 62).

In one of the final sections of the booklet titled “High Cost of Running Brass Bands” (Mullen, 1951b, p. 62), we read that he is trying to advocate for more monetary support for the brass band movement.  He levels criticism at various entities such as the Federal Government on tariffs on musical instruments, the State Government on the money being spent on the upcoming Olympic Games, and the Australian Band Council for not talking to governments on behalf of brass bands (Mullen, 1951b).  Mullen takes a singularly myopic viewpoint, well-meaning, but possibly futile.  Of course, this is all in relation to his support for young musicians and their access to instruments and the expense of obtaining such instruments.  He laments that,

Unfortunately Australia is so “sports minded” that it is a much easier proposition to conduct a boy’s cricket or football team than to form a junior band and give youngsters the chance of a musical education or at least a musical mind. (Mullen, 1951b, p. 62)

Meaning, that if all things were ideal in Mullen’s viewpoint, money would be better spent on the brass band movement.

Would it not be a good investment for the future education of this country for our Governments to spend something on band music in order to help Australia to have a cultured mind – something she lacks at present. (Mullen, 1951b, p. 62)

In this section about the monetary challenges faced by brass bands and lack of support, Mullen has managed to draw in his other points of interest in sports, politics/government and education of youth!

In finishing a review of Mullen’s written paragraphs and opinions in this booklet, it is as has been mentioned; he used this booklet to express is many opinions, ideas and advocacy. His writing was well-meaning, but one wonders how much effect it had on the powers that be?  I personally feel that the lists of bandsmen, instruments and bands provide much more historical interest and meaning in this booklet.

1965: “Brass Bands have played a prominent part in the History of Victoria”:

In 1965, fourteen years later after publishing his booklet, Mullen published another article in The Victorian Historical Magazine with the above title.  Mullen is aged 70 in 1965 and his wealth of historical knowledge about the brass band movement is evident in this article.  The richness of historical information about bands, conductors, adjudicators, the South Street competitions and Victorian musical life can be fully appreciated here – possibly more so than his previous booklet which contained a limited range of historical writing (Mullen, 1951b, 1965).

Mullen provides an amount of context in this article.  To build the narrative, he starts off with the large and then brings focus.  In the opening paragraphs, this means tracing brass instruments from biblical times to the development of bands in England and then to Victoria with a focus on immigration (Mullen, 1965).  In this article, Mullen also draws in some historical information about Victorian bands and events, and he has quoted large parts of various band magazines.  For example, the next section after the introduction is about bands playing at the Eureka Rebellion of which he used information from “The Australian Bandsman.  26th October 1923” (Mullen, 1965, p. 31).  This section on the Eureka Rebellion is useful as it focuses on the band history of Ballarat – which became home to the famous Royal South Street band competitions.

Progressing through the article, we can see that Mullen provides lots of detail throughout various sections while continuing his historical narrative.  When reading, there is an impressive list of bands, bandsmen, competitions and little stories to be discovered.  He has written a section on the “Famous Band Families” such as “James Scarff, Samuel Lewins and Thomas E. Bulch” and the “Codes” – brothers “Edward, John, Alfred and William” and sons of Edward, “Percy” and brother “Samuel” (Mullen, 1965, pp. 36-39).  The South Street band competitions were a subject that had a special interest to Mullen and he devoted another whole section to them, again, listing memorable bands, bandsmen and adjudicators (Mullen, 1965).

In the later writing of this article, there were some notable historical events that Mullen mentions such as the early tours of Besses o’ the’ Barn Band and the Sousa Band, the formation of the Victorian Bands’ League, the impact of the World Wars on local bands, radio broadcasting and in the band world, the activities of the ABC Military Band (Mullen, 1965).  The final section of the article gives praise to the Victorian brass bands for maintaining a high standard of playing, although Mullen attributes this to,

…bandmasters setting a fine example in teaching young players a love for classical works of the of the great composers relating to Grand Opera, Ballet, Symphonies, Oratorio, Sacred and Religious works, and good songs that have been set to music. (Mullen, 1965, p. 46)

In other words, music that was not originally written for brass bands.

