Brass and military bands in Britain - performance domains, the factors that construct them and their influence

Herbert, T. (2013) Brass and military bands in Britain - performance domains, the factors that construct them and their influence. In: Brass Bands of the World: Militarism, Colonial Legacies, and Local Music Making. SOAS Studies in Music Series . Ashgate, Farnham, UK. ISBN 9781409444220 (hardback) 9781138251212 (paperback) 9781315569895 (e-book)


This chapter focuses on military and brass bands as they have developed in Britain since the late eighteenth century. Despite the title, it is not entirely insular because several themes dealt with here lead necessarily to a discussion of music making in other European countries, the USA (which provides one of my case studies) and some other formerly colonized territories. The emphasis falls on history because it is my contention that historical processes have had several enduring influences: perhaps most importantly, they have shaped the fundamental idea of the ‘band’, as it is understood in the pages of this book, and ‘banding’ (a common enough term among brass band players), as a relatively distinct sphere of activity that stands apart from, but is also related to, other forms of instrumental music making. The most powerful manifestation of the historical legacy is to be found in the way that British bands sound, but it can also be detected in several cultural and value systems that have their origins in the same process. It is a process that has been nurtured by certain historical ‘events’ and by the mutually influential relationships that bands have had with their ‘audiences’ (a term to be understood in its broadest sense). The role of audiences has a special importance because the cultural assumptions and interactions created by this relationship and developed alongside banding have helped shape the way British bands sound. Those of us who regularly or occasionally listen to bands have our receptors tuned in a particular way to defined values and expectations, and bands respond obligingly if subconsciously. The sound world of bands is predictable to listeners and this can be taken as evidence of the maturity of its idiom.

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