How Original Band Music Marginalized the Concert Band




When Patrick S. Gilmore took over leadership of the New York 22nd Regiment Band, he took it on a coast-to-coast tour. The age of the professional touring band had begun. Like all bands before or contemporaneous with the Gilmore Band, as it soon became known, it performed a mix of music for popular entertainment and serious orchestral and operatic repertoire. Music composed originally for concert band was limited to marches, music Gilmore’s soloists wrote for themselves, and other lighter fare by Gilmore himself. Gilmore’s great successor John Philip Sousa and all their notable contemporaries constructed comparable concert programs. Not until … Continue reading

Trombone vs bumblebee




“Everyone knows” that the trombone can’t play fast. In the orchestra, trombones are likely to be playing long chords when everyone else has a moving part. Even in jazz, Stan Kenton assumed that bebop would spell the end of the slide trombone. So some trombonists try to prove that “everyone” is wrong. Bass trombone soloist and clinician Alan Raph has pointed out, “Trying to be the world’s fastest trombone player is like trying to be the world’s tallest midget,” but nothing seems to keep trombonists from trying. Here are three of many videos of trombonists playing “Flight of the Bumblebee.” … Continue reading

Patrick Gilmore and the Massachusetts 24th regiment




Various army regiments on both sides of the US Civil War had bands. Some of them were quite good and enjoyed an excellent reputation. Only a few played under leaders who were famous before the war broke out. One of them, the Massachusetts 24th, played under Patrick Gilmore. Patrick Gilmore Irish-born Patrick Gilmore became well known as a cornet player in Boston. At 23, he became leader of the Boston Brass Band as successor to keyed bugle virtuoso Ned Kendall. Later, the Salem Brass Band offered him a considerable raise. In December 1856, he invited the popular Kendall to be … Continue reading

A Wisconsin band in the Civil War: 1st Brigade Band of Brodhead




When the Civil War started, the two sides suddenly required armies, and army regiments needed bands. I have already written about the 26th North Carolina Regiment Band, which grew out of one of the oldest musical institutions in the country. Brodhead, Wisconsin had existed less than a decade before its band joined the war effort. The 1st Brigade Band, as it eventually became known, got off to a rocky start, but earned an excellent reputation by the end of the war. The rapid growth of towns like Brodhead In the decade before the Civil War, railroads spread across the country, … Continue reading

March forth! A brief look at American marches




March music has played a huge role in American popular culture. What’s a parade without marching bands? Or half time at a school football game? Would anyone want to listen to a Fourth of July concert, or a concert on any other patriotic occasion, without lots of marches? Is it even possible to imagine a band concert without at least one march? The modern wind band began at the time of the French Revolution. After that, European nations developed infantry bands and mounted cavalry bands. Some nations developed highly centralized policies for the instrumentation of these bands. In any case, … Continue reading

Brass Bands of the American Civil War




I like to look around on YouTube from time to time. I recently typed “brass band” into the search engine, and a video called “Brass Bands of the Civil War” came up on the first page of results. I wondered how that subject could possibly work in a video. I have seen “videos” with a single photograph and music playing in the background. This one has a collage of wonderful photos and drawings while the Federal City Brass Band plays on period instruments. At the time of the Civil War, brass bands ruled. Few bands included woodwinds. As the photographs … Continue reading

The Ferris Wheel: (what does that have to do with music?)




Ferris Wheels are a staple of every amusement park that ever set up for a week in a parking lot, and usually among the tamest rides. They resemble the original Ferris Wheel, the landmark attraction of the Midway at the World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago 1893), in name only. At a height of 264 feet, the Ferris Wheel towered over the rest of the fair. The 45-foot-long axle alone weighed 71 tons. No one had ever built or seen anything remotely similar. A popular and financially successful ride, it must have nonetheless invited awe and dread. In one way, however, the … Continue reading

A "second line" in New Orleans (with video)




Probably no city in the country loves parades as much as New Orleans. As we all watch the progress of that horrendous oil spill and pray for Louisiana, it seems appropriate to highlight some of the musical aspects of the unique character of that part of the country. New Orleans was founded as a French city in 1718 and did not become American territory until the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Where English-speaking southern governments dating back to colonial times attempted to stamp out all vestiges of African culture among their slave populations, the French did not. A west-African heritage of … Continue reading

Concert bands and big bands




I used to play summers with the Wheaton Municipal Band in Wheaton, Illinois. The last concert of the season is always “big band” music, which means that most of the 90 members are finished and only 17 people play that concert. It has always struck me as funny that after a season of full band concerts, the one called the big band concert involves only about a fifth as many players. The difference in names turns out to be a matter of history and tradition. During the French Revolution, Bernard Sarrette took charge of training military musicians and assembled a … Continue reading