Mullen was ever fond of lists (which will be evident further in this post), and in this final section he has listed a number of notable brass band conductors, in addition to others previously named in his article such as “Harry Shugg” (Geelong Harbour Trust, Malvern Tramways & City of Ballarat) (Mullen, 1965, pp. 11, 43).  (The list below has been ordered into a bulleted list which is different from how it is presented in the article):

(Mullen, 1965, pp. 9-11, 47)

If there is one criticism of this article it is the way that Mullen has finished it, there is no real conclusion.  It just…ends.  Mullen leaves the article hanging by making mention of the most recent overseas visit of an international military band (prior to the publication of this article) in 1965).  The final paragraph reads:

The most recent visit of an overseas musical combination to Victoria was that of Her Majesty’s Scots Guards, under Captain James Howe, in March 1964, when it played at the Moomba Carnival in Melbourne. (Mullen, 1965, p. 47)

It is admirable that Mullen wrote an article such as this given that lack of historical writing on the band movement in Victoria as a whole.  What this article does do is create many links between bands, bandsmen and historical context, which is no doubt due to Mullen’s interests in these subject areas.  We should thank Mullen; despite this article being written fifty-five years ago to this date, it is still relevant and serves as a useful guide to much of the band movement history in Victoria.

C. C. Mullen: Statistician:

Returning to Mullen’s publication on brass bands, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951), we will see what can be considered to be the real historical value of this booklet, the lists of names and bands.  Mullen was meticulous in the way he compiled his lists.  No doubt he had access to the names and competition wins through his work at the newspapers, but to compile the lists covering fifty-one years is quite remarkable.  All of the bandsmen and bands can be cross-referenced with the Royal South Street results database (Mullen, 1951b; Royal South Street Society, 2020).

A small excerpt of one of the lists has been displayed earlier in this post.  The way Mullen has compiled these lists is quite logical.  He has started with all the conductors and then listed all the prize winners for every instrument of a brass band.  Interestingly, although South Street never held any solo competitions for Side or Bass Drummers, Mullen lists the bandsmen he considers notable on these instruments.  In the closing pages of the statistics, he lists all of the bands from every State and New Zealand that have participated in South Street over the time frame of this booklet (Mullen, 1951b).  Below are samples of some of the lists, and they are fairly self-explanatory.

Excerpt from p. 19, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”, Bb Cornets. Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection
Excerpt from p. 15, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”, “Bass (G) Trombone”. Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection
Pages 63-64, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951)”, “Bands which have competed at South Street Competitions 1900-1951”. Source: Jeremy de Korte’s Personal Collection

As we can see above, Mullen clearly had an eye for statistical detail.  No doubt he felt he was doing the band movement service by publishing all of this, and to some extent he was.  This is the only booklet of its kind to emerge from this era.  Nowadays we can access all of these results through the South Street results database and find names in the Trove archive.  Mullen did not have these electronic means, and even though the lists do not include the competition scores and rankings of bandsmen, the lists are still very informative.  Another reason to thank Mullen for his work.


Mullen has made a great contribution to the history of the band movement in Victoria through his own personal interest, dedication, and knowledge.  In the absence of any other work of this nature, both his booklet and later article provide an overall picture of the band movement.  Yes, his opinions were controversial when viewed in a new light.  However, I feel he meant well, and I also feel that Mullen’s work on the history of the band movement needs to be more widely known.


Baton. (1951). South Street band competitions have achieved world wide fame. In Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900-1951) (pp. 5-6). Melbourne, Vic.: Horticultural Press.

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

Hay, R. (2010). Cec Mullen, Tom Willis and the search for early Geelong football. The Yorker, Spring(42), 3-5.

Mullen, C. C. (1937, 17 December). Sport in Schools. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11133645

Mullen, C. C. (1940, 16 July). Voluntary Service. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204409992

Mullen, C. C. (1946, 08 January). NORTHERN TRAMWAY ROUTES. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article22221100

Mullen, C. C. (1947, 18 December). School Holidays. Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), p. 15. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article243844022

Mullen, C. C. (1951a, 13 January). Goldfields Brass Bands : To the Editor. Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article256809482

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

Mullen, C. C. (1952a, 03 January). LETTERS (in a nutshell) : Too old. Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23155399

Mullen, C. C. (1952, 03 January). Youth in the Wrong Jobs. Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article204978021

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

Mullen, C. C. (1983, 01 January). This is the last will and testament of me…. Will and Testament. Wills and Probates, (919/613, VPRS7591/P9 Unit 22). Public Record Office Victoria.

Richmond Boys’ Club : Fine Work by C. C. Mullen. (1932, 17 December). Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article189122433

Royal South Street Society. (1958, 25 October). 1958-10-25 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1958-10-25-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1959, 23 October). 1959-10-23 Brass Band Contests. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1959-10-23-brass-band-contests

Royal South Street Society. (1964, 24 October). 1964-10-24 Victorian Brass Band Championship. Royal South Street Society. Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au/results/1964-10-24-victorian-brass-band-championship

Royal South Street Society. (2020). Results. Royal South Street Society (1891-2016). Retrieved from https://results.royalsouthstreet.com.au

Ruddell, T. (2010). Introducing Cec Mullen: pioneer sports historian. The Yorker, Spring(42), 2.

