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Collection Band Music from the Civil War Era

English Influence

Detail from reception of Brigadier General Corcoran by Mayor Opdyke and the citizens of New York at Castle Garden, August 22--Mayor Opdyke escorting the general to his carriage. (Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, September 6, 1862.).

In England employers enthusiastically encouraged their factory workers to participate in music-making, which became highly competitive, probably with the thought that they would then be less likely to become involved in potentially disruptive activities. And so, factories had their bands, as modern schools and colleges have their football teams, which were good for morale and business and served a definite purpose in the minds of the practical businessmen who supported them. These bands even practiced regularly during working hours, and well-planned competitions among rival bands drew tremendous crowds. Music-making probably has never so closely resembled a commercially sponsored contact sport. And we may be reasonably sure that occasionally the contact between and among spectators and bandsmen induced even more pain physically than the most rustic music participants induced acoustically. Nevertheless, there is also evidence that the best amateur bands equaled or even surpassed the outstanding British professional military bands of the time. It should be emphasized, however, that these professional bands were not all brass, a predominant role being played by woodwinds--just the kind of instrumentation so ardently called for by Dwight.

In Britain, the brass band movement was, and still is, strictly an amateur one. But in America, it was a relatively short-lived phenomenon involving professional and amateur musicians alike. This British import was subjected to many Yankee innovations, for America in the 1850s, even in the more industrial centers of the Northern states, had not achieved the intense social climate of the densely populated towns and cities in which the brass band movement thrived in England.

The spirit in which American brass bands were formed is captured in John C. Linehan's recollections of the Fisherville Cornet Band, established shortly before the Civil War:

The band in its infancy occupied the room over the present Methodist Church, and it was interesting for those outside to note the evolution from [the tune] "Few Days" to the rendition of a first class quick step. . . .

The best tribute paid the band [in 1860] . . . was its selection to perform service for the Governor's Horse Guards, one of the most stylish military organizations ever recruited in New Hampshire. . . .

Their engagement by the Horse Guards, although a matter of pride, was nevertheless an occasion of dismay, for the boys for the first time in their lives had to play on horseback. As nearly all of them were novices in this direction the outlook was serious, for it is a question if there were half a dozen of the number that had ever straddled a horse. When the proposition was first broached in the band room, one of the saddest looking men was the leader, Loren Currier. He said he would vote to accept on one condition, and that was if a horse could be secured large enough to have them all ride together and give him a place in the middle. The proposition was, however, accepted. . . . It was a moving sight (the moving was all towards the ground, however), and the bucking broncos of the Wild West Show furnished no more sport, while it lasted, than did the gallant equestrians of the Fisherville Band while trying to train their horses to march and wheel by fours.15