The first American band contest?

A brass band contest was held at Indianapolis in February 1853.

Was this the first such contest in the USA? Do you know of any earlier competitions?

“A musical State Convention was held at Indianapolis, on Tuesday of last week [22nd February 1853]. Nearly a score of brass bands turned out, besides a large concourse of spectators. An address was given by Lieut. Gov. Willard, and a grand concert of the United Bands was given in the evening. The performers numbered one hundred and thirty persons. The competition for a prize banner, after a very exciting struggle, between the Bloomington and New Albany Bands, finally terminated in the success of the latter.”

A contest between three bands (although there were three others on the ground) was held at the Highland County Fair, Hillsboro, Ohio in October 1858. Rainsboro Brass Band took first place, Hillsboro second and Lynchburg third.

7 October 1858 – “A novel feature of the Hillsborough County Fair, held at Milford, N.H., on Thursday, was a contest for premiums by seven brass bands. The committee was made up, with one exception, of editors, who made the following awards: 1st premium, $30 to Manchester Cornet Band; 2nd, $25 to Nashua Band; the Hudson Brass Band, Brookline Brass Band, Peterborough Cornet Band, were awarded equal premiums of $5. The Goffstown Brass Band the last prize of $5. The bands played one after the other from the stand, and their performances were highly relished by a large crowd.”

The Greenfield Fair, Highland County, Ohio was held on 20-22 October 1858. Two brass band contests took place – 1. bands over 1 year old: 1st ($30) Tarleton Brass Band, unplaced Hillsboro Band and Rainsboro Band. 2. bands under 1 year old: 1st ($30) Greenfield Band, unplaced Lexington Band, Centerfield Band, Chillicothe German Band.

A State Band Convention was held at Mansfield, Ohio on 26 May 1859 – 75 bands were anticipated. In the event the number of bands was much less – only 13, although some 12,000 people attended. The music did not seem to be of a soothing, peaceful character, according to a report: “Several disgraceful fights occurred, and the jail being insufficient to accommodate drunken and disorderly persons arrested, a barn was brought into requisition for that purpose. In endeavouring to arrest one of the rowdies, the officers were ‘pitched into’ by his comrades, and in the melée the person sought to be arrested was killed.” At 5 p.m. the bands were still playing and the musical contest undecided. Eventually the first class prize went to Yager’s Band of Sandusky, and the second class to the Monroeville Brass Band. The event was widely reported as the “Great Musical Bore” and most people were disappointed if not angry at being misled.

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).

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.

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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.


Wooster, Ohio, Band Convention – 1st June 1860. First Class: 1st – Akron Band; 2nd (shared) – Millersburg Democratic Band & Millersburg Republican Band; 3rd (shared) – Massilon Band & Waltz Brothers Band; 4th – Mt Eaton Band. Second Class: 1st – Ragersville Band; 2nd – Maysville Band; 3rd – Fitchville Band. Third Class: 1st – Richfield Band; 2nd – Wellington Band; 3rd – Mansfield Band. Judges Henry Kleber, T.P. Baumgardner, N. Young.


Highland County Agricultural Society – Eleventh Annual Fair, Hillsborough, Ohio, September 18-21 1860. Class Z: Best Brass Band – 1. Hillsborough Cornet Band, 2. Newmarket Band


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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