Bands: the Brass Band Movement in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Herbert, Trevor ed. (1991). Bands: the Brass Band Movement in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Popular Music in Britain. Buckingham: Open University Press.


This work is devoted to brass bands and brings together the work of most of the principal authorities on the subject. The British brass band is a product of the 19th century - in the final decades of Victoria's reign publishers estimated that there were 40,000 bands in the country. Audiences for open-air contests and concerts were measured in tens of thousands. By that time the brass band had acquired most of the main musical characteristics that define it as a genre. By that time, also, the social image of the brass band had been crystallized. That image, with specific resonances of class, geography and hedonism, has survived largely intact, and often provides fodder for cliche and caricature. The brass band movement today flourishes, if on a small scale, still hovering between "art" and "popular" music and existing in a self-contained pocket of British musical culture observing its own conventions but influenced by, and influencing, other areas of musical activity. This book offers the first major challenge to the cliche and caricature associated with brass bands and delves into the movement to analyze and explain it. The first two chapters map out the development of brass bands in the 19th and 20th centuries. This is followed by an examination of the history of brass band contests, which many regard as the "raison d'etre" of the movement. The remaining two chapters offer a broad context for the other parts of the book. One looks at the manner in which the brass band movement, being an essentially text-based, conductor-led activity, replaced the more improvisatory "plebeian" tradition; the other examines the way in which the British brass band model was imitated in Australia. The appendices include an extensive essay on the development of brass band instruments since the 19th century.

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