The poetry of brass bands


While undertaking research for my blog posts thus far I have come across all manner of writing describing brass bands, their members and competitions.  Much of the writing is very useful in finding the “little stories” behind people, places and events.  Occasionally I have come across some oddities in the mix and this post is going to highlight an aspect of writing; poetry.

In this context of brass band history, penning up a poem about musicians, bands and competitions might seem very colloquial.  And in some respects, it is.  One only has to look at the style of writing and while the poems might not have won any literature awards, they were helpful in bringing to life some little stories in a unique style.

Below are just three of these brass band poems.  I have not been actively searching for these.  However, if while searching for material on other topics and they appeared, I have made a note of them for the novelty.  These are defiantly the needles in haystacks!  Two of the poems were published in local newspapers by writers using pseudonyms while the third poem was composed by brass band writer C. C. Mullen in his rare book, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900 – 1951).

I am quite sure there are other brass band poems in other newspaper articles so this post might be expanded in the future.  Please enjoy the language and stories that are being told here and remember that they were for another time.  Perhaps this blend of artforms might be used again one day.

“A Welcome” by ‘Bannerman’ (1918):

Herald, 23/10/1920, p. 4

One of the first blog posts in Band Blasts from The Past was about the famous Cornetist and Conductor William Ryder who travelled to Australia in 1910 with the renowned Besses O’ Th’ Barn Band (de Korte, 2018).  Just eight years later, after stints with bands in Victoria and New South Wales, he arrived in Maryborough, Queensland to take the reins of the Maryborough Naval Band and we found that an enterprising contributor, under the pseudonym of ‘Bannerman’, had penned a poem to welcome him to town.  No doubt this would have been perceived as a very friendly gesture, and it gave the town some insight into the prowess and reputation of Ryder as a musician.  This poem was published in the Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser on Wednesday, 8thMay, 1918.


Here’s a hearty welcome “Billy”,
To our pleasant country town,
And may Fortune every lead you,
And misfortune never frown.
We are pleased to have you with us,
And we hope you long may stay
To encourage local talent
In the latest style and way.

When you played the “solo cornet”
With the finest in the land,
You were classed as England’s champion
In the famous “Besses Band.”
And here in fair Australia
You can show us all the way
As the Champion of the Champions
From the South to old Wide Bay.

“Because” we all remember
When you played it at New Year,
When the silvery notes were finished
How the crowd did clap and cheer.
May our town and climate suit you,
May your notes prove ever true.
Here’s good-luck to wife and kiddies,
And long life and health to you.
(Bannerman, 1918, p. 6)

“Back to South Street” by Cecil Clarence Mullen (1951):

There is one brass band musician and writer among many who is significant to early Victorian brass band history, Cecil Clarence Mullen (C. C. Mullen).  His writing might be rare and hard to find now, however, being a band journal representative he had a unique insight into the workings of brass bands and was associated with many famous bands, conductors and administrators (Mullen, 1951).

It is in his little book, Mullen’s Bandsmen of South Street (1900 – 1951) that we find his poem, “Back to South Street”. In this piece of writing Mullen has cleverly highlighted the nostalgia of the South Street event while noting many of the famous names of bands and bandsmen.  It is a worthwhile poem to read for the sake of history.

Source: Jeremy de Korte Personal Collection


Just let me go back to South Street
For a week with the famous bands,
And take with me others who would compete
In Australia’s Golden City of renown.

Just let me alight at the station
With cornet, trombone and drum,
And meet bandsmen from all over the Nation,
To whom South Street once more come.

Just let me line up in the station yard
And play through Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,”
Or “The Heavens Are Telling” by Haydn – just as hard,
As bands played in the days before us.

Just let me march along Sturt Street
With gay crowds lining the way,
With step by step and beat by beat,
Is South Street just the same to-day?

Just let me see who is judging again,
Is it Stead or Bentley with ears for tune?
Short, Beswick, Sutton or Morgan – men of fame,
Or King of them all – J. Ord Hume.

Just let me go through Inspection
As we did when we dressed with much care;
With the gayest uniform in our section,
That made all our rivals stare.

Just let me compete in the solos again
From the grand old Coliseum stage,
With “Adelaide” or “Gipsy’s Warning” – or “Pretty Jane,”
“Zelda” and “Miranda” of a later age.

