Music of discipline and reform – the bands of children’s orphanages, industrial schools and asylums

elFrom the early 17th century through to WW2, at least, large numbers of institutions were established to provide for various segments of society which did not fit into “normal” life. These included orphans, the sick, criminals the destitute, paupers, and those, that today, we would refer to as physically and mentally handicapped.

Through various local and national initiatives and laws the workhouses, poor law unions, asylums and prisons were established to house and, hopefully, reform or rehabilitate their inmates.

Workhouses, prisons, lunatic asylums, orphanages, and “industrial schools” were just some of these institutions. Some were operated by the state, others by local organisations established by or sanctioned by the state in some cases. Charitable, philanthropic and religious organisations also set up home for orphans and the poor. They were variously funded by local taxes, parent organisations (e.g. the Church), rich sponsors, grants and their own fund raising.

Some elements of treatment and/or education were undertaken to prepare the inmates for their eventual release either back into society or, in the case of children, to make their own way in the adult world.

Brass and other bands were often set up to help educate the children (mainly boys it has to be said), to provide another aspect of discipline, recreation and also, potentially, to give access to a musical career once they left the school. A useful by product at times were fees collected by performances of the bands, which helped the homes’ finances. Other such institutions which had bands included Training Ships, Industrial Homes, Ragged Schools and Reformatory Schools. These catered for “delinquents” as well as orphans.

Similarly, bands were established in some of the adult institutions, to help with discipline, provide entertainment and raise some funds for the institution.

Bandmasters held salaried appointments at the institutions, often responsible for other duties as well as the musical tuition and training. These duties could include teaching (appropriate subjects for the children in “care”), fund raising, maintenance of the buildings and more. On occasions the institution engaged an external musical tutor, instead of a full time in-house bandmaster, usually one with a connection to other bands in the locality.

A descriptive list of such bands is provided in my article “Music of discipline and reform” available from:

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