American Brass Band Association

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A Brief Historical Summary
American Brass Bands



Historical Summary


Prior to 1832   Halladay (In Ireland) invents the

                       'Keyed Bugle.'

1832    Ned Kendall in Boston, Plays Virtuoso

           'Keyed Bugle' from Ireland.

1835    Ophicleides in wide spread use in Bands.

1840    Adolph Sax invents the Saxhorn 

            derived from Ophicleides.

1846    Early Publication of Music for brass in America. E.K. Eaton, "12 Pieces of Harmony for Military Brass Bands."

1849  Allen Dodworth wrote "Message Bird Journal" an instruction manual for Brass Bands.  Saxhorns were stressed in this journal.

1853    Firth Pond, and Company, New York, published Brass Band Journal. (Contains several pieces for Saxhorns by G.W.E. Freiderich.)

1856     Contest: Patrick Gilmore on Valved Cornet vs. Ned Kendall on Keyed Bugle.

            Controversial outcome.  This ended the history of the keyed bugle in the United States.  Occasional historical recrudescence.


Civil War


Dwight was critical of the brass band movement, but remained silent during the civil war.  Garrison  (Regimental) history during the civil war is the source of brass band history.)  Bands were used as a recruitment ploy.  Many enlisted en masse.


1861    In September of this year, the Gilmore Band enlisted with the 24th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.  They served as stretcher-bearers/hospital corpsmen in battle.  Division encampments were replete with large regimental bands of 50 members or more.  Each regiment had a band.  Eventually it became financially overwhelming, and the bandsmen were needed to fight more than to play in bands.


1862    In July of this year, these larger bands were mustered out by legislative action.  At this time, only two musicians (either fife, drum, or bugle) from each of ten companies (total =20) were formed into regimental bands.  The 'Monster Bands' of Gilmore and others were mustered out, as they were considered deadbeats and a financial liability.  Before the mustering out order there were 14,832 bandsmen in the Union Army.

            Bands contested openly during the Civil War--even during battle.  Dwight (the critic) even admitted that the civil war did one thing to bands--They Improved!

            Musicians who were discharged by the legislative action in 1862 formed bands alongside those with regular discharges.  These were civic bands, and frequently all brass.  Patrick Gilmore staged "peace jubilee" spectacles in the north after the war, with immense gatherings of massed bands. For Dwight, these large bands  became a target of invective.

1893    Bagley made a statement for the banishment of woodwinds in bands.  One or two clarinets (one Eb and one Bb) were not uncommon in the early brass bands in America.    They were utilized for doubling of the Eb and Bb cornet parts.   Eventually clarinets disappeared. Cymbals were not used in most early Brass Bands.  Bass Drum and Side Drum (Snare Drum) constituted the percussion.


1921    Herbert Clark's letter to Eldon E. Benge, stating that Cornet (not trumpet) was the instrument of choice in bands.


Eb Soprano Cornet

1921 Letter

Eb Soprano Cornet