A British-style brass band is a musical ensemble comprising a standardised range of brass and percussion instruments. The modern form of the brass band in the United Kingdom dates back to the 19th century, with a vibrant tradition of competition based around local industry and communities. The Stalybridge Old Band was formed in 1809 and was the first civilian brass band in the world and is still in existence. Bands using the British instrumentation are the most common form of brass band in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, and are also widespread in continental Europe, Japan and North America.
The term 'silver band' is synonymous with 'brass band' in this sense; the vast majority of bands termed either 'brass' or 'silver' incorporate musicians playing both lacquered and silver-plated instruments.
The core instrumentation used in British brass bands is as follows:
With the exception of the bass trombone and percussion, all parts are transposing and written in the treble clef, which means that for every instrument, from the big basses right up to the soprano cornet, the fingering for the written notes is similar. This system, which is unique to UK-style brass bands, ensures most parts can be covered when there is less than a full complement of players.
Many of the UK's bands originated as works bands or bands sponsored (and long identified with) various industrial concerns and coal mines. Of the leading bands which can be found here at brass bands, the Black Dyke Mills Band was sponsored by a wool mill, The YBS Band was until recently sponsored by the Yorkshire Building Society and originally the Hammond Sauce Works, the Foden, Fairey and Leyland Bands by the respective truck, aircraft and vehicle manufacturers, and the Grimethorpe Colliery Band was composed of miners and members of the associated coalfield community (see also the movie Brassed Off). With the decline of these industries the links between bands and their origins were dissolved, and membership is now drawn from all industries and parts of the community. Sudden loss of sponsorship, however, has caused many a top band to die. The Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band have operated continually at the highest level without the aid of sponsorship; the band makes money to survive from their regular concerts, by selling recordings and other merchandise, and from public donations.
The leading bands in Wales are the Cory Band, Tredegar, Burry Port Town Band, Tongwynlais Temperance and allegedly BTMbands. The leading bands in Scotland are the Scottish Co-op Band (formally CWS Glasgow), Whitburn Band and Kirkintilloch Band All these bands compete at the highest level in the banding movement.
There is also a depth of non-contesting "community" brass bands in the UK providing entertainment for audiences and enjoyment for musicians of all ages. A typical community brass band is West Chiltington Silver Band in Sussex, near the south coast of England.
British banding is competitive and there are many local and area competitions held throughout the year. At a National level, the main contest (the one that is used to determine a band's official "section") is the Besson National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain.
For this competition, the UK is split into 8 regions (London and Southern Counties, Midlands, North, North West, Scotland, Wales, West of England, Yorkshire). Each year, in March/April, bands compete in their local regional contest in whichever section they are graded. The top two or three placed bands in each section then go through to the National Finals. These are normally held in September/October and have recently been held in Harrogate (Sections 1-4) and the Royal Albert Hall (Championship) - as featured in the film Brassed Off.
Bands receive points each year in relation to their position (coming first gets 1 point, coming 9th gets 9 points). When the contest is over, the top two or three bands that have the lowest points total over the last three years will be promoted to the next section up from the following year. Likewise, bands with the most points will be relegated.
Mainly based in the UK, Salvation Army brass bands have run parallel to the main brass band movement for almost a century a history of Salvation Army Bands can be found at Brass band Information Bands range from small church bands to staff bands composed of the best Salvation Army bandsmen in the area. The finest of them are of comparable standard to the Championship and 1st section bands. Their instrumentation is almost identical except for a minor difference in the cornet section whereby the repiano is dropped and the remainder of the row is made up of parts designated 1st and 2nd (two players each) rather than 2nd and 3rd; and that some major pieces have a split first trombone part, the lower part usually cued elsewhere in the band.
