Teaching Children about Brass Bands in Manchester During World War One
Figure 1. Beswick Prize Band, 1930s. The Band were active from 1894. Permission from Gavin Holman: http://www.ibew.co.uk
On the 1 March, 1917, the School Music Review reported in ‘Manchester Music Notes’ that ‘the brass band was a theme dwelt upon at the sixth concert promoted by the Children’s Concert Society. Councillor Will Melland (an active member of the committee) being the lecturer, and the illustrations were furnished by the Beswick Brass Band.’2 (See Fig.1) An examination of this reporting gives us a glimpse of the nature of brass bands and music education in Manchester in 1917.
The Manchester Children’s Society Concerts
As shown elsewhere on this blog, Henry Baynton-Power (1890-?) was a graduate of the Royal Manchester College of Music, who, in 1909, received the Hallé Memorial Pianofortes Scholarship for first year piano and became a well-known pianist, teacher and occasional composer in Manchester.3 Baynton-Power organised the first concert in 1916. His rationale for the concerts was commented on by the School Music Review, who reported that:
Baynton-Power [felt that] whist the adult population of the district enjoyed exceptional opportunities for hearing really good music, it was strange that so little provision had been made for the younger generation [he] resolved, with the aid of his friend, to form a Children’s Concerts Society. The object […] is to provide a series of concerts planned upon the simplest possible lines; a leading musical idea to be brought out prominently at each concert by illustrations from the great masters, performed by capable exponents.4
At their first meeting the committee agreed they should solicit assistance from orchestras,choirs soloists and other instrumentalists. They agreed that the Lord Mayor of Manchester should be President and that the first winter season should consist of seven fortnightly Saturday concerts held in the Houldsworth Hall.5
The first concert was held on November 18, 1916, and the hall was full of schoolchildren from Manchester and Salford. It is notable that adults could attend and support the concerts by subscribing five shillings for a reserved place in each
concert.6 As with most things musical this concert, and the ones that followed, were rooted in the notion that music was an improving rational recreation, especially for the working class.
Bands in Manchester’s Public Parks: Active Visibility.
The first point that Melland highlights is that Manchester’s Public Parks were where brass bands were active (and highly visible). An examination of Manchester’s newspapers shows no shortage of park concerts from Easter through to October, with Heaton Park, for example, offering cheap railway tickets to the concerts. Melland argued that, ‘the principal reason they had selected the brass band for their subject was that the children had the opportunity of hearing good bands in the public parks, and his object was to enable them to recognise and appreciate the value of the various instruments.’7
Melland’s rhetoric was moving away from an image of brass bands being unruly and rough. A view that had developed amongst hostile commentators from the 1840s onwards.8 Melland was joining an ever-increasing group of observers and educators that wanted the band movement to thrive. As he said of brass musicians in the past, ‘bandsmen were not as honoured as they were today….’9 Although the brass band movement worked hard to counter these accusations of roughness – and the region’s ‘crack’ bands, such as Besses o’ th’ Barn, were significant agents in raising the public image of the band movement – some writers found working-class coarseness an easy cliché to copy. Some felt that bands represented not only disorderly elements of working-class life, but also poor musicianship. In 1867, for example, one author wrote:
Brass bands have become a perfect nuisance of late years; blowing away with all their strength. They are always followed by some immense crowd, composed of an admixture of almost all grades of the lower society – “Tagrag and Bobtail.” The greatest objection to these noisy bands will be found in the demoralizing influence upon the members: practices are generally held in the public-house. The exhaustion in blowing a wind instrument for any length of time in the street naturally leads the members of a band to a beer shop, where they too frequently indulge to excess; eventually becoming worthless members of society, instead of finding their music a source of pleasure to them.10
In spite of this negativity amongst some of the press it was clear that by the First World War brass bands were seen as a positive influence on working-class life. It was this influence that educators wanted to show children. The parks in Manchester were accessible and affordable and gave children the opportunity hear music often.
The Beginnings of Musicology for Children?
What was significant about this lecture was that Melland spent some considerable time explaining the influence of the saxhorn upon the brass band movement. (The invention of the saxhorn was important in developing the brass band as we know it today and an outline of the development of brass instruments can be found on this link.) With the assistance of Beswick Prize Band many of the instruments were demonstrated and explained in detail.11 As the School Music Review reported, ‘he next dwelt on the structure of the instruments, explaining the importance of the mouthpiece and the use of the valves and slides, each instrument, from the soprano cornet to the bass bombardon, being held up in turn so that the youngsters could recognise it by its size and shape.’12 During the afternoon Beswick Prize Band played the following selections: Hymn of Praise (Mendelssohn); Salut D’Amour (Elgar); Les Cloches De Corneville (Planquette); The Mikado (Sullivan) and Songs of England. (No composer cited) This programme mirrored brass band repertoire played by the region’s bands.
In the final analysis, in this lecture, brass bands were deemed respectable enough for children’s education. Bands had moved on from being an occasionally rough and particularly masculine working-class hobby, and had grown into a respectable agency that could be utilized in teaching children about music. It was true that brass bands relied upon their own internal and self-replicating methods of instruction – that placed an emphasis on learning from experienced mentors – but Manchester’s Public Parks, together with the bands that played in them, were expressions of music education in a time when music teaching for young children external to the brass band movement was patchy.
Notes and References:
2 ‘Manchester Music Notes’. The School Music Review : a Monthly Periodical Devoted to the Interest of Music in Schools (London / New York: March, 1917)25/298 p. 160
3 Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser (1 December, 1909)
4 School Music Review: p. 112.
5 School Music Review, p. 112.
6 School Music Review, p. 112.
7 ‘Manchester Music Notes’, p. 160.
8 This cliché is based in the dichotomy of north and south and hard and soft. See, Stephen Etheridge, ‘Southern Pennine Brass Bands and the Creation of Northern Identity, c. 1840-1914: Musical Constructions of Space, Place and Region’ in, Northern History, Volume 54, March, 2017, pp tbc.
9 ‘Manchester Music Notes’, p. 160
10 Musical Standard, Vol 7, No 175 (7 December, 1867), p. 359.
11 The development of the brass band is too lengthy for this blog. Bands emerged from the 1820s from a mix of woodwind and brass instruments, influenced by military bands, through a number of phases, to, by the 1870s, the standard band instrumentation seen today. Key stages were the invention of the keyed bugle (1820s); the invention of the piston valve (invented no later than 1814 and was developed through 1827-1850). The development of the saxhorn, invented by Adolph Sax in the 1840s and 1850s, was also significant. The saxhorn was later promoted by the Distin Family whose popular concerts showed it to be a melodious instrument. Key texts for the development of brass bands are T. Herbert, ed.The British Brass Band: A Musical and Social History (Oxford, 2000); E. Mitroulia, ‘Adolphe Sax’s Brasswind Production With a Focus on Saxhorns and Related Instruments’ (unpub. Ph.D. Thesis, Edinburgh Univ. 2011) and A. Myers, ‘Instruments and Instrumentation of British Brass Bands’, in, Herbert, ed. The British Brass Band, pp.155-186.
12 Manchester Music Notes’, p. 160