Five Things Friday: Women’s Brass Ensembles in History

This week, we’ve taken Five Things Friday to highlight some amazing women’s brass ensembles in history. These groups are as different as they come and range from famous to barely-remembered. Nonetheless, every ensemble on the list proves how women have been playing brass for centuries!

1. The Hormel Girls

The Hormel Girls

After World War II, Jay Hormel, the owner of the Hormel Company, promised to give a jobs to those who had served in the armed services during the war. In fulfilling that promise, Hormel founded a touring women’s drum and bugle corps to promote his company, employing an original fifty-six women. The group, which became known as the “Spamettes,” was America’s first-ever professional all-female drum and bugle corps. They competed in the twenty-ninth American Legion National Drum
and Bugle Corps Championship Competition, becoming the first all-female group to compete in that competition. As the New York Times saw it, “for the first time in American Legion history, an all-woman drum and bugle corps composed of veterans of World War II [was] making ready to challenge male supremity.”

The group performed for seven years, eventually also producing a radio show, singing, and dancing in addition to their instrumental acts.

NB: Citations for each item are at the end of the post

2. The International Sweethearts of Rhythm

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In 1937, Lawrence Jones was looking for ways to raise money for the vocational school he ran a for poor black children and teenagers in Piney Woods, Mississippi. He started an all-girl swing band to tour the East coast raising money.

In 1941, the group began touring across the country, went professional, and severed ties with their school in Piney Woods. They shot to fame and, in 1944, they were named “America’s No. 1 All-Girl Orchestra” by Downbeat magazine. The first racially-integrated all-female band in the United States, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm had members of black, white, Chinese, Mexican, and Indian descent. The two white members passed as black to skirt Jim Crow laws in the south.

In 1945, they performed in Paris and Germany on a six-month European USO tour, and then the group disbanded in 1949 after 12 years of roaring success.

3. Aledo Ladies’ Cornet Band

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In 1882, a man named “Prof.” E.D. Wood moved to the town of Aledo, Illinois with the goal of starting a music store. Once the store was up and running in May of that year, he also started a “Conservatory of Music” ($4 per week with board and use of instruments), where he trained an all-female brass ensemble. The group trained for a year, performed for the town of Aledo on the Fourth of July, and then toured to Burlington, Fort Madison, and Keokuk, Iowa. Wood composed an original piece called “The Ladies Cornet Band March” for the ensemble. The band performed regularly around Aledo and surrounding areas of Illinois for about two more years, and then broke up when Wood unexpectedly died in 1885.

4. 1900s Damen Blasorchester und Damen Trompeterkorps

In Germany and Austria-Hungary in the early 20th Century, the widespread popularity of military bands gave rise to dozens of female brass or wind ensembles. Usually called Damen Blasorchester (“ladies’ wind bands”) or Damen Trompeterkorps (“ladies’ trumpet corps”), these groups proliferated in the dozens, perhaps always with a male bandleader and often with both male and female musicians despite their names. The bands performed professionally in public venues such as restaurants, spa towns, dance halls, and Biergartens. As evidenced by the large surviving number of photo post cards with their images, these ensembles were likely valued for their visual appeal and apparent incongruity as much as for their musical appeal.

5. Trinity Girls’ Brass Band

Trinity
[The following is adapted and largely quoted from the Trinity Girls’ Brass Band Website:] Trinity Girls Brass Band, based in Garswood, England, is a traditional British brass band comprised entirely of female members. The group was established in 1959 thanks to a local woman, Margaret Stokes, at a time when there were hardly any female brass players around, if any at all. Margaret, a local midwife, was at the time in charge of the local Girls Guildry and after hearing the ‘musical efforts’ of the local Boys’ Brigade, decided that ‘girls could make a better attempt’. She took the revolutionary step and set up an all-girls brass band. Although Margaret had no previous conducting experience, she was more willing to give it a go.

Two years later, the band broke away from the Girls Guildry to become an independent organisation under the name of the Girls Guildry Band. It later became The Trinity Girls Silver Band, named after the Holy Trinity Church to which it has originally belonged. People in the local village were very proud of the Girls band and their reputation as the only all girl band in the country soon spread.

The band began competing in 1970 and continues performing and competing to this day!

