Concert band music in Australia
Concert band music has long been performed in Australia, a tradition stretching back to the first naval and military bands of the Australian British colonies.
9 November 2017
Concert bands performed at numerous official and community events such as parades, funerals and other commemorations. By the mid nineteenth century, many communities had initiated their own local concert bands. These bands performed a range of functions in their communities, offering a place for people to make music together, support local culture and community causes and to provide entertainment.
Competitions were a regular feature of the band calendar with local, regional and state competitions. The first multi-state band competition was held in Ballarat in 1900 as part of the annual Royal South Street Competitions, an event that continues to this day.
Popularity of concert band music continued to rise following Federation in 1901 with the formation of more bands across the country. Well known British bands such as the Besses O’ the Barn and the Grenadier Guards were regular visitors from 1900 onwards and were enthusiastically received, even mobbed. In 1911, Australia received a visit from marching band royalty in the form of renowned bandmaster and composer John Philip Sousa and his band from the US.
In 1924, the Newcastle Steelworks Band, comprised of employees of BHP, completed a year long tour of Great Britain. During this time, they participated in a number of band competitions, beating their British counterparts to first place in the British Empire and English championships, as well as winning third prize in the world championship. During this tour, the band added another first to their name, becoming the first recorded Australian brass band. You can listen to a recording of the Honest toil march made by the band in London on the National Film and Sound Archive website.
The Newcastle Steelworks bandmaster, Albert Henry Baile, went on to become the bandmaster of the Australian Commonwealth Band. Baile lead them on a number of world tours, helping to further cement Australia’s world class band reputation.
The National Library has a significant collection of Brass band music of the Salvation Army composed and arranged by well known bandmaster Arthur Gullidge. Gullidge was the Salvation Army bandmaster in Brunswick, Victoria, from 1933 before enlisting as a bandsman in the A.I.F. in 1939. Sadly, Gullidge and many of his battalion were captured by Japanese forces and later died at sea after the vessel they were being transported on was bombed by US forces. The Arthur Gullidge series of brass band arrangements issued by the Salvation Army continues Gullidge's legacy.
The National Library also holds the Kogarah Concert Band collection. The Kogarah Concert Band, founded in 1886, is the oldest known continuing community band in Australia. As such, the collection offers a rich window into the music that was popular and played in and for the community over a prolonged period of time. In addition, the collection offers a historical record of the fortunes of neighbouring community bands who folded and whose repertoire was then added into Kogarah’s own. Also included are items which belonged to the NSW Navy Band reflecting the period before Federation when most states had their own navy, as well as a piece formerly belonging to a New Zealand band. Works in the collection range from popular classical and operatic music, patriotic pieces during times of war, marches and contest pieces.