Women and Brass

A new paper has been recently published and is available at: https://gavinholman.academia.edu/research

Women and Brass: the female brass bands of the 19th and 20th centuries

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. hblb

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New brass band research papers (4)

Four new papers have been recently published and are available at: https://gavinholman.academia.edu/research

Brass drawings – a look at the depiction of brass bands and bandsmen through the eyes of the cartoonist and illustrator

Brass bands, their players and instruments have always been ripe subjects for humour. They have been used to poke fun at themselves, and others, to make satirical or political points, to promote products, or just to provide the scene for a joke. Cartoonists have found the world of brass bands and brass players an inspiration, both in comment on the brass band movement itself and also as reflections on the contemporary political and social scenes.

Thirsty work – brass bands and the temperance movement in the 19th century

Playing a brass instrument is thirsty business. All that pneumatic effort, spit and water vapour will leave the average player needing a good drink after a rehearsal or a concert – possibly the reason that brass bands, in particular, have been renowned for enjoying a tipple or two – though hopefully not before their performances. Nevertheless, brass bands have had a long association with the temperance movement, which advocated abstinence from alcohol, helping to promote the teetotal message to the public. The 19 th century saw the rise of the fight against alcohol and the parallel increase in the popularity and availability of bands led to brass bands being adopted or established by various temperance organisations. This paper gives a brief overview of the temperance movement and brass bands associated with it, together with some contemporary portraits of temperance bands, drink-related band tales, and lists of the temperance bands over the last 200 years

Children as mutes – the practice of stuffing babies and young children into the bells of large brass instruments

How many children have had their lives blighted by their fathers stuffing them into a tuba, and then having that sorry experience recorded for posterity in a photograph? It appears to have been a commonplace activity in the early years of brass bands, though we cannot know how widespread the practice was before the advent of photography, through lack of evidence, though there are plenty of examples since then.

Music and Musicians for the People: Scottish International Exhibitions, 1886 & 1888 – The brass bands and their contests

The musical contributions at the two international exhibitions in Scotland, at Edinburgh and Glasgow in 1886 and 1888 were detailed in two books written by Robert Marr. Both exhibitions featured many musical events and groups which were engaged to entertain and educate the thousands of people that streamed through the doors each day. From Marr’s copious descriptions about the wider musical performers and events I have extracted the details of the visiting and competing brass bands, using his notes, and have included roughly contemporary pictures of those that are available. In addition to bands, orchestras and choirs performing concerts throughout the Exhibitions, there were a series of contests, including two at each exhibition for brass bands – one limited to Scottish bands, the other open to all. The contest results in Marr’s books have been expanded using contemporary newspaper reports.

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Book: Brass Bands of the British Isles – historical directory

bbbiOf the many brass bands that have flourished in Britain and Ireland over the last 200 years very few have documented records covering their history. This directory is an attempt to collect together information about such bands and make it available to all. Over 19,600 bands are recorded here, with some 10,600 additional cross references for alternative or previous names. This volume supersedes the earlier “British Brass Bands – a Historical Directory” (2016) and includes some 1,400 bands from the island of Ireland. A separate work is in preparation covering brass bands beyond the British Isles. A separate appendix lists the brass bands in each county.

Both the book and appendix are available as PDF downloads from https://gavinholman.academia.edu

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How many brass bands? 19,634!

There have been many estimates of the number of brass bands over the years. These have ranged widely and, in most cases, were greatly exaggerated.

My research to date has identified nearly 20,000 distinct brass bands which existed in the British Isles between 1880 and the present. This is not a final figure and, although there are many bands still to unearth, I would be surprised if there were more than 2,000 to 3,000 to be added, based on my research experiences.

The full details of the analysis and distribution of the bands across the country are available at https://gavinholman.academia.edu/


  1800 – 2018 Current
Total bands 19,634 1,234
England 15,588 981
Scotland 1,350 93
Wales 1,239 87
Northern Ireland 531 41
Eire 872 24
Islands 54 8


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Researching the History of Brass Bands

A new paper has recently been published and is available at: https://gavinholman.academia.edu/research

Researching the History of Brass Bands – a guide to the resources available

For those wishing to delve into the history of brass bands there are various sources available, both primary and secondary. These are also published histories and individual bands’ memorabilia and records. In addition to British resources, In this paper I also include some relevant details about key resources in the USA and major commonwealth countries where brass bands were/are common.  Aspects covered in this guide include: books, articles and journals, local archives (county record offices and archives), museums and libraries, newspaper archives, digitised newspapers, local history societies, industrial societies, records of individual companies, trade directories, religious organisations, the temperance movement, friendly societies, the volunteer battalions, political brass bands, people – personal memories, people – genealogical resources, children’s homes, institutional brass bands, family bands, professional bands, ladies’ brass bands, geographical resources, and specific archives of brass band materials.

