Sunday, March 26, 2017

The History and Repertoire of the Brass Band

A couple weeks ago, we had the opportunity to listen to a lecture by Arfon Owen. As a tenor horn player, he is well versed in brass band tradition and gave a interesting lecture on the history and repertoire of British brass bands.

Before sampling some of the major repertoire, here is brief overview of British Brass Band history...
Brass bands developed as a part of the industrial revolution in the United Kingdom starting in the 1800's. The United Kingdom saw a large increase in the working class and companies used brass bands as a way to keep workers busy and stop them from unionizing.

Many workers wanted to be a part of these brass bands because instead of working in the mines or in factories, the musicians got paid to practice and perform. The instruments themselves also became cheaper and easier to manufacture so many more working class people were able to afford instruments.

The brass band tradition grew and was very competitive in nature. Different companies would want the top players for their band, so the best players would often move form band to band depending on who would pay more. This tradition has continued into the modern day and brass bands are now a staple in British Tradition.


The literature for brass bands has greatly expanded throughout the years and because this ensemble isn't rooted in classical tradition, composers often try to move away from traditional and classical compositions. Here's a list of some of the more prominent pieces written for the ensemble...

Labour and Love (1913) by Percy Fletcher
Fletcher was a conductor and composer. He wanted to make an inspiring piece for the working class.

Moorside Suite (1928) by Gustav Holst
Holst was one of the first major conductors to write for brass band. His Moorside Suite is written in a classical style with three movements.

Fireworks (1971) by Elgar Howarth
This piece was written as a competition piece and should be performed with a narrator.

Extreme Makeover (2005) by Johan de Meij
This is also a competition piece that is very technically advanced. He does hint and reference other composers within his work including Tchaikovsky.

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