Just let me mount he platform
And play through “Beethoven’s Works.”
Or any Alexander Owen’s selections
That South Street bands would not shirk.

Just let me play through the Test piece,
Be it “Mercandante.” “Mozart” or “Liszt,”
“Wagner,” “Chopin” of “Meyerbeer,”
The tests that were tests on our lips.

Just let me march in the Quickstep
With Ord Hume’s “B.B. and C.F.”
“The Challenge,” “Cossack” or “Ravenswood”
Or was the “Twentieth Century” the best?

Just let me see the others swing past,
Code’s, Prout’s, Rozelle and Boulder.
Wanganui, Newcastle and Bathurst Brass,
Great names that come dear to the older.

Just let me see those fine Geelong bands,
St. Augustine’s, Municipal and Harbour Trust.
Also Collingwood, Malvern, Richmond, Prahran,
Perth City – all great power among us.

Just let me see Geelong Town again
With Sharpe Brearley at the head of affairs.
They ranked with Prout’s in quickstep fame,
First in marching honours was often theirs.

Just let me see the giants of the baton,
Riley, Code, Bulch and Prout,
McMahon, Barkel, Jones and Hoffman.
Many, alas, have gone out.

Just let me see others again,
Partington, Shugg, Johnston, Bowden.
Men who kept time in South Street’s fame;
Wade and Baile must be among them.

Just let me think if I missed any,
Yes, there was Davison, Niven, Lewins – any more!
Hopkins, Ryder, Billy May among many,
Not forgetting Frank Wright and J. Booth Gore.

Just let me see the best of officials
And critics like Davey, Gartrell and Hellings,
Humphreys and Boyce – Kings of staff and whistle,
May march us again – well, there’s no telling.

So to-day just let me go back to South Street,
Most famous contest in the land,
Where many old timers I will heartily greet,
And yarn over years that were so grand.
(Mullen, 1951, pp. 2-3)

“Dungog Brass Band” by ‘Mad Mick” (1954):

Dungog Brass Band, 1912 (Source: IBEW)

Above is a picture of the Dungog Brass Band from around 1912 and unfortunately, this is one of the only pictures I could find of them.  However, some thirty years later this prose was published in the Dungog Chronicle : Dungog and Gloucester Advertiserby a member of the band writing under the pseudonym of ‘Mad Mick”.  One may wince at some of the language, but this was the 1950’s!

From reading the poem it appears that ‘Mick’ is a third cornet player.  This poem is quite good in describing who the band is, what it does and where it goes, but the prose hints at some problems like attendance issues.  We can appreciate that this was a local town band, and this was the way they did things. I think every band has a ‘Mick’ in their midst and we can thank him for highlighting the Dungog Brass Band in the way that he did.


I’ve heard it said that Old King Cole was happy, gay and free,
And he liked music sweet and low, played by his fiddlers three,
But in Dungog we’re luckier than King Cole in his day,
We have a band of 25 with band-master, Bob Gray;
And of this band we all feel proud, a mighty job they do,
They play in aid of charities, and spastic kiddies too.
Some Saturdays they entertain at each and every pub,
They finish off the evening playing at the Bowling Club.

Now I would like to tell you all the names of those who play,
And how old Bob the baton waves, and gets them on their way;
Soprano cornet heads the list and that’s I. Kennedy.
That solo cornet it is played by little Johnny Lee;
Keith Kennedy is downstairs for he is baritone,
And forwards, backwards, goes Stan Leayr upon the old trombone;
Now solo tenor horn Barry Schofield plays alone,
Toot! Toot! Toot! Toot! Don Redman goes upon his saxophone.

First tenor horn’s Wal Arnold, third cornet Mick Neilson,
Johnny Schofield’s second cornet, Hector Robson the side drum;
Ken Wade with his euphonium, gets down to bottom D,
While second solo tenor horn is little Barry Lee;
Then there’s E bass Freddy Schofield and Ted Mathews is the same,
And there’s one more solo cornet, Artie Redman is his name;
The secretary is Jack Kerr, he’s also big bass drum,
While tenor horn number three is played by “Butch” Neilson.

There’s only six more instruments and players for to pen,
For to conclude the roll call of Bob and his merry men;
And Bob calls them “some-timers,” they don’t attend a lot,
Sometimes they’re there for practice and sometimes they are not.
There’s the E bass and the B bass, and repiano cornet too,
And they’re played by Tommy Ferris and Keith Lean and Shelton, Blue,
Well now I’ve two trombonists whose attendances are poor
And they are “Sambo” Neilson and offsider Dennis Moore.

