The first American band contest?

A brass band contest was held at Chillicothe, Ohio on Thursday 4th August 1859. Seventeen bands competed (although only 13 were named in the newspaper report). Was this the first such contest in the USA?  Do you know of any early competition?

A second contest was held at Chillicothe the following year, with Hillsboro Cornet Band taking first prize out of 19 bands.

Here is the newspaper report of that event – from the Meigs County Telegraph, Pomeroy, Ohio, 9 August 1859

“Harvest Festival” at Chillicothe

It had been very generally announced, by posters, and “small bills”, all along the Marietta and Cincinnati R. R., for a week or two previous, that such a festival was to be holden on the 4th inst.; but as Pomeroy has the misfortune to be located in the “rural districts,” it was not known, and consequently not attended by many that would otherwise have gone.

It was our good fortune, however, to be in the locality of the Railroad the day previous, and “run a-foul” of a barn-door ornamented with one of these posters. The consequence was, we were taken with an inclination to go, and go we did.


A later incarnation of the Goshen Band – one of the competitors

By the way, as many of our citizens go to Athens to take the cars, we would state for their benefit and convenience, that, seven miles north of Albany, there is a station called “Marshville,” which is a much more eligible point, especially for the western portion of Meigs, inasmuch as it is nearer, and the cars do not arrive till 1½ P.M., and then wait 20 minutes for dinner. The trains pass each other here. On arriving at Chillicothe at 5 P.M. on Wednesday, we found nearly all the rooms in the spacious “Valley House” already occupied, and guests constantly arriving. The prospects were truly encouraging.

The morning, however, was lowery, and it was feared the affair would “fizzle,” but vehicles of all possible kinds, loaded to their utmost capacity, soon began to arrive, and by twelve o’clock the city was literally swarming.

The feast was to commence at two, in a beautiful grove a short distance from the city. At the time appointed the crowd was pretty generally there, but it was discovered that not a basket of provisions had been brought to the ground. It was soon ascertained, however, that the feast was of a different nature. The epicures soon arrived, and immediately commenced serving up the “sweetest of all sweets,” in brass instruments! It was to be a “feast of music,” and seventeen bands were there to serve it up. There were four prizes offered, and the following bands competed:

Lebrand’s National Band of Tarlton, Ohio; Martinsville Band; Brennon’s Band of Marietta; Beverly Band; Montgomery Band; Goshen Band; Waverley Band; Rainsboro’ Band; Lynchburg Band; New Market Band; Level Band; Lexington Band; and Centrefield Band. Each band executed two pieces of music.

The committee was equally divided between Lebrand’s Band of Tarlton, and the Beverly Band of Beverly, Washington county, Ohio, for the award of the first prize, of one hundred dollars. They finally decided the matter by giving the award to Lebrand’s Band, they judging that the pieces performed by that band were more difficult of execution than those performed by the Beverly Band. The second prize of fifty dollars was awarded to the Beverly Band; the third prize of thirty dollars to Brennan’s Band of Marietta, and the fourth prize of twenty dollars to the Rainsboro’ Band.

Menter’s celebrated Cornet Band of Cincinnati, was present, but as it is universally acknowledged to be superior to others in Ohio, did not complete for the prizes. It gave a concert in the evening.

Another contest was held in September 1861. A report announcing it stated:

Band Tournament – For the purpose of encouraging the Amateur Brass Bands, of this State and that Musicians from different sections may be brought together and become acquainted with each other, and interchange views of the popular branch of music, it is proposed to hold a Musical Festival of Brass Bands, at the county Fair Grounds, in the city of Marshall, on the 12th day of September next [1861], to which all the Amateur Brass Bands of the State of Michigan are respectfully invited. As a further inducement the citizens of Marshall through their committee, will offer the following premiums to be awarded to the 1st, 2nd and 3d best Bands, in attendance on that occasion. 1st premium: 1 silver E flat cornet and purse of $40; 2nd premium: purse of $60; 3d: purse of $40. Three judges, skilled in music, will be appointed by the Mayor of the city of Marshall, in no manner connected with any band in this State, and we trust free from any prejudice for or against any Band. Each Band will be called upon to perform three pieces of harmony of their own selection. ‘I’he Marshall Cornet Band will not compete for premiums”

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Brass bands of Ireland


A collection of information about brass bands in the island of Ireland over the last 200 years.

