Saint-Saëns and wind bands

I recently received a copy of a splendid book by Fabien Guilloux and Emanuele Marconi, from the Institut de Recherche en Musicologie and Le Musée des Instruments à Vent (La Couture-Boussey). I can recommend it as a fascinating examination of the role the composer played in the development of music for wind bands, and it is full of historical detail of the background of musical instrument history and the ensembles and music concerned. The text is in both French and English, and the book can be obtained via the museum’s website:

“On the occasion of the centenary of the death of Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921), the Wind Instruments Museum of La Couture-Boussey and the Institute for Research in Musicology are joining forces to discover a little-known facet of the musician’s personality: his constant commitment to wind instruments, at a time when such interest is rather rare on the part of renowned composers. His long artistic career corresponds to one of the most inventive periods in the history of music instruments making: flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets gradually adopt the modern form that we know today and the new families of saxophones, saxhorns or sarrussophones, born from the intuition of genius makers, enrich the sound palette of the orchestra. Curious by nature, tireless explorer, always in search of new associations of timbres, passionate about acoustic and technical inventions, Saint-Saens mingles with this breath of modernity. From the Tarentelle for flute and clarinet Op. 6 (1857) until the Sonata for bassoon and piano Op. 168 (1921), he composed some fifty works dedicated to wind instruments and surrounded himself with the best performers. By exploiting all the technical possibilities of the winds and their expressive richness, Saint-Saens thus opens the way to a renewal of the repertoire.” 

Here are a couple of images from this richly illustrated book.

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Chocolate military bands

In the early 1900’s the Dutch chocolate company Grootes produced a series of postcards and wrappers that advertised their chocolate, and also showed pictures of the military bands of various European countries.

Pieter Grootes began trading in grains in 1825, and started manufacturing chocolate in the mid-1840’s, and was a well-respected brand for over a hundred years. The company ceased production in 1968 after increasing competition from American-style products and cheap copies of Belgian chocolate.

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The Cannery Girls’ Band of Sheridan, Oregon

This is the Roy Graves Canning Company Girls’ Band, from Sheridan, Oregon. Founded in January 1919, with members from the female employees and daughters of the fruit canning business, it was outfitted with new uniforms and Conn instruments, and gave its first concert in April that year. Over the next two years it performed in many towns and at various events in Portland and elsewhere in western Oregon. Its fate beyond 1921 is not known.

For more information about this short-lived band, see the article, linked below:

The Cannery Girls’ Band – a short-lived, fruitful organisation in Sheridan, Oregon

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West Carthage Fire Department Band and the disappearing dog

Another couple of photographs displaying the art of the retoucher in the early 1900’s. These photographs of the West Carthage Fire Department Band from New York state, show the band proudly arrayed with their instruments.

In one, there is a dog – perhaps the band mascot or owned by one of the players. In the second one the dog has been removed. Obviously the band regarded the original image as being not quite serious/professional enough with “Rover” in the foreground!

This is the third such set featured in this blog – see also A Battersea Band Mystery and A Bolton Band Mystery.

No dog
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Ladies of the Lakes

This is the Fenton Ladies’ Cornet Band, of Michigan, some time in the 1880’s. Just one of over 50 female bands that were active in Michigan from 1875 to 1925. The paper, linked below, delves a little into the history of these ladies’ ensembles, and includes a directory of the known bands.

Ladies of the Lakes – the women’s brass bands of Michigan 1875-1925

Fenton Ladies’ Cornet Band
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Hassocks Men’s Rally Brass Band

We are used to the Salvation Army bands being examples of musicians helping to promote a religious message or cause. There were, however, many other such bands associated with various churches and religious groups – providing music for services, raising funds, and attracting people to services and meetings. One of these was the Hassocks Congregational Men’s Rally Brass Band, in a small Sussex village. It only existed for about three years, but was resurrected in the mid-1920’s. Further information about the band and its activities can be found in the paper linked below.

Hassocks Congregational Men’s Rally Brass Band

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Charles Heyn’s Company – cornets and xylophones

Charles Heyn was a cornet and xylophone soloist. Very little is known about his life or his solo career, he may have had some acting roles in the mid-1890’s. He did, however, promote himself as a ‘Master Cornet & Xylophonist” – as seen in his publicity photograph. This was probably in the early 1900’s.

In 1911 or earlier he formed the Chas. Heyn Company, a quartet of instrumentalists, consisting of himself, his wife and his two daughters. Their first appearance I have found was at the Colosseum in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany in October 1911.

