Rules for Band Practice

In an earlier post I mentionedThe Music Men: An Illustrated History of Brass Bands in America, 1800-1920, by Margaret Hindle Hazen and Robert M. Hazen.  I’ve worked my way through about half of the book so far, and this pictorial history of the brass band movement in America has made for some fascinating reading.  I wish I could share more of the wonderful anecdotes and pictures from this book, but you’ll just have to check it out for yourself if you want to see everything. The brief section I want to mention in this post comes from the chapter “The Band Boys,” a discussion of the organization and development of amateur brass bands in America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The author mentions that most amateur bands created, or borrowed from somewhere else, a set of rules and bylaws by which to govern the band.  All band members were required to follow the rules set forth in these documents, and there could be severe penalties, often in the form of fines, for infractions.  The image above is taken from this chapter, and includes the following caption.

“Rules for Band Practice” were copied exactly from Allen Dodworth’s Brass Band School, published in New York in 1853, and were printed in broadside form in Montpelier, Vermont, for use in local band rooms. Donated by Ken Leach. (p. 61)

The numbered statements above and below the central paragraph set out some basic rules for band rehearsal, and could easily be applied to many rehearsal situations today.  Although the language is somewhat dated in a few cases, most of the statements get right to the point – Rule No. 5 at the top simply says “Begin together.”  The lengthy paragraph in the middle contains more detailed instructions on how band members should conduct themselves during a rehearsal.  A few sentences in comes an excellent bit of advice on ensemble playing, once which is as relevant today as it was 150 plus years ago.

…every member should be familiar enough with his own part to be able to pay some attention to what is doing about him, and although it is praiseworthy to play his part as if the whole effect depended upon the proper execution of that part, yet, at the same time, he should remember that band playing is not simply a number of men playing certain notes with great correctness and precision, it is, in addition to all that, a number of instruments harmonizing and sympathizing with each other, as if the same sensitive soul governed all, as one;

And a few lines later some great tips for sight reading.

Before beginning a new piece, look closely to the signature, observing what notes are made flat or sharp, what time it is in, and how fast it is to be played. Attend closely to the Pianos; it is an old and very true saying that “the fortes always take care of themselves;” there are many shades of forte and piano, which should be carefully attended to; then there are the forzandos, crescendos, diminuendos, staccatos, slurs, and all the other little marks connected with music, the attention to which evinces the excellence of a Band’s training.

One thing I took away from reading this chapter is that although they may not have been as prestigious or technically polished as professional bands of the time, amateur bands in America were plentiful and took what they did very seriously. In the next post in this series we’ll look at some historical photographs from The Music Men and talk more about the instruments in the brass band.

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