Well, those are all the players who go to make this band,
But there are two more people who lend a helping hand;
First of them the Drum Major, he makes them look so fine,
And that of course is Perry, Bill, he sees they march in line.
Then last of all is Paddy with collection box in hand,
You’ll always find him snooping round somewhere behind the band,
He sticks his box beneath your nose and thinks he’s doing right.
No wonder folks have christened him the “great Australian bite!”
P.S. – Sorry folks I missed one out, it’s Ray Monaghan I’m sure,
He plays quite well, but still in all, attendances are poor.
(Mad Mick, 1954, p. 3)

…and something from me:

In concluding this next blog post in Band Blasts From the Past,
Some tales of bands and bands people, but they won’t be the last.
For as we know from history, stories wait until they’re found,
Of the many tales of bands people who were there to make a sound.


Bannerman. (1918, 08 May). A WELCOME. Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. : 1860 – 1947), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article151083205

de Korte, J. D. (2018, 02 March). William Ryder: The first conductor of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Employees Band. Blog post Retrieved from https://bandblastsfromthepast.blog/2018/03/02/william-ryder-the-first-conductor-of-the-prahran-malvern-tramways-employees-band/

Dungog Brass Band. (1912). The Internet Bandsman: Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia [Photograph]: Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vinbbp/phot16862.jpg.

Mad Mick. (1954, 29 September). DUNGOG BRASS BAND (By ‘Mad Mick). Dungog Chronicle : Durham and Gloucester Advertiser (NSW : 1894 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article140539879

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

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


Instruments, sheet music and uniforms: how the bands of old obtained the essentials


If we were to undertake an examination of all the aspects that make community bands what they are, and look back over a century, we would probably find that there is much that is similar.  In fact, there is not much that has changed at all, except that bands are increasingly adapting to changes in technology when it comes to obtaining the necessities.  Our methods of finding sheet music, in particular, have focused on online searches – we can listen to the music and make discerning choices and music can be purchased, downloaded and printed within hours.  Regarding instruments, some bands still maintain stocks although many musicians own their own.  Where technology has not really intruded is around uniforms, except for the manufacturing. This is the concern of band committees who have to ensure they have the necessary items for a band while maintaining a workable budget.

Change is inevitable.  One wonders what the bands of old would have made of all the choice we have now?

This post will advertisements from various firms advertising their products.  They were published in a 1919 edition of the Australian Band News and this style of advertisement was quite common.  Again, this kind of advertising would be very familiar to the modern band’s person. Although we don’t have this kind of banding news is not so common in this day and age, we do have advertising in programs for the National Band Championships for example.

The purpose of this post will be to look back in history and view this from a different light where technology was very different, retailers were somewhat aggressive in the way they did things and a number of items were supplied in bulk.  There will be issues of competition between local manufacturers and big retailers who supplied imports.  We shall see how bands enlisted a whole town to fund them to buy new uniforms as these were a measure of the band and town pride.  Regarding sheet music, the bands couldn’t buy just one piece as an amount of music was published in albums.  Bands were much more numerous back then and retailers had to keep up with demand.

There is no definitive list of just how many bands were started.  However, through running searches in the Trove archive one can see that there was a number of bands.  It is not an accident that there were initially so many; Australia (and New Zealand) were mainly settled by immigrants from the United Kingdom these immigrants brought the brass band culture with them (Bythell, 2000).  Indeed, as Bythell (2000) writes,

Whether large of small, these new urban communities in the antipodes quickly replicated both the physical forms and social institutions familiar in Victorian and Edwardian Britain.  It is not surprising that so quintessentially Victorian an institution as the brass band should have been prominent among them. (p. 218)

For some, this might be a trip down memory lane.  For others, seeing the old advertisements might bring a sense of wonder.  Whatever you might think, the necessities were as important back then as they are now.

