A Short Adult-Education Course: ‘Slate-Grey Rain and Polished Euphoniums: Brass Bands, The Working Class and the North, c. 1840-1914


In February 2016 I will be leading a short adult-education course at Heritage Quay – the archive department of Huddersfield University.  I am enthusiastic about this course as I will be exploring popular music as an expression of social history. Shown below is the course outline and session plans.

Course Outline:

Brass Bands have become a clichéd representation of northern working-class culture. Hence, in 1974, Peter Hennessy described a band contest at the Albert Hall:

A roll call of the bands is like an evocation of industrial history. From Wingates Temperance and Black Dyke Mills to more modern conglomerates […]. Grown men, old bandsmen say, have been known to cry at the beauty of it all […]. Of all the manifestations of working-class culture, nothing is more certain than a brass band to bring on an attack of the George Orwells. Even the most hardened bourgeois cannot resist romanticizing the proletariat a little when faced with one.1

1 The Times (11 October, 1974).

This stereotype, which emerged in the nineteenth century, generated the following questions that can be explored through three seminars held at Heritage Quay in Huddersfield. What musical and social elements in the performance of brass band music strengthened working-class cultural identity in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? How did bands, which thrived in large numbers in the Southern Pennines, emerge as a musical and cultural metonym of the industrial landscape?

This series of three seminars examines internal and external reporting of elements of brass musicianship in brass bands that constructed working class and northern identities. From the archives the seminar participants will gain an understanding of why and how brass bands have become such a powerful metaphor for northern working-class identity. An outline of music-making in the north shows how the region supported bands’ development when they began to emerge from the 1830s. This highlights the many different types of music-making in the region and there will be an exploration of the reasons why the area was considered musical. Brass musicianship and musical performance strengthened working-class cultural identity. Explorations of musical performances, leisure, rational recreation, social networks, gender and region all combine to produce a fuller understanding of the northern working class between c.1840 and 1914

This short course is designed to appeal to wide range of adults who have an interest in local and regional history. I should point out that no musical knowledge is required for this course. The course will examine local documents and recourses to explore the history of the well-known brass band tradition of the region. As such the history of brass bands will give the participants the opportunity to examine local archive material that is not only often new to the historical record but also, until recently, neglected in social history and musicology. An exploration of brass band history adds to the understanding of the origins of stereotypes about working-class culture and northern identity that emerged, and came under scrutiny, from 1840-1914. As such the seminar participants gain a secure foundation with which to explore the social networks that emerge from musical groups if they wish to pursue their own archival research.

Seminar 1. (2 hours)

Music-Making in the North of England: An Overview of the Creation of a Musical Region

Learning Outcomes:

An outline of music-making in the north will show the participants that the north contained all classes and cultures, nevertheless, as industrialisation progressed, working-class musicianship began to gain ascendancy and become noticed as a cultural identity in the industrial north. The participants will gain knowledge of how this happened.The participants will have an understanding of why brass instruments became so popular in this early period.

Seminar 2. (2 hours)

Working-Class Cultural Identity and Musical Performance: The Northern Brass Band and the Invention of Musical Traditions

Learning Outcomes:

The participants will examine archive material to explore how northern brass bands created an invented tradition of music-making.

Seminar 3. ( 2Hours)

Rational Recreation and Perceptions of Working-Class Respectability

The archives will give a background to the social networks that emerged in the contest arena, particularly homosocial and masculine groups.

The participants will have an understanding of how the brass band contest created an arena for not only working-class masculinity but also wider social networks to flourish.

The participants will understand how to interpret newspaper and periodical reports. (Who wrote it, why was it written and in what context?)

The participants will understand that even though the brass band was a national movement it was chiefly external and middle-class commentators that created the northern cliché.

The participants will understand that the themes of class, culture, community and gender are hidden within the archives of all musical groups and can be used to help understand the social and working lives of people from the past.







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