Check it out! We’ve been published in the Manchester Region History Review. Inside is a summary article about some themes on the project written by RNCM Archivist, Heather Roberts. Browse the fabulous magazine or skip straight to the middle for our article summarising the mysteries and nuances we have been exploring.
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
A Brass Band Contest at Manchester
Dr Stephen Etheridge
The following page comes from The School Music Review: A Monthly Periodical Devoted to the Interest of Music in Schools, 1 October 1916. Like other London-based music journals the reporting is indicative of a style of writing that was anthropological in nature. In other words the brass bands at Belle Vue came to represent a highly reportable aspect of the working-class at leisure. From the 1840s onwards brass band contests attracted large numbers of followers. It was in the venue of Belle Vue where reporters from the metropolis could try and understand a growing working class and the nature of one of their hobbies.
Common themes that emerged were a recognition that the brass band contest was a popular pursuit for working men in the North, a recognition that the audience were enthusiastic, informed and critical of musical performance and an allusion and comparison with sporting events.
In this way, together with other contributing factors such as the fame and success of ‘crack’ bands from the North, an external view of the working class at play was constructed. By the First World War this reporting had reached its height and in spite of the brass band being a national movement the construction of a clichéd identity of Northern working-class brass bands was complete.
(These themes are explored in greater detail in my forthcoming article, ‘Southern Pennine Brass Bands and the Creation of Northern Identity, ca. 1840-1914: Musical Constructions of Space, Place and Region’, Northern History, February, 2017, pp. 1-18)
“That Minutes of Last Meeting Pass as Read”: Helmshore Prize Band’s Committee Meeting Minutes, A Case Study of ‘Life as Normal’ and ‘Moral Contracts’ in the First World War
Dr Stephen Etheridge
Helmshore Prize Brass Band were formed in the 1870s and were active in East Lancashire’s Rossendale Valley in the late nineteenth century and throughout the First World War and beyond. They could not be considered a ‘crack’ band, but they were ambitious, entering the majority of local contests and employing trainers and players that would help them win. This was the experience of most bands from the 1860s onwards. Like other bands in the regions surrounding Manchester Helmshore were driven by the need to raise money for the purchase and upkeep of instruments, uniforms and music. In addition, they had to maintain and run a bandroom where they could not only rehearse but also hold social events. 
John Robert Fielden: Soldier, Bandsman or Quarryman? Questions of Working-Class Identity in the Rossendale Valley
Private John Robert Fielden (1882-1916) S/13191 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders
John Robert Fielden was born in 1882 in Blackwood, near Stacksteads, in East Lancashire’s Rossendale Valley. He was the only son of James and Eliza Fielden He was a pupil at Waterbarn Baptist School, where he took an interest in music. Being interested in instrumental music he was for a long time associated with the Bacup Change Brass Band, and for some years held the post of secretary. He was employed as a quarryman at Rakehead Quarries in Rossendale up to October 1915. In 1908; he married Clara Wood, from Bacup, and lived at Queen’s Terrace. In 1915 he was one of the last employees to leave the quarries of Messers Lovick and Sons, and, via various regimental transfers, he served as a signaller with the 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders. In 1916 they took part in the Actions of The Bluff and St Eloi Craters then moved to The Somme for The Battle of Albert. He died of leg-wounds inflicted from machine gun fire on the 26 August, 1916 and is buried at Abbeville Communal Cemetery (Reg V.A. 17) 
Indicative Brass Band Bibliography
Dr Stephen Etheridge: Follow me on Twitter @DrGtrombone
The blogs I have written about brass bands, and other subjects, on this site have been driven by an interdisciplinary approach to research. The approach taken bridges a gap between musicology and social history. It is worthwhile examining this approach and listing some of the canon of work that deals with the research surrounding brass bands as the interdisciplinary nature of this approach only began to reach fruition in the 1990s. Moreover, as Patrick Joyce has argued elsewhere, the industrial areas surrounding Manchester, and the city itself, are a region that historians have studied to understand the nature of class that emerged from industrialisation. (Joyce, P. Work, Society and Politics: The Culture of the Factory in Later Victorian England (Brighton, 1980, this edition, London, 1982) As such the concentration of brass bands and other musical groups in the region are not just an expression of music-making but they become the agency to explore the social networks that emerge as a result of increased leisure time. Recently this has given musicology and social history a distinctly Northern hue. As musicologists and social historians the more we move away from the printed score and the accepted narratives of class the more the waters become muddied, yet this is where we can find some good fishing.