Given his name and this early engagement, it is probable that he was German or Swiss by birth, as may also have been his family.

In 1912 the family appeared at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, in April, billed as ‘Celebrated Cornet à Piston and Xylophone Virtuosi’. They performed with four xylophones and at least one of the family, other than Charles, also played the cornet. One of their popular pieces on the xylophones was the overture “Zampa”.

“Those who had the satisfaction of enjoying the performance of the Charles Heyn Quartette are likely to revisit the theatre to confirm first impressions. It is worth while standing in a queue to hear such musicians. The performances on the cornets and xylophones were undoubtedly fine. The overture to Zampa was a delight to ear and heart. How delicately the air was wafted across the spacious and crowded theatre; how frequently the people marvelled at the manual dexterity of the performers; how daintily the diminuendos were observed, and how boldly and with what certainty the crescendo passages were delivered!”

The family toured various theatres in vaudeville shows over the next two years.

“The Chas. Heyn Quartette is composed of father, mother, and two daughters, and it must be said of their playing on cornets and xylophone, that few artistes could have done better. For the overture “Zampa” (Herold) on the xylophones they were heartily recalled, and to the accompaniment of a further selection the youngest artiste gave a clever exhibition of dancing.”

Their last known engagement was in July 1914, at Bishop Auckland. If they were a German family, as surmised, the outbreak of WW1 would have curtailed their touring in England. Sadly, the names of the other family members are not known.

The quartet’s recorded appearances in the British Isles were:

May 1912 – Empire Theatre, Burnley
June 1912 – Savoy Theatre, Glasgow; Hippodrome, Preston; Tivoli Theatre, Dublin
July 1912 – King’s Theatre, Dundee
August 1912 – Grand Theatre, Hanley
September 1912 – Hippodrome, Nottingham
October 1912 – Empire Theatre, Holborn, Empire Theatre, Leeds
August 1913 – Tivoli Theatre, Manchester; Palace Theatre, Bradford
September 1913 – Palace Theatre, Carlisle; Palace Theatre, Blackburn; Palace Theatre, Halifax
October 1913 – Hippodrome & Palace Theatre, Warrington; Palace Theatre, Burnley
November 1913 – Gem Theatre, Yarmouth
December 1913 – Scala Theatre, Seacombe; Hippodrome, Accrington
January 1914 – Palace Theatre, Huddersfield
July 1914 – Hippodrome, Bishop Auckland

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A celebration in brass for International Women’s Day 2022

A number of my articles and directories have featured lady brass instrumentalists of the past – whether as soloists or as members of female or other bands. These remarkable women carved out careers for themselves and often proved themselves to be the equal of or better than their male counterparts. These are collected here in recognition of IWD 2022.

The Fenton Ladies’ Cornet Band, Michigan, c. 1883

Click on the article’s title to retrieve the PDF documents below.

Beatrice Pettit (1872-1922) – a cornet soloist

Beatrice Pettit was one of many accomplished female brass musicians who made a career out of their music in the 19th  century and early 20th century. She started to perform at the age of 15, and her first appearance in public was in November 1888. She went on to study at the Guildhall School of Music, and became a soloist on cornet with a number of orchestras, bands and entertainment troupes over the years. She was also accomplished as a pianist and soprano vocalist. She was particularly associated with Rosabel Watson’s Æolian Ladies’ Orchestra, the English Ladies’ Orchestral Society, and Eleanor Clauson’s Ladies’ Pompadour Band.

Cleora Miller – the “Prima Donna and the Instrumentalists”

Cleora Miller was a multi-instrumental musician, who toured with her parents in a musical trio, before becoming the figurehead of the show and a much loved and admired solo artist in addition to her ensemble work, eventually leading a multi-act variety show that was greatly sought after in the American mid-west in the early 1930’s.

Daisy Squelch (1885-1965) – cornet soloist and music hall star

Agnes Mary Squelch (familiarly known as Daisy) was taught to play the cornet by the Black Dyke cornetist, John Paley at the age of 14. Having mastered the instrument, Daisy went on to become a well-known soloist on the concert stage, eventually moving to the music halls, where she excelled in various productions, touring the country from 1909 to 1922

Damen und Damen

Travelling musicians and entertainers had been a part of European life for centuries. In the German speaking countries of Europe during the German Empire there arose a large number of “Damen Kapellen”, troupes of musical and variety entertainers consisting largely of women, usually led by a man, and occasionally including males as players. This papers looks at the the brass ensembles which made up a significant proportion of these touring entertainment groups

Hazel Gwinnup and the Six Royal Hussars

Hazel was a trombonist and saxophonist who, after touring with Helen May Butler’s Ladies’ Brass Band, joined a vaudeville brass sextet on the theatre circuit for a further six years.