Advertisement for Besson Instruments from the Australian Band News, 1919

Instruments to play:

Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser, 01/07/1905, pg. 11

A band is not a band without instruments and in the early 1900s, many new bands were busy equipping themselves with whole sets of instruments. With the bands came the industry to support them with many music retailers as they realized that the bands were business opportunities (Evans, 2013).  As can be seen below in this 1896 advertisement found in the Sydney Morning Herald, there are a number of retailers listed, including a manufacturer who was based in Australia, John York Jnr. (“Advertising,” 1896).  Some music retailers enlisted the services of prominent musicians to endorse instruments – and listing the prizes that were won using particular instruments was a common selling point (Besson, 1919b; Boosey and Co.s, 1919; Myers, 2000).  The music retailers worked to build relationships with bands and representatives traveled all over Australia to sell their wares.  John York Jnr was one of them and his efforts did not go unnoticed. In 1902 the newly-formed Crokl Brass Band accepted 13 York instruments out of the 15 he sent up to them, although many members of the new band had their own instruments (“Crokl Brass Band.,” 1902).  Likewise, the Palings firm, who operated out of Sydney, were famous for supplying whole sets of instruments and the products they sold were enthusiastically written up in various newspapers (“BAND INSTRUMENTS.,” 1889; “BOOSEY’S BAND INSTRUMENTS.,” 1905; “PIANOS & MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS,” 1904).  Although, as is seen here, the Queensland Times article from 1905 was more enthused about the presentation of the catalog!

Sydney Morning Herald, 07/11/1896, pg. 2

Palings and Allan’s were the agents for many of the brands of brass instruments that were sold in Australia in the early 1900s and beyond. Instruments from the famous British firms of  “Boosey, Hawkes, Besson, and Higham” were imported as their factories were “capable of mass production” (Myers, 2000, p. 176).  As such, they could be sold at reasonable prices in Australia which matched those from the British markets (Herbert, 2000).  Through some research by Evans (2013) into the history of John York Jnr, we can see that Boosey Cornets sold by Palings in 1904 were “approximately £8” each (p. 74).  Such was the prices of instruments in these times.  Unfortunately, the importation of cheap British made instruments put John York Jnr out of business.  Despite York producing instruments of high quality – he was trained at the Higham factory in Manchester – he couldn’t compete with the bigger music retailers (Evans, 2013).  Bands made choices according to their requirements and Boosey’s and Besson’s were generally the instruments of choice.

It was not just the local town bands that were benefiting from the business of Palings.  In 1914 the 13th Battalion Band, which was still in Sydney at the time, became the beneficiary of a whole set of instruments acquired from Palings by a Miss Margaret Harris and then sent to the Army camp at Rosehill (“BAND INSTRUMENTS.,” 1914).  Such donations were not uncommon, and many Battalion bands benefited from individuals donating instruments (“15th BATTALION BAND FUND.,” 1914).

Coming into the 1930’s we see that supplying bands with instruments is still a good business for some retailers, in particular, the Palings firm who now had multiple outlets up and down the Eastern coastline.  A display of instruments by the Palings Brisbane shop at the Maryborough Band Contest in 1932 was enthusiastically written up in a Maryborough Chronical article (“BAND INSTRUMENTS.,” 1932).  Regarding the sales of instruments, bands basically went with the retailer that offered the best prices.  In 1932 the Lismore Brass Band was trying to acquire some second-hand instruments for loan through the Defence Force, Allan’s and Palings (“CITIZENS’ BAND,” 1932).  From the article, it seems the terms offered by Allans were rejected and the offer from Palings was examined further.  The Woodburn Brass Band accepted an offer from Palings in 1932 for a whole new set of instruments as did the Narrabri Band in 1934 (“NEW INSTRUMENTS,” 1932; “NEW INSTRUMENTS,” 1934).  However, things did not always go to plan as the Taree Citizens’ Band found out in 1936 when being unable to afford repayments to Palings, found that their instruments were due to be repossessed (“BAND INSTRUMENTS,” 1936).  Such is business!

Palings and Allan’s were obviously very helpful to the early brass bands with their sponsorship of competitions and the advertisements swayed some bands to seek them out.  No matter how we might view their business tactics, one cannot discount the fact that in the early days, the instruments were supplied when the bands needed them.

Advertisement for Boosey Cornets from the Australian Band News, 1919

Music to read:

Advertisement for Allan’s Music Publishers from the Australian Band News, 1919

In some respects, the supply of band music was very much linked to that of instruments
as the bigger retailers also supplied sheet music to bands. This was also the time of some very famous brass band composers such as Thomas Edward Bulch who not only conducted bands but wrote for them as well (Friends of the Wizard and Typhoon, 2016b; Pattie, 2010).  Not much is written about the publishing of band music in newspapers, but there were numerous advertisements for sheet music in publications such as The Australian Band News.  To the right, and below these paragraphs are some advertisements from 1919 for sheet music, albums of band music and instruments tutors.