Bonus: Fordham Nuns’ Orchestra

Nuns Orchestra

This was a full orchestra and not a brass group, but this ensemble was too cool to leave out. In the summer of 1954, nuns who worked as schoolteachers convened at Fordham University’s School of Education for a professional development. As a part of the workshops there, each nun was instructed in the skills it would take to start and run a student instrumental ensembles. As those skills included knowing how to play a variety of instruments, each nun learned to play the trumpet and clarinet before choosing her favorite instrument to play in the All-Nun Orchestra concert at the end of the program. Along with spreading music education, this one-time concert and its feature in LIFE magazine provided some incredible photos for posterity!

16778082753_ba40390e50_o   Nuns at the Piano

Sources:

1.
Korenne, Elisa, and Barbara Gravel. “Hormel Girls.” Prairie Mosaic Shorts, Prairie Public, 1 June 2014, whut.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/75aed16f-2a2c-4188-923f-4f4ea01d0da0/elisa-korenne-hormel-girls/#.WZdHkCiGPIU.
Sullivan, Jill M., and Danelle D. Keck. “The Hormel Girls.” American Music, vol. 25, no. 3, 2007, pp. 282–311. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40071663.

2.
Benjamin, Winston. “International Sweethearts of Rhythm Jazz Band (1937-1949).” BlackPast.org, www.blackpast.org/aah/international-sweethearts-rhythm-jazz-band-1937-1949.
Beyerle, Mo. “Harmonie Als Utopie: The International Sweethearts of Rhythm (1986) Von Greta Schiller Und Andrea Weiss.” Frauen Und Film, no. 52, 1992, pp. 7–14. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/43500490.
McDonough, John. “America’s ‘Sweethearts’: An All-Girl Band That Broke Racial Boundaries.” NPR, NPR, 22 Mar. 2011, www.npr.org/2011/03/22/134766828/americas-sweethearts-an-all-girl-band-that-broke-racial-boundaries.
Tammy L. Kernodle. “International Sweethearts of Rhythm.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 18 Aug. 2017. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.proxy.lib.umich.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2235311.

3.
Boyd Finch, L. “A Tune of Their Own: The History of Aledo’s Original All-Female Cornet Band.” Illinois Periodicals Online, Illinois State Library, www.lib.niu.edu/2002/ih020706.html.

4.
Applegate, Celia. “The Necessity of Music: Variations on a German Theme.” The Necessity of Music: Variations on a German Theme, University of Toronto Press, 2017, pp. 234–235.

Brubaker, Mike. “Postcards of German Ladies Orchestras.” TempoSenzaTempo, 10ADAD, temposenzatempo.blogspot.ca/2011/10/postcards-of-german-ladies-orchestras.html.

5.
Trinity Girls, www.trinitygirlsbrassband.org.uk.

Bonus:
“Nuns’ Orchestra.” LIFE Magazine, 28 Aug. 1944, pp. 37–40.

Five Things Friday – Rebecca Epstein-Boley, 7/28

I’m excited to write Brass Chicks’ second-ever Five Things Friday! Because I have struggled a lot over the years with performance anxiety, I have had to work to find functional solutions. In this post, I will share five of my favorites. I hope they will help other musicians as much as they have helped me!

1. Breathe Deeply

The number one thing that helps me with nerves is controlled breathing. Slow, mindful breathing exercises. Not only does deep breathing release stress-inhibiting neurohormones, it also reminds me how my air should feel when I play.

2. Perform Before you Perform

The only real way to practice for a performance situation is by performing. I like to play for people as much as possible, in order to make myself more comfortable doing it. Even playing an excerpt or two for family (or a pet!) can help.

3. Wear Flats

Disclaimer: I see other badass women wearing heels and performing wonderfully all the time. Their work is amazing and hugely impressive.
Personally, though, I don’t ever wear shoes with high heels. To me, they’re just another sexist way to keep women uncomfortable. Even if I did wear them, though, I would never wear heels and then stand to perform! At a time when I already feel shaky and posture is crucial, unstable shoes are the last thing I need. My concert oxfords are my best friends.

4. Eat a Banana

I’m not sure if the “bananas combat performance anxiety” thing is true, but the placebo effect is real. You can’t argue with results! I like to have a banana about 45 minutes to an hour before a big performance.

[via http://www.dpchallenge.com/image.php?IMAGE_ID=78575]

5. Have a Plan

My biggest anxiety symptom is that my mind wanders in performance and I become easily distracted. When I have a detailed plan for every note, bar, and phrase in a piece, I can focus on that instead of the kids talking in the audience or what I’ll eat for dinner.

Seraph Brass Indiegogo has 1 day and 2% left to go!

The incredible all-female brass quintet, Seraph Brass, has almost reached its crowdfunding goal on Indiegogo. The group aims to raise $25,000 in order to fund their first album, which they will release in early 2018. It will only take a few more donations to push them past the $25,000 mark — could some generous Brass Chicks make the difference?