Following the suggestion of a friend, whose great-grandfather had played in a brass band in Eire in the early 1900s, I have extracted a subset of my earlier “Brass Bands of the British Isles – a Historical Directory” (2018). Over 1,370 bands are recorded here (93 currently active), with some 356 additional cross references for alternative or previous names.

bboi1This covers both Northern Ireland and Eire. It excludes (as does its parent volume) fife/drum bands or bugle bands, but it does include some brass/reed bands, particularly from the earlier years when instrumentation was much more variable. There are also a greater number of bands which had political affiliations – something that was rare in Britain.


This document is available for download at

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Brass Bands of the World

Following my historical directory of the brass bands of the British Isles, the companion volume, covering the rest of the world is now available. Again, it is far from complete, even more so given the range and extent of possible research sources for such bands. However, I regard this as a starting point, with over 9,500 bands identified (with some further 2,700 additional cross references for alternative or previous names. In addition, the availability of information, and some language issues, has meant that a fewer number of bands have anything more than basic existence and/or an extant date for them.

Certainly this is not the end of the story – increasing amounts of historical material are available online (digitised newspapers and archives, for example), which will allow more in-depth research for further bands and further details for known ones.

As always, I welcome any information about such bands, which will go towards the next edition.

This document is available for download at

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Earby Brass Band History

A new book – The History of Earby Brass Band – has been written by Stephanie Carter. Copies are available from Earby & District Local History Society (£10 + £3.50 p&p) – email for details.

Earby Brass Band can be traced back to c.1847, and this book records the history of the band and it’s players from then until the present day. It has lots of photos to chart the band over years.

book launch Band book 2018 poster (1)From Stephanie Carter’s preface: “I hope this short history of the band to recount some of the triumphs, achievements and frequent contest successes of former days and to document a whole range of accomplished performances down the years. As in all aspects of life there have been high and low times but Earby Band has long been a showcase for talent both young and old from families with a long history of performing in brass bands who played not only for their love of music but for the camaraderie of the band family. Earby can claim world class players with legendary status but so many bandsmen have contributed to the enjoyment of many people in the local area and beyond. Earby folk all know or knew of someone, relative or friend who played in the band and it is their legacy and the important they played in preserving the community tradition that is recorded here. We must support the current band and not allow this tradition to wane.”

To contact Earby Band, e-mail or telephone Tracey Fairhurst on 0781 3609648

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More on the ladies

Some further papers have been published – which completes my investigations into the distaff side of brass music (at least for the time being!). These are available at

Image21Scoring for the ladies – the women composers of music for brass bands – A brief look the women who have composed music for brass band, and the initiative of the Harrogate Band to highlight their music



Berger vbpc0220

Soft lips on cold metal: female brass soloists of the 19th and early 20th centuries – this looks at those women who were trailblazers in so may ways. Largely cornetists, but with a few on trombone, euphonium and tuba; from the girl prodigies to the mature professional artist, a good number of them also contributed significantly to the bands of the day (both male and female bands) as players in the ranks or as guest




Damen ohne Blasinstrumente – the non-brass ladies’ entertainment groups of the German Empire 1895-1918: an illustrated directory – following on from my look at the brass ensembles of this period, this work documents some of the many other musical and vaudeville acts in Germany. This type of entertainer was not exclusive to the German-speaking world, but they were more common than the equivalent in the UK and USA, and also their self-promotion was much better, in that a lot of their advertising material is still in existence. This paper is split into three parts (due to the size of the pdf files)

Fröhlichen Weiber DE (3)

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Women and Brass

A new paper has been recently published and is available at:

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:

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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