The full instrumentation of a British brass band has about 27 players: 1 soprano E-flat cornet, 9 B-flat cornets, 1 B-flat flugelhorn, 3 E-flat tenor horns, 2 B-flat baritone horns, 2 B-flat tenor trombones, 1 bass trombone, 2 B-flat euphoniums, 2 E-flat tubas, 2 B-flat tubas, and 2 to 4 percussion (drums and cymbals). So with 43 musicians the Boys' Band of Gillingham, Kent are on the large size for a brass band. They are all very young (mostly) except for one clarinet player that I suspect is the bandleader, standing with his wife and daughter on the right. Most of the boys in the front rows look under the age of 12.
The photographer was Hill of New Brompton, which was the previous name of Gillingham, (pronounced with soft G = Jillingham) a town next to the Chatham Dockyard on the River Medway in Southeast England. In 1901 it had a population of 42,530 who found employment mainly in the ship building industry there. In addition to the navy, there were soldiers too, stationed at forts guarding the dockyards.
So with all this activity in Gillingham, I expected the history of this boys' band would be easy to find. Alas it is lost, at least on the internet. If they were from a school, that information would usually be preserved, and in this era such a large school band would be very unusual. They might be from a workhouse, that Dickensian institution where the impoverished were given room and board in exchange for their labor, and workhouse boys were sometimes organized into a band. Though there was a small workhouse in Chatham, the boys in the photo seem too well fed and too numerous to be that kind of band.
They might be boys belonging to the Sea Cadet Corps, one of the oldest youth organizations in Britain. It was established as a training program for future sailors during the Crimean War of 1854, and there was a company in Chatham. But the boys' uniforms, especially their pillbox hats, are like those of army bandsmen, not navy. An alternate version of this postcard has the caption - Lads of Kent, so I think there may be a military connection that will take more research to decipher who they are.
The back of the postcard was addressed to Miss Playford of Finsbury Park, London and sent on July 25, 1905 from Snodland, Kent, which is 10 miles from Gillingham. It has a rather intriguing message.
Nan has not heard of anything yet. Father + her went to Maidstone yesterday to see Mr. Ellis so we don't know yet how it will turn out but he intends to carry the thing through if they ?__? no notice of Mr. Ellis letter from ?about? - Your black ?smist? I see you left it behind. For love from all E.P.
This next group of young band boys are from Switzerland, and the Knaben-Musik Basel number 74 by my count. They are a real wind ensemble with woodwinds - flutes and clarinets - along with brass instruments and drums. The brass use the European rotary valves instead of the piston valves that the Gillingham boys have. There are also four horn players, two on each side.
The Knaben-Musik of Basel has a long tradition that dates from 1841. Using Google's translation feature does not always give a clear meaning, but I think the first band was organized for a summer music festival. However as the annual event continued, the boys' musical training moved from the rehearsal hall to the beer garden, and their playing, let us say became less than acceptable. This required a band director with a strong hand and the Knaben-Musik Basel engaged Fritz Siegin, who was conductor from 1886 to 1936. I believe he must be the large man on the left wearing a bow tie and straw boater. He gave the band their motto: Was man liebt, das züchtigt man. = "What one loves, punishes you."
So does beer.
The postcard was sent on June 20, 1910 to Herrn Joh. Hubler of Schlosshof, Binnigeer, Lasell (I'm unable to find out where that is) by his son who felt no need to add his name for his parents. But he has carefully marked an X over himself in the back row of the band. The writing is in German and as best as I can understand he arrived safely in Zug and may have a ride home. My guess is the boy is traveling with the Knaben-Musik for a concert, as Zug is a good distance southeast of Basel.
The Fanfare of the Institution Saint Nicolas de Buzenval are very large brass band. The photographer made a heroic effort to get all 91 boys to arrange themselves elbow to elbow and horn to horn. These young musicians are from a Catholic school in the Rueil-Malmaison commune of the suburbs west of central Paris. A Fanfare is the French term for a band and here there are no woodwinds, only brass and drums. These instruments have piston valves including the trombones, but the first rank behind the drums are holding bugles. Look closely and you can see their cap plumes are in the French tricolor.
The Institute Saint-Nicolas was opened in 1901 as an extension of a Catholic charity school in Paris, originally for orphans and poor children. It is on the grounds of the Château de Buzenval, the former home of the Duchess of Cadore who bequest the estate to the church. In 1904 the school was secularized by the French government. In 1960 it merged with another Catholic school and is now called the College Passy Buzenval.
The postmark on the front of the card is obscured but I believe it is from 1904-09. The message to a Monsieur A. Nne.(?) of Paris reads:
Will come Sunday Morning after breakfast Thank You. Affectionately yours A. Palut(?)
Each of the three boys' bands had a different heritage, but all developed for similar reasons. One reason was to provide vocational training on a musical instrument which might offer a boy a skilled trade if he persevered and had talent. The second was to give wayward boys a disciplined activity to occupy their time and keep them out of trouble. And the third reason was to promote the institution or town by giving concerts. There is a real sense of pride that comes from these boys smartly dressed in band uniforms and showing off their musical accomplishments.
Of course the income from the sale of postcards helped to pay for all instruments too.
Today the band from Basel continues to provide music for Swiss youth, though since 1990 it now includes girls. Recently there has been a controversy that the name Knaben-Musik was sexist because it means Boys' Music. Though the group has removed the hyphen to rename itself just KnabenMusic, they are apparently fooling no one and may have to change the full name.
Here is a recent video of the drummers of the KnabenMusic Basel performing at an outdoor concert. It takes little imagination to hear the same enthusiastic music played by the boys of Gillingham, Busenval, or Basel.
Follow the link to Sepia Saturday
where everyone gets a turn to play.
where everyone gets a turn to play.