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National Brass Band Contest - 1860

Morning Chronicle - July 11th 1860

(The first National Brass Band Championships - Crystal Palace, Sydenham July 10th 1860)

The grand contest of the brass bands, announced for several weeks past to take place at the Crystal Palace, came off yesterday, and attracted nearly 7,000 persons, although the entrance fee was half-a-crown. The origin of these contests must be referred to Mr. Enderby Jackson, of Hull, a gentleman who has been for many years the most strenuous promoter of music as a recreation among the middle classes in the north of England. Some twelve or fifteen years since, when Mr. Jackson discovered that brass bands were formed by the workmen in the various large manufactories in almost every district of the North, he founded these contests, which were held at different periods in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, and several minor towns. So great was the success of these musical gatherings, that the idea of holding a gigantic meeting in the metropolis was the natural consequence, and an application to the directors of the Crystal Palace to allow a monster concert to be held there was forthwith acceded to. It was then resolved that a competition should take place among all the brass bands who chose to enter the lists, and that prizes should be awarded. Immediately ninety-nine bands sent in their application to be placed on the roll, and subsequently others were added, making in the whole one hundred and fifteen. Of course, the greatest share of the excitement arose in the northern counties, as these sent the majority of the bands with whom the contests originated; but other parts of England had their musical representatives, nor was the metropolis without its brazen cohort to do honour in its behalf.

Whoever invented brass band contests must have agreed with that worthy into whose mouth Shakespeare puts the sentiment-
"Silence is only commendable
In a neat's tongue dried, and a maid not vendible".

And yet it would be a mistake to suppose that these contests are nothing but sound and fury, for, properly conducted, they may be made to afford real pleasure not to the connoisseur alone, but to the unlearned in matters musical. We are apt to associate something national with brass bands, There is a bold and warlike tone about them which stirs up the spirit of the multitude, and hence many persons would enjoy a fine march or a patriotic air played by a band of this description who would be insensible to those delicate refinements of the art which it requires a cultivated taste to appreciate. The directors of the Crystal Palace, therefore, were not wrong in supposing; that a national brass band contest would prove both exciting and attractive; and accordingly they resolved on carrying out the idea in that colossal fashion in which everything here is accomplished. Being the largest concert-room in the world, possessing an orchestra of unparalleled magnitude, end resources which it would be difficult to match, the Crystal Palace was surely the place for a monster contest. The idea once determined on, no means have been neglected for putting it into successful execution, and considerably more than 100 brass bands from all parts of England have responded to the invitation to join in this friendly act of emulation.

The fête, which was opened under very cheering auspices yesterday, will be continued today, and altogether it is estimated that in that period no less than 115 brass bands will have shown their prowess and have submitted their abilities to the test of a metropolitan audience. Have our readers any notion of what a brass band contest is? First, we will tell them what it is not, and then we will explain how the present contest has been conducted at the Crystal Palace, which we hope will render the matter tolerably clear. It is not, then, as some ingenious people seem to suppose, the assembling of 50 or 100 bands upon one orchestra, each playing a different air, and the one that played the loudest or the longest receiving the prize. On the contrary, it is a perfectly business-like and skilfully contrived plan, whereby every band in succession goes through a severely critical ordeal, and has its pretensions decided on by a thoroughly competent tribunal.

The plan adopted yesterday, and carried out with a punctuality which speaks volumes for the unflagging industry of Mr, Bewley, was this: At ten o'clock the palace and grounds were thrown open, and very speedily both began to fill; but, for a reason which will at once be understood, the lovely grounds were the favourite resort during the early part at the day. In different spots, at convenient distances, and on the most eligible sites, had been erected six substantial platforms. Upon four of these seven bands were appointed to play in succession one piece each, and on the other two eight bands were to play one piece each. To each platform were appointed three judges, whose names are a sufficient guarantee for the honesty, independence, and accuracy of the decisions at which they arrived. This portion of the programme having been accomplished, the whole of the bands assembled, at three o'clock, in the Handel Orchestra, and, under the able conductorship of Mr. Enderby Jackson, played in succession, "Rule Britannia," the "Hallelujah Chorus," Mendelssohn's "Wedding March," Haydn's chorus, "The Heavens are telling," and the "National Anthem," The effect of this performance was stupendous. The English are excessively fond of the chief places, not only in the synagogues, but elsewhere. They like, too, to hear and see everything, and are not often over regardful of their neighbour's comfort, so long as they secure their own. There were only a few reserved seats yesterday, and hence the British sightseer with his (and her) accustomed pertinacity had pressed forward to the front, and had early taken up the most commanding situations. But for once our friend reckoned without his host. The mighty rushing sound of the instruments fell with such fearful force upon his tympanum that he was glad to beat a rapid retreat, and to seek same safer and more sequestered spot. Speaking of the tympanum, by the way, recalls to our recollection a drum of another sort; to wit, that gigantic gong of Mr Distin's, seven feet in diameter, which may be fairly said to have distanced all its rivals. There it stood, propped up in the centre of the orchestra, as much superior to all other drums as the fountains at Versailles are to those in Trafalgar square, whilst two stalwart fellows hammered away at it with drumsticks as big as babies. Indeed, so arduous were the exertions of these gentlemen that they had to be relieved in their labours. In return for the blows which were inflicted upon it, the gong gave forth most sonorous sounds, and we venture to say that so much good was never before got out of anything by pummelling.

The 44 bands which appeared upon the orchestra numbered probably, about 900 instruments, and, as we have said, the effect was stupendous. That it was all that could be desired in an artistic point of view we will not pretend to say; but the precision which was achieved was really astonishing, and the grand swell of the crescendo passages was very fine. Regarded as a musical performance, we preferred the execution of Haydn's noble chorus "The Heavens are Telling"; but the suffrages of the audience were in favour of the "Wedding March" and "God save the Queen," which were re-demanded, and given a second time.

Whilst these pieces were being played the judges summed up the merits of the various bands, and having selected two from each platform announced the twelve to be - The Dewsbury, leader, Mr. J. Peel; the Cyfarthfa, conductor, Mr. R. Livesey; the Witney, conductor, Mr. J. Crawford; the Saltaire, conductor, Mr. R. Smith, leader, Mr. W. Turner; the Blackdyke Mills, conductor, Mr. S. Longbottom, leader, Mr. T. Galloway; the Chesterfield, conductor, Mr. Slack; the Accrington, leader, Mr. R. Barnes; the Holmfirth Temperance, conductor, Mr. W. Roberts; the Stanhope, conductor, Mr. R. De Lacy; the Darlington Sax Horn, conductor, Mr. H. Hoggett; the Staley-bridge, conductor, Mr. J. Melling; and the Deighton, leader, Mr. P. Robinson. The eighteen judges then formed themselves into one body, and the twelve selected brands ascended the orchestra in rotation and played one piece each. This afforded the final test. The whole of the judges thereupon consulted, and at length announced the victorious bands in the following order:

First prize- £40 in money, together with a splendid silver cup for the bandmaster. Also a magnificent champion contrabass in E flat, value 35 guineas, presented by Mr. Henry Distin, 9, Great Newport-street, St. Martin's-lane, London - to the Black Dyke Band.
Second prize- £25 in money - to the Saltaire.
Third prize - £15 in money - to the Cyfarthfa.
Fourth prize - £10 in money - to the Darlington.
Fifth prize - £5 in money - to the Dewsbury.

Today the contest will be brought to a conclusion, and in the evening the presentation of the prizes will take place. Seven prizes will be awarded today in, addition to the five contested for yesterday, and it is anticipated that upwards of 70 bands will engage in the struggle.