In addition to bands obtaining music from albums (or march cards), there were some people within bands who wrote and/or arranged their own music.  Certainly, Thomas Bulch was one of them, and his advertisement is below.  Bulch conducted his own band in Ballarat for a number of years – the “Bulch’s Model Brass Band” (Pattie, 2010, pp. 5-12) which later became the Ballarat City Band.  He also wrote an amount of music, sometimes under his own name, but also using pseudonyms (Friends of the Wizard and Typhoon, 2016b).  Bulch worked for himself but at times also worked for Allan’s and Palings as an editor and contributor of music.  A list of his compositions compiled by the excellent Friends of the Wizard and Typhoon website can be found here (Friends of the Wizard and Typhoon, 2016a).  In a similar way, Robert McAnally, the second conductor of the Malvern and Prahran Tramways Employees Band, also penned up numerous arrangements of existing orchestral works which the current iteration of the band still holds in its library (Stonnington City Brass, 2011).

It is fortunate that many bands are able to play this older music today as much of it has survived in band libraries.  And that there are old catalogs to look at and admire.  The composers and publishers have left the current bands a legacy of music to keep hold of and hopefully play again.

Advertisement for the Besson Cornet Tutor from the Australian Band News, 1919.
Advertisement for Bulch’s Brass Band Journal from the Australian Band News, 1919

Uniforms to wear:

There is no doubt that the old bands wore their uniforms with pride and much has been written about these bands obtaining new uniforms.  From the metropolitan bands to tiny country bands, in the early decades of the 1900s, supplying a band with a uniform drew the interest of whole towns and local councils.  A look through photos on The Internet Bandsman website shows a huge variety of uniforms and their changes over the years (The Internet Bandsman, n.d.).  Being a properly dressed band is one tradition that modern bands adhere to.

To start a bit earlier than 1900 will reveal that the wearing of uniforms had some effect on the morale of a band.  In 1885, the band of the ‘Norriston Asylum’ paraded in their new uniforms for the first time and the local newspaper, the Kiama Independent, and Shoalhaven Advertiser reported on the event:

A brass band composed on insane inmates of the Norriston Asylum paraded about the grounds, wearing uniforms for the first time.  They were very proud of their regalia, and when they passed in review of trustees and Physician-in-law Chase, the lunatic who played the big brass horn blew harder and the fat cymbal player, who imagines he owns the State of Pennsylvania, clapped the cymbals with all his might, while the man who beat the bass drum thumped away as if he were trying to knock the drum head in.

The uniforms are similar to those worn by the United States troops.  When the band stopped playing for want of breath, the lunatics all looked at their uniforms and smiled proudly.

(“A Crazy Brass Band.,” 1885)

There was a bit more to this article but needless to say that the asylum was quite proud of its brass band and the holistic effect it had on inmates.

Tambellup Times, 22/08/1922, pg. 2

There is a common thread of funding running through articles on bands and uniforms.  In 1905 a bizarre was to be held in the Corowa School of Arts with the aim of funding new uniforms for the Corowa Band (“BRASS BAND UNIFORM.,” 1905).  Over in Western Australia, the Katanning Brass Band accepted tenders for their uniforms in 1922 and in 1927 the nearby Gnowangerup District Brass Band decided to look at obtaining uniforms (“Gnowangerup District Brass Band.,” 1927; “Katanning Brass Band,” 1922).  The Carnegie Junior Brass Band in Melbourne also decided to raise funds for uniforms by holding a bazaar while the Fitzroy City Council, in a show of support for their local band, calls for tenders for new uniforms (“Carnegie Junior Brass Band.,” 1936; “New Uniforms for Band.,” 1937).  Meanwhile, the Salvation Army, as can be seen by the advertisement below, offers its tailoring services to create uniforms for any band that wanted them.

Uniforms were a whole different kind of necessity yet brought about great pride to the bands and their towns.  It’s no wonder that whole communities supported their bands with these important items.

Article for the Salvation Army Tailoring Department from the Australian Band News, 1919.


There’s probably much more to be explored regarding instruments, sheet music and uniforms as researching each item brings up more stories. They are part of a much larger story of banding in this country, uniquely so.  The fact that the purchase of instruments and production of uniforms made the local papers tells us that the bands (and local communities) saw these as important and newsworthy.  It is important that we recognize the lengths that bands went to in order to obtain what they needed.

Advertisement for Lyons Instrument Repairs from the Australian Band News, 1919


15th BATTALION BAND FUND. (1914, 24 October). Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article177942144

“Allans”. (1919, 26 June). New Band Successes, [Advertisement]. Australian Band News, 12(10), p. 15.