Judith Potter’s Scrapbook

Judith appeared on the brass band scene around 1949 when, at the age of six, she gave a cornet solo at the annual supper of Coleford Town Band. The press cuttings of this event, together with many others covering her time with bands up to the early 1960s, are pasted into her scrapbook

Lynn and Lynda – two ‘dainty’ brass musicians

A look at the touring performances of ‘Lynn and Lynda’, who gave multi-instrumental concerts and turns, with their various brass instruments, on stages across the British Isles during the 1920’s

Mary Simm’s Scrapbook

In May 1952, Mary Simm, who played cornet with the Kearsley Silver Band, started her second scrapbook of brass band memories.  She collected press cuttings, programmes and photographs of events she attended or took part in through 1952. Items from her scrapbook have been scanned, more or less in the order she pasted them in. They cover not only the events of the Kearsley band, but also others in the area, providing a brief look at the banding aspects of a year in her life

Mauston Ladies’ Ideal Band

A look at the brief history of this band from central Wisconsin in the 1880’s

Miss Nettie Goff – a minstrel and vaudeville trombonist

Nettie Goff was an African-American trombone soloist and actress who toured the eastern and southern USA with a number of different minstrel shows in the 1890’s and 1900’s. With her husband, Will Garland, she also undertook various European tours.

Scoring for the ladies

A brief look at the women who have composed music for brass band, and the initiative of the Harrogate Band to highlight their music

Soft Lips on Cold Metal

During the later 1800s and early 1900s there were increasing numbers of women musicians taking part in the musical life of the western world. Whether as instrumental soloists; members of family groups; amateur or professional bands and orchestras; string, brass and mixed ensembles; and vaudeville performers; these female musicians earned their place in history – one which has largely been overlooked in favour of their male counterparts. This paper documents a number of these solo brass performers, giving an insight into their lives and performances

The cornet madam and the trombonist actress

A look at the lives of Antonia Gonzales in New Orleans and Marguerite Dufay in Paris

Women and Brass

Brass bands have been a musical force across the world over the last 200 years. Mainly concentrated in Europe, North America and Australasia, they were predominantly male, and the members were largely working class. The female brass band is a somewhat rare beast, even today, though it did enjoy a “golden era” during the late 1800s and early 1900s in the USA. In this paper are details of some 408 female brass bands – a very small number compared to their male equivalents

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Aboriginal Peoples’ Brass Bands in Canada

I recently discovered more about some of the indigenous peoples’ brass bands of North America. Some years ago, Brian Stride established a research project for the brass bands in British Columbia, Canada. This included a number of bands of the First Nations peoples, which were often linked to religious organisations or various institutions. See: History of Brass Bands in British Columbia –

On the other side of the continent, in Labrador and Newfoundland, there is a long tradition of Inuit brass bands associated with the Moravian Church. Mark Turner is a historian and facilitor who is combining his historical research with various projects to keep the musical traditions alive in the communities. See also: Labrador Moravian Inuit Brass Band Workshop –

Here are two examples of early Inuit bands, playing in Nain, Labrador.

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Circus bands – 2

Another facet of brass bands in the 19th century that was far more prevalent in the USA than here in the UK, was the “professional” band which usually was linked to, or joined up with, the travelling circuses and wild west shows.

Although there were touring bands in the UK, on the theatre and music hall circuit, they were relatively few and tended to be family-based. In a similar fashion to the local village bands in the UK that joined then detached from the Volunteer force, town bands in the USA sometimes were adopted by or took it upon themselves to associate with a passing/travelling show. Many famous bandmasters and march composers learned their skills on the show circuit in the States. Following a query by Betsy Jones, a couple of years ago, I was happy to stumble across Windjammers Inc. [] – an organisation dedicated to the music and history of the circus bands and bandsmen. I was able to provide them with details of some US bands that had toured with shows, together with selected images. This led to my investigating the circus, show and professional side-show bands in Britain, and my paper:

Roll up! Roll up! – 19th century circus and other professional bands in the British Isles

See also my previous blog post on Circus Bands.

Unknown circus band
Unknown circus band
Rippel’s Circus Band 1910
Rice & Dorman Circus Band 1919
Gentry Brothers Circus Band, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
sideshow band supporting “Interesting and Amuseing – Dancing Girls – The Dance of Art – Oriental Dancers”
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