Centennial Brass Band
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A Recreation
of a
Town Band
of the
Centennial Era

Information About the Band

The Centennial Brass Band was founded in 1975 as part of the celebration of our Nation’s Bicentennial. The group recreates a town band of the 1850-1875 period. The third quarter of the nineteenth century saw a great flowering of the band movement, and continued development and improvement of brass instruments with valves, enabling musicians, both amateur and professional, to learn to play the new instruments relatively quickly and with far easier intonation than had been possible with most of the earlier forms. We use original instruments from this period which have been collected over many years.

The typical town band had from twelve to twenty or so musicians playing brasswinds that ranged from the e-flat and b-flat cornets in alternating choirs of instruments including altos, tenors , baritones, basses and percussion. The music we use comes from period sources and from modern editions or period-style reconstructions of music that was played in concerts of that time. The instruments are in nineteenth-century high pitch (A 452 or thereabouts, not compatible with modern pitch). These horns are of the “cornet” or Saxhorn family, and have the mellow tone that those conical bore instruments are known for. Their sizes and shapes are different from the band horns of today.

Music for large public occasions in this period was limited to the more portable forms of instrument. The town band provided music for gatherings like parades, celebrations, dances, outdoor concerts and the like. A band was a great source of pride for a Maine town. Only the most up-and-coming towns could support a band and they were followed closely by proud citizens. Band competitions were held and local bands were supported much as we would support local athletic teams today.

Important early published collections for brass band appeared in the 1850s, and as the popularity of bands increased, more compositions appeared and much existing music, especially from popular song and from Grand Opera, was arranged for band. Few original publications or manuscripts survive, though fortunately there exist several very important sets of Civil War bandbooks in collections in New England. Most music arranged for early band was done in manuscript, by local musicians, or by the prolific composers and arrangers of quicksteps , and selections from larger works . Among the best known are Claudio Grafulla, David L. Downing, Thomas Coates and the Dodworths, as well as New Hampshire-born music publisher and instrument manufacturer John Stratton.

Our repertoire includes many pieces taken from existing Civil War bandbooks (like the excellent collection at the Manchester Historical Association in N.H.), as well as from other archival sources. We also use arrangements of music known to have been played at the time, but whose originals do not survive (often done from surviving piano sheet music copies which refer to band use). Audiences hear the music of the Civil War era played on the instruments of the time. We are playing in simple uniforms of nineteenth-century caps, vests, muslin shirts and ties as a small town might have afforded in 1860-75. Our public is able to hear and see a concert as their ancestors might have heard it.

Centennial Brass Band
Portland, Maine

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