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New brass band research papers

Four new papers have been recently published and are available at: https://gavinholman.academia.edu/research

Damen und Damen – Ladies’ professional travelling brass ensembles of the German Empire 1871-1918

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 paper looks at the the brass ensembles which made up a significant proportion of these touring entertainment groups.

Keep it in the Family – the Family Brass Bands that entertained the USA and UK in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

Family bands were not uncommon in the later 1800s and early 1900s. They were most prevalent in the USA but other countries had their fair share, including the UK and Germany. Some bands were amateur in their activities, and remained resident in their local area. Others adopted the professional mantle and travelled the country giving concerts, appearing at shows, circuses and on the stage. Although the various family bands had different line-ups and instrumentation, they were quite popular as entertainment troupes, sometimes singing, dancing and performing sketches in addition to their, often, multi-instrumental abilities. This paper gives details and pictures of more than 160 such named bands.

Broadcasting Brass Bands: the early years

A look at the pioneers of broadcasting of live brass band music. Starting with the earliest telephone transmission, with a short diversion into the infant recording industry, to the birth of the wireless radio broadcasts.

The poetry of brass bands

A contribution to National Poetry Day 2017. Several brass bands have been immortalised in poetry over the years. From those lauding their heroes to the ones which are critical or even insulting. From the earliest days poets have found something in the music of the bands and the people who play in them to inspire their muse. I think it is fair to say that most of the writers would not have made a career out of their works – some are certainly more William McGonagall than William Wordsworth – but nonetheless they are priceless views of the bands and bandsmen.

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Women Composers for Brass Band

As part of the Women Make Music campaign supported by the Performing Rights Society, the Harrogate Band is featuring the works of female composers and arrangers of brass band music in its concerts throughout the year. The band has a proud tradition of regularly performing contemporary original music for brass, so it’s going to start to address this gender imbalance by increasing the amount of music it plays composed and arranged by women.

The band doesn’t actually know if the brass band movement mirrors the music industry as a whole but a cursory review of their own experience told it it probably is. Until recently their committee was never led by a woman, all their adjudicators for all their contests had been male, they’d only ever performed one piece in competition written by a woman, virtually all the panels that pick competition pieces are male, the two main media outlets for brass bands are run exclusively by men and there are hardly any women conductors. Look through bands’ music libraries and there’ll be almost no music written by a woman and listen to brass band music programmes and women’s voices are rarely heard.

Women are well represented in brass banding but their contribution is rarely recognised, visible and celebrated. Most bands wouldn’t function without the work of women committee members, brass band competitions are kept going by women nearly always tucked away out of the limelight behind the scenes doing vital administrative jobs, women are looking after children whilst their husbands play and 50% of the audiences are female.

But it’s much more than trying to reduce a gender imbalance. The reason is that if we’re wasting the talent of so many people who could be composing brilliant music for brass bands our audiences are losing out and so is the brass band movement.

The campaign has two objectives:

  • to give women the confidence to compose brilliant music for brass band
  • to showcase brilliant composition by female composers to our audiences

More details can be found at Harrogate Band’s Women Make Music

Women composers and arrangers identified so far, and there are relatively few of these:

Elaine Agnew, Katie Bell, Judith Bingham, Evangeline Booth, Anne Boyd, May H. Brahe, Helen May Butler, Cheryl Camm, Anita Cocker-Hunt, Jessica Curry, Kirsty Devaney, Helen Douthwaite, Alice G. Edwards, Estelle Flood, Dorothy Freed, Nancy Galbraith, Dorothy Gates, Evelyn Glennie, Sally Greenaway, Irena Grieg, Agnes Heathcote, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Emily Howard, Liz Lane, Anne McGinty, Eileen Mehegan, Ruth Mellor, Katie Moss, Thea Musgrave, Lynda Nicholson, Celestine Oliphant, Lucy Pankhurst, Lynsey Paterson, Emily Peasgood, Helen Perkin, Laura Pettigrew, Andrea Price, Lauren Redhead, Teresa del Riego, Rhian Samuel, Amanda Sandberg, Naomi Styles, Phyllis Tate, Louisa Trewartha, Joan Trimble, Joy Webb, Maude Valerie White, Margaret Lucy Wilkins, Amanda Wilkinson, Amy Woodforde-Finden,

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