Among the country's most famous brass band identities have been conductor and composer Percy Code; and David King and Frank Wright who made their mark in Britain. In later years, leading composers have included Brenton Broadstock (Winds of Change, Rutherford Variations, Valiant Take All My Sins Away and many more), Barrie Gott (Mumbo Jumbo, Gospel Train, Glasshouse Sketches) and Joe Cook (Taskforce, Keighley Moor)which have been published by Australian company Muso's Media founded and managed by Chris Earl.
Earl also published Australia's Band World magazine for 15 years between 1993 and 2008. The magazine was to be the second-longest in duration of any Australian band journal in the last 150 years. His company has also been recording the National championships on CD since 1998.
The national brass band Championships are held annually at the Royal Music Conservatory in Brussels. The winner represents Belgium at the European Championships. Participants are divided into 4 categories going from Championship section to 3rd section. Currently there are 6 bands competing in Championship section. These are: Brass Band Willebroek, Brass Band Buizingen, Metropole Brass Band, Festival Brass Band, Kortrijk Brass Band, and De Noord-Limburgse Brassband
Some of the brass bands in Belgium are primarily based around recreational music, do not conform to British brass band instrumentation, and therefore do not compete.
Today, excepting the Salvation Army bands (such as the Canadian Staff Band), there are few British-style brass bands (perhaps fewer than two dozen) in Canada, most of which are in Ontario. Most operate as recreational, amateur, "community" bands such as the Oshawa Civic Band. There are some semi-professional groups, like the Intrada Brass of Oakville, Ontario. One of the most successful brass bands in Canada is the Hannaford Street Silver Band
There are hopes for growth in the education field of brass bands in Canada, and in particular southern Ontario. In 1999, the professional Hannaford Street Silver Band launched the Hannaford Street Youth Band, which is internationally recognized for its success. In 2005, another youth band was created for beginning brass players known as the Hannaford Junior Band. Beginning in September 2006, the Hannaford organization plans to launch a third, intermediate, band known as the Hannaford Community Youth Band. These three ensembles target a wide range of youth from ages 11 to people well into their twenties.
The first National Brass Band "competition" will take place as part of the German Festival of Wind Music in Würzburg, from 18th - 20th May 2007.
However, due to the past colonial influence of British Army bands, unlike the United Kingdom, concert bands are more prevalent.
King Harald V is the patron of the Norwegian Band Federation. The Federation is granted an annual audience with the King in order to report to him and receive advice for the future. The King has awarded a royal trophy to the championships for adult bands.
Brass bands in the British tradition are becoming more popular through the efforts of the North American Brass Band Association, which organizes an annual brass band convention and contest.
Brass bands were very popular throughout the United States in the late 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century. Well known bands of virtuoso musicians toured widely, and most towns had their own bands that put on weekend music concerts. Other groups, ranging from benevolent societies to large factories, would often have a band. The brass band movement has undergone a resurgence in the late twentieth century, lead by the North American Brass Band Association. The United States boasts a number of professional brass bands, including the Brass Band of Battle Creek, and the River City Brass Band, several top collegiate brass bands, including the James Madison University Brass Band, and various youth brass bands, including the Triangle Youth Brass Band
A noted Welsh Composer was T. J. (Tom) Powell, described as the Welsh Sousa, who was born in Tredegar in October 1897. T.J.P. composed over 500 pieces of music for brass bands, include many marches (including the Castle Marches), tone poems and suites. It would be fair to say that every brass band in Britain has some of Tom Powell's music in their archive, and most will have at least one march.
Other composers include:
Several classical composers have written music specifically for brass band. These include:
One of the main advantages of the brass band is that it is portable and capable of playing at any time and anywhere, even on the march. Marching and outdoor functions have been the preserve of the brass band for well over a century. Many UK brass bands are closely woven into the local community, performing outdoor civic duties throughout the year.
The bandstand became popular in the Victorian era, typically associated with the British brass band or military band. It is a simple construction which not only creates an ornamental focal point, but also serves acoustic requirements whilst providing shelter from the changeable British weather.