Vol. 1 | No. 7 | By Grecia Melendez
When you hear the term brass band, what do you first think of? Many people will think it’s just a bunch of trumpets and tubas playing in a choir of some sort. That’s not far from the truth, but what is a brass band? The New Grove defines a brass band as being an “ensemble usually made up exclusively of brass instruments.” This is a broad meaning, which encourages unique ensemble configurations.
There are many types of brass bands around the world such as Balkan Brass bands, New Orleans Brass Bands, and the more well-known British Brass Bands. There are also local community and street brass bands hiding in different corners around the world. Within each type of brass band is a different structure of instrumentation. Some of the lesser known brass bands deviate from traditional instrumentation and add percussion and certain woodwinds to the ensemble. Despite the instrumentation of these ensembles including non-brass instruments, they are still considered brass bands! This can be confusing, especially when there are other types of musical ensembles, but if you look past those technicalities, you’ll discover great styles of brass band music that you may have never heard of before.
Now, before we dive into why brass bands are important today, we need to know how they came to be. Brass bands evolved from early forms of musical ensembles. Janissary Bands emerged during the Ottoman Empire, which set the tone and inspired the evolution of future bands, including brass bands. Eventually, other military bands, and church bands, would continue the growth of these musical ensembles.
As we get closer to modern day in history, we start seeing brass bands forming in communities throughout Europe. The most popular form of brass band, the British Brass Band, was formed in the United Kingdom as a pastime for the working class. Many industrial companies sponsored brass bands in working-class communities. The objective was to keep the people busy and away from participating in radical events. However, these bands ended up creating a rich culture and tradition through playing brass band music. Contests and competitions emerged from the growth of brass bands in the United Kingdom. This movement became so contagious that it spread to other parts of the world including Australia and the United States.
Today in the U.S., we see the presence of British-styled brass band. Whether through the Salvation Army or through local communities, brass bands continue to play a role in the lives of everyone. From professional musicians to music enthusiasts, anyone can participate in these groups and continue a tradition of musicianship and representation of a working class. If you’re curious to learn more about brass bands, check out the links below.