Pictures from “The Music Men”

For the final post in this series we’ll look at a small sampling of the wonderful photographs and other images found in The Music Men: An Illustrated History of Brass Bands in America, 1800-1920, by Margaret Hindle Hazen and Robert M. Hazen.  If you’ve been following this series you know that this book presents a historical overview of the brass band movement in America, from its beginnings through its “Golden Age.”  The images in this post are all from “Tools of the Trade,” Chapter Five of The Music Men. At the beginning of the chapter Hazen points out that bandleaders took advantage of the many technological developments applied to brass and woodwind instruments during the 19th century, and experimented with new instruments and unusual combinations. Changes in instruments and instrumentation happened quite rapidly, if unevenly.  Often, bands included a random sampling of both old and new designs.  In the diagram below, scanned from page 93, one can see the over-the-shoulder brass instruments popular during the Civil War, as well as the more modern versions which gradually replaced them.

The next photograph, found on page 94, shows an unusual type of band instrument, shaped in a circle.  The caption for this photo offers more details.

The McGibeny Family Band of Philadelphia employed three “helicon” or circular-form instruments (an E-flat alto, B-flat tenor, and B-flat bass) in their act. Helicons found special favor with horse-mounted bands and with small children because they were easier to carry than conventional upright-bell models. (p. 94)

Continuing with photographs featuring unusual combinations of instruments, we have this one (p. 105).

The caption reads:

Members of this British juvenile band possess an unusual assortment of band instruments, including a circular alto horn or ballad horn (second from left), E-flat baritone sarrusophone (third from left), and jingling johnny (far right). Without additional instruments this band would have produced an odd sound. (p. 101)

You can follow the links above for more information on the circular alto horn and the sarrusophone, but I thought the “jingling johnny” might be worth a bit more explanation.  See the quote below.

…marching bands were occasionally preceded by a jingling johnny or “Turkish crescent.”  Several feet in length, this ornate instrument consisted of a vertical shaft that supported several brass crosspieces or inverted brass bowls. Each brass device was fringed with small bells that produced the characteristic rhythmic, jingling sound. Traditional jingling johnnies were crowned with a brass crescent, but American versions sometimes featured an eagle or other patriotic symbol. (p. 101)

And to close out this post is one of my favorite pictures from the entire chapter.  I’m not sure exactly what makes it my favorite – perhaps the juxtaposition of the scenic backdrop (complete with horse and buggy) and the somewhat ragtag community band – or maybe it’s just the matter of fact expressions and body language of the band members.  They seem to be saying “yeah, we play in a band, and that’s all right.” It also looks like one of the players has music or perhaps a small piece of clothing stuck in the bell of his instrument.  At any rate, this photo is scanned from page 105.  The caption is also included below.

Most small-town American bands prior to 1900 had about a dozen members, with two percussionists and the rest brass players.  The band of Barnet, Vermont (population about fifteen hundred when this photograph was taken ca. 1890) exemplifies the typical American brass band of the time. Vermont Historical Society. (p. 105)

If you found these pictures interesting, I encourage you to check out The Music Men and other information on the history of bands in America.  It’s fascinating stuff.

Brass Bands in America

I recently started reading The Music Men: An Illustrated History of Brass Bands in America, 1800-1920, by Margaret Hindle Hazen and Robert M. Hazen, and came across a fascinating anecdote in the Preface.

Several years ago the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History celebrated the Fourth of July with a joyful reenactment of a nineteenth-century band concert…As was customary a century ago, the Declaration of Independence was read and a short oration delivered. Then, in the deepening twilight, as children tumbled on a grassy hillside and parents reclined on blankets and chairs, the band rendered such old favorites as “Hail Columbia” and Stephen Foster’s “Maggie by My Side.” For a few hours the past was revived.

Across the street, in stark contrast, another concert was taking place at precisely the same time. This celebration, thoroughly modern in concept and execution, featured extravagantly amplified country-western music directed toward a crowd numbering in the hundreds of thousands congregated near the Washington Monument. Most of that audience, unable to catch even a glimpse of the performers, milled about while helicopters chopped overhead and police cars cruised the adjacent city streets.

The juxtaposition of these two Independence Day scenes exemplifies the transformation of American society and musical taste over the past one hundred years. (Preface, p. xvii)

Not much more need be said in explanation of this story except to note that it points to a loss of intimacy in music and entertainment in general. The authors continue in the preface to point out that at one time virtually every town in America – even those with populations as small as a few hundred people – maintained some type of band.  The band performed at public functions like holidays, building commemorations, and numerous other events.  Sadly, many of those bands have long since disappeared, although community bands and other volunteer musical organizations do seem to be quite active in certain areas of the country.

Getting back to the book, although I’ve just started on it I would highly recommend it to any brass players interested in learning more about their musical heritage.  The band movement in America during the 19th and early 20th centuries had enormous influence on musical life in this country, far more than symphony orchestras.  American bands were important influences on instrument design, music education, the marketing and promotion of musical organizations, and the development of jazz, to name a few.  I plan on posting more highlights from this book in the future, including information on  instruments and the life of a professional band musician in the 19th century.

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