Advertising. (1896, 07 November). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article14074229

BAND INSTRUMENTS. (1889, 11 April). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article13729011

BAND INSTRUMENTS. (1914, 14 October). Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 11. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15566270

BAND INSTRUMENTS: Comprehensive Display: Palings to the Front. (1932, 23 March). Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett Advertiser (Qld. : 1860 – 1947), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article149077126

BAND INSTRUMENTS: Over £300 Owing: Palings to be Asked to Reposssess. (1936, 18 July). Northern Champion (Taree, NSW : 1913 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162151455

Besson. (1919a, 26 June). The Besson Cornet Tutor, [Advertisement]. Australian Band News, 12(10), p. 16.

Besson. (1919b, 26 June). Pre-eminent for Over Fifty Years, [Advertisement]. Australian Band News, 12(10), p. 4.

Boosey and Co.s. (1919, 26 June). A Famous Soloist, [Advertisement]. Australian Band News, 12(10), p. 18.

BOOSEY’S BAND INSTRUMENTS. (1905, 01 July). Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), p. 11. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article123898124

BRASS BAND UNIFORM. (1905, 17 November 1905). Corowa Free Press (NSW : 1875 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article237957970

Bulch & Co. (1919, 26 June). Bulch’s Brass Band Journal, [Advertisement]. Australian Band News, 12(10), p. 9.

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). Oxford: Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press.

Carnegie Junior Brass Band. (1936, 08 September). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 15. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205894546

CITIZENS’ BAND. (1932, 08 September). Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article94300280

A Crazy Brass Band. (1885, 15 September). Kiama Independent, and Shoalhaven Advertiser (NSW : 1863 – 1947), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article101640683

Crokl Brass Band. (1902, 23 July). Manning River Times and Advocate for the Northern Coast Districts of New South Wales (Taree, NSW : 1898 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article172469392

Evans, A. (2013). Playing on: John York and the Sydney Brass Musical Instrument Factor. Sydney Journal, 4(1), 66-85.

Friends of the Wizard and Typhoon. (2016a). A list of Thomas Edward Bulch compositions and arrangements (including some known pseudonyms). The Wizard and The Typhoon: A site rembering George Allan and Thomas Edward Bulch, the great Victorian brass composers of New Shildon. Retrieved from http://www.wizardandtyphoon.org/the-typhoon/a-list-of-thomas-edward-bulch-compositions-and-arrangements-including-some-known-pseudonyms/

Friends of the Wizard and Typhoon. (2016b). The Typhoon,. The Wizard and The Typhoon: A site rembering George Allan and Thomas Edward Bulch, the great Victorian brass composers of New Shildon. Retrieved from http://www.wizardandtyphoon.org/the-typhoon/

Gnowangerup District Brass Band. (1927, 05 February). Gnowangerup Star and Tambellup-Ongerup Gazette (WA : 1915 – 1944), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article158910311

Herbert, T. (2000). Appendix 1 : Prices of Brass Band Instruments Extracted from Manufacturers’ Advertising Material. In T. Herbert (Ed.), The British brass band : a musical and social history (pp. 306-311). Oxford: Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press.

Katanning Brass Band: Uniforms Fund. (1922, 30 August). Tambellup Times (WA : 1912 – 1924), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article211145119

Lyons. (1919, 26 June). Brass Band Instrument Repairing, [Advertisement]. Australian Band News, 12(10), p. 5.

Myers, A. (2000). Instruments and Instrumentation of British Brass Bands. In T. Herbert (Ed.), The British brass band : a musical and social history (pp. 155-186). Oxford: Clarendon Press ; New York : Oxford University Press.

NEW INSTRUMENTS. (1932, 04 August). Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 12. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article94295194

NEW INSTRUMENTS: For Narrabri Band: Palings Make Offer. (1934, 26 July). North Western Courier (Narrabri, NSW : 1913 – 1955), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article133254083

New Uniforms for Band. (1937, 10 March). Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954), p. 16. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article205600050

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.). Ballarat, Vic.: City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band.

PIANOS & MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS: Messrs. W. H. Paling and Co., LTD. (1904, 14 December). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article136387117

Stonnington City Brass. (2011). History of Stonnington City Brass. Stonnington City Brass. Retrieved from http://www.stonningtoncitybrass.org.au/SCBJoomla/index.php/history

The Internet Bandsman. (n.d.). Vintage Brass Band Pictures: Australia. IBEW. Retrieved from http://www.ibew.org.uk/vbbp-oz.htm

The Salvation Army. (1919, 26 June). The Salvation Army Tailoring Department, [Advertisement]. Australian Band News, 12(10), p. 1.