The Brass Band and Military Band

In music, the word ‘band’ can have a number of different meanings. The most usual meaning, though, today regards a band of wind or brass instruments with or without percussion instruments. The difference between a band and an orchestra is that the band may sometimes play outdoors, often while marching, and does not include string instruments. The band’s conductor is called the bandmaster.

In Medieval times wind bands made their first appearance in Europe. They consisted of the louder of wind instruments (both woodwind and brass), such as shawms and trumpets, and percussion instruments. These bands were probably influenced by wind ensembles of the Middle and Far East.The use of music in military activities has been known since ancient times and its role was to raise the spirit of soldiers, to coordinate their steps while marching and in many cases to intimidate the enemy.

Military bands also accompany various functions of the army, and sometimes they perform in concerts. Military bands have been consisted mainly of wind instruments (woodwind and brass) and percussion. Sometime in the past, military bands consisted of fifes and drums for the infantry, whereas those of the cavalry of trumpets and drums.

During the 18 th century European bands started adopting instruments used in Turkish bands (Janissary music). Large bass drums, triangles and cymbals were added. Later the crescent was also used. Here you can see a picture of a contemporary crescent that is part of our collection. The crescent helps keep the time while marching.

[*image of 3443, Turkish crescent, Istanbul, Turkey, 1994]

Towards the end of the 18 th century and the beginning of the 19 th century military bands grew in size and a great variety of wind and percussion instruments were used. Around the middle of the century, Adolphe Sax made a version of his brass instrument especially for musicians of the cavalry bands. In these instruments which he called saxotrombas the bell always pointed up, and their overall form was made in a way that it was convenient for being played while on a horse. He though that when the bell pointed up, and not to the front, he avoided the risk of the bell hitting the horse’s head which would result both in the horse and the player being injured.

[*image 4620, alto saxotromba, Adolphe Sax]