Prof John Miller
Foden’s Band, a partner of RNCM from Sandbach, Cheshire, was founded in 1900 and rose to prominence in the brass band world prior to WW1. Here is part of its rich history.
Foden’s Band was founded in 1900, initially as a consequence of celebrations of the Relief of Mafeking. After a few growing pains and fall-outs, the band was temporarily called the Elworth Band. Prior to the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, the band was adopted by Edwin Foden (1841–1911), the proprietor of a local steam wagon works. He eventually re-named the ‘Foden Motor Works Band’ which, after some modest beginnings, improved drastically and achieved Championship Section status, winning the British Open Championships in 1912 and 1913. Since then the band has consistently ranked amongst the best brass bands in the world. Its rapid rise in standards was due to the Foden family appointing the best band trainers of the day, William Rimmer and William Halliwell. To this day the Foden’s Band’s calling card is a William Rimmer march, The Cossack (1904).
The Belle Vue Brass Band Contest, 1914: Bandsmen, Contests, Genealogy & Social Networks
During the First World War ‘The Belle Vue Champion Challenge Cup’, more commonly known as the ‘British Open’, and which was known colloquially amongst bandsmen as ‘Belle Vue’, was the only large national contest to keep going from 1914-1918. Each contest had a programme printed –cost 1d each, and 1 ½ d by post – that held the names and addresses of all contesting bandsmen. (A downloadable copy is in the link shown above.) These programmes are an important and overlooked source for genealogists. There are, however, several anomalies in this list that need to be examined, not only because of the need for accuracy for the family-history researcher, but also because they shed light on interesting aspects of musical networks as social history.
Continue reading “The Belle Vue Brass Band Contest, 1914: Bandsmen, Contests, Genealogy & Social Networks”
The titles of musical plays and musical comedies tended to be more female prior to the war. In the 18 months leading up to the outbreak of war there were 27 such plays showed in Manchester with 15 of them having a title that was in someway female. By female titling i mean having a girls name in the title or the words ‘girl’, ‘mistress’, ‘princess’, ‘she’, ‘her’ etc. the rest of the musical plays in that period had gender neutral titles. Between July 1914 and December 1915 there were 44 musical plays performed in Manchester, of these 44 there were 20 that were female titled, so again quite a high percentage. 23 were gender neutral in their title and one was called ‘The Chocolate Soldier’, the only one that could in anyway be seen as a male titled play.
While the titles of musical plays and comedies had always been more female focused, the articles written about the plays were fairly evenly balanced. I noticed that from December 1914, however, the attention seemed to fall more onto the women in the cast than the men. Many of the articles just gave a brief description of the plot and named the composer and some of the main cast members, this was complimented by a picture of one of the cast members (see featured image). Throughout 1915 there were 20 articles written about musical plays and comedies, 17 of these articles featured a picture of a female cast member, whereas only 2 featured a picture of male cast member and 1 included a picture of a man and woman. The articles themselves did not always focus on the women, they continued with their usual commentary on the storyline of the play.
What was the reason for this shift? Could it be due to there being more female cast members with many men fighting in the war? Could it be that they felt it was better advertising to use women in the pictures rather men? Whatever the reason for the shift it did not apply to musical opera. The articles written on the opera companies remained fairly evenly split with some featured photographs being women and some being men.
It would seem that the reason for the shift in musical theatre was not due to a changing and evolving attitude among the men in the business. When Miss Boyle of the Womens Freedom league reported that many women who had been employed as assistants in Public Libraries may be given more responsible posts, Strephon retorted “Anything you like my dear, but don’t let ’em write novels”
by Katrina Ingram