History of Brass Bands in BC


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Research Project: History of Brass Bands in British Columbia

Residential Schools Brass Bands


Discussion of anything to do with the Residential School system is painful and unsettling. However, it appears that activities such as music and sports were activities of which almost all students had fond recollections.

The following passage is from James Miller's 'Shingwauks Vision'1

"The major exception to the rule of curricular inappropriateness was music instruction. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Native students enjoyed music even when it came from an alien cultural environment. In any event, former teachers and students agree unanimously that music and sports were the saving features of residential school experience. Staff gratefully clung to periods of music instruction as respites from the rigours of attempting to teach, and students long remembered music as a haven in an inhospitable academic landscape. The fact that a major form of school recreation and entertainment were concerts and other spectacles in which music played a prominent part meant that there never was any shortage of songs, marches, and anthems to be learned... For most students, especially from healthier times later on in the twentieth century, choirs, bands, and simple informal musical entertainment were bright Spots all the more treasured for their rarity."

Miller goes on:

"School authorities were better with more traditional forms of recreation, such as music. As an Oblate put it, `Teach a boy to blow a horn - he'll never blow a safe.' 2 The range of musical offerings ran the gamut, but the emphasis was on the traditional." The most common ensemble, "especially in the early decades of residential schooling, was the large coeducational band, usually of brass instruments, that involved many of the schools' students. Also very popular was solo performing, especially in schools that were close enough to travel to centres that had annual music competitions. The various forms of musical activity could be put to good use within the schools, too."

"Music was a necessary part of every festive occasion that marked the school calendar. Concerts and entertainments of various kinds allowed both students and staff to display their talents before the whole school, and sometimes visitors as well. Although many students grumbled bout the lengthy and hard work that went into preparation, these occasions, especially the Christmas concert, were the high points of the school year. Sometimes the Nativity was appreciated as well for the fact that it was usually accompanied by as lavish a dinner as the institution ever provided. And in some schools that were located close to reserves or Indian settlements, food and entertainment were provided for the Indian adults as well."

A downside of the brass band as pointed out by Miller, but, as yet, not verified by other sources:

"The fondness of schools for brass bands had an unfortunate side-effect in the early decades of residential schooling, because this form of musical activity must have helped to spread tuberculosis and other pulmonary diseases."

1. Miller, J.R. Shingwauk's vision : a history of native residential schools (pp.179, 282) University of Toronto Press, 1996

2. Orange, Marjorie The Bishops Band (pp.12-15) North 11, 6 (Nov. - Dec. 1964)

Residential Schools Brass Bands

Records exist of bands in the following locations:

Author: Brian Stride (2012)

Updated 2012 Feb 24, 23:55 EST/EDT

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