From the fundraiser page:

“Seraph Brass began in 2014 and is in high demand, presenting over 50 domestic and international concerts in the 2016-17 season. We are a dynamic brass quintet drawing from a roster of America’s top brass players. Committed to engaging audiences with captivating programming, we present a diverse body of repertoire that includes original transcriptions, newly commissioned works, and well-known classics. Recently, we commissioned and premiered “Wolf” for solo soprano and brass quintet from Philadelphia-based composer, Joseph Hallman and have had several arrangements made by Utah Symphony trumpeter Jeff Luke and composer Thomas Oltarzewski. Through our mission to commission and premiere new works by American women composers, we hope to continue to encourage women of all ages to study and love brass music. We have performed a number of masterclasses at universities, high schools, and middle schools. Seraph Brass is on the Allied Concert Services roster, performing tours throughout the United States. Seraph is managed by Manhattan Music Ensemble.”

Meet the Bloggers

This blog is run by Kate Amrine and Rebecca Epstein-Boley. A trumpet player and a horn player, we are based in New York City and Ann Arbor, MI, respectively. We are both extremely excited about brass playing, the incredible women in the industry, and the role we hope Brass Chicks can play in publicizing the best of those things! The blog will be seeing some changes and a more steady flow of new content in the next few months, so we thought we might introduce ourselves to get things started.

Kate Amrine, TrumpetKate, whose multifaceted career includes Broadway, off-Broadway, commercial, big-band, and orchestral playing, also maintains an active teaching studio and recently gave a recital and led a warm-up at the 2017 International Women’s Brass Conference. This fall, she will release her debut album featuring works for solo trumpet by female composers.

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Rebecca, meanwhile, is currently working on her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Michigan. She enjoys playing with student and professional ensembles such as Chamber Music Michigan, the Huron River Ensemble, the Ann Arbor Camerata, and the Dearborn Symphony, as well as maintaining an active private studio. She looks forward to further pursuing her love of chamber music after graduation. When not playing the horn, Rebecca enjoys drawing comics about music history.

The world of women in brass is vibrant, powerful, and growing fast. We aim for Brass Chicks to be a rich centralized source of information about everything happening in the women’s brass community. We want to showcase various perspectives and share exciting news and narratives.

Stay tuned for cool things soon to come!

Kirsten Warfield To Be in Residence at Colorado State University 4/3/2017

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Via the ITA:

Next Monday, April 3rd, Kirsten Warfield will hold a one-day residency at Colorado State University.
The first female to win a job in the “Pershing’s Own” United States Army Band, Warfield also plays in the band Black Masala and is the competitions coordinator for the American Trombone Workshop.

Her CSU residency will proceed as follows: Continue reading

The Brass Herald continues “Ladies of Brass” Series

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The Brass Herald‘s new February, 2017 issue continues a series started in December, 2015. Titled “Ladies of Brass,” the February publication features the trombone section of the Monarch brass on its cover. The 92-page magazine also includes a five-page interview with virtuoso tubist Joanna Ross Hersey and content written by the Monarch Brass, the IWBC, the Seraph Brass, and Amy Schumaker Bliss, and Mary Galime (of the Alliance Brass).  Continue reading

CD release: Maureen Horgan – Moe’s Bit o’Blues

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Via the IWBC:

Trombonist and IWBC Past-President, Maureen Horgan, is announcing the recent release of her recording Moe’s Bit o’ Blues. Ms. Horgan is currently Professor of Music in Low Brass at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Georgia. The recording includes commissions and favorite works by composers Perry Goldstein, Douglas O’Grady, Jonathan Santore, Kenyon Wilson, Robert Suderberg and Richard Zarov. The diverse compositions presented are for a number of different instrumentations: trombone and piano, brass quintet, trombone quartet; trombone, flute and electronics; and trombone and electronics. Other performers on the recording include Scott Hartmann, Julie Josephson, Don Robinson, John McElroy, Bart Jones, David Saunders, Kenyon Wilson, Lisa Bartholow, and Connie Cheesebrough. The CD is available from Ms. Horgan’s web site at www.maureenhorgan.com, Centaur Records (http://centaurrecords.com) or from other online stores (search for ‘Moe’s Bit o’ Blues).

The CDs available on Horgan’s  website include signed copies! The website also features sound clips of tracks from the new album, including Perry Goldstein’s spectacular Passage, for trombone quartet (2001).