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Early U.S. Bands – Part 1

Posted on: December 1st, 2007 by hauleymusic No Comments

Pre-Revolutionary War

Prior to the Revolutionary War, colonists readily adapted to British military traditions and rapidly accepted England’s military ideas. They copied British militia organization, utilized British training manuals, and used British officers to drill their troops.

As far back as 1633, in the Colony of Virginia, drummers performed for marching practice during militia drills. In 1659, the Dutch supplied the militia of their new colony with drums. In 1687, the importance of music to the militia was further demonstrated when Virginia voted to purchase musical instruments for its militia. All free white males were required to serve in these units and supply their own rifles. Drummers received money for their services and public funds furnished their instruments. The first known band in the colonies was a band in New Hampshire in 1653 comprising of 15 hautbois (oboes) and 2 drums.

The elite militia units in the colonies obtained the services of bands. Officers funded these bands. In 1747, the Pennsylvania colonists formed regiments and Colonel Benjamin Franklin was the regimental commander in Philadelphia. In 1756, the Regiment of Artillery Company of Philadelphia, commanded by Franklin, marched with over 1000 men accompanied by “Hautboys and Fifes in Ranks.” It is likely that the term “hautboy” did not refer solely to oboes, but to military musicians, and that Franklin had a well-balanced band. This marks the first recorded appearance of an American military band in the colonies.

The colonists had many opportunities to hear British “Bands of Musick.” Most of the 95 “regiments of foot” serving in the colonies from 1755-1783 had bands attached to them. Bands of Musick, following the “harmoniemusick” model, comprised of six to eight musicians performing on oboes, clarinets, horns, and bassoons. They were separate from the field music units that sounded signals. Bands of Musick performed for special occasions and ceremonies. The appearance of these bands stimulated the musical environment within the colonies and contributed greatly to the future development of American military bands. American bands adopted an instrumentation similar to that of the British “Bands of Musick.”

Music thrived in the colonies with the establishment of music schools, concert halls, and stores. Concerts were given in all the cultural centers. Boston papers advertised concerts as early as 1729. Josiah Flagg organized a military band of wind instrumentalists in Boston which performed at Faneuil Hall becoming the pioneer band for performance of military music in America. In 1776, a concert hall opened in New York providing evening concerts on weekdays throughout the summer. Philadelphia, also a cultural center, presented well-organized concert programs. British Army bands and American militia bands performed concerts in many of the big cities of the time.

The first mention of a military musical organization used in the connection of battle in the United States Army occurred at the celebration held after Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys captured Fort Ticonderoga on May 10, 1775. A fife and Drum Corps performed at this celebration.

Reference:U.S. Army Bands – History: Pre-Revolutionary War, Archives, U.S. Army Library, West Point, N.Y.