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.

Five Things Friday – Kate Amrine 7/21

I am so excited to create the Brass Chicks community and have the opportunity to showcase incredible stories and musicians. In addition to guest posts and interviews, there will be a variety of other posts – some themed and some not.

Announcing our new series called Five Things Friday!

This new series of posts will allow for many other guests to contribute and highlight their own individual perspectives. The list format is also a little different than our other posts so it may be easier to catch up with Brass Chicks related news on the go!

For this first Five Things Friday post – I wanted to share 5 reasons that I am happy to be involved in the Brass Chicks community and why this project is so important.

1. Awareness

I am currently on tour with an orchestra in Japan and on our flight the other trumpet player and I realized one of our flight attendants just started learning trumpet in Japan. We invited her to our concert and she said she would try to attend. Here is a picture we took together:

IMG_6128She told us that her teacher in Japan told her that due to her body structure and gender that lip slurs and other techniques would be very challenging for her. This was unbelievably shocking to hear for many reasons and we were quick to inform her that this wasn’t accurate information. She was surprised to learn that there are so many female brass players who are doing incredible things and hopefully this gave her a different perspective moving forward. This blog is for her and anyone else who may be in a situation where exposure to these powerful perspectives from women in the brass community can be extremely transformative.

2. Network

Even though I live in NYC (the center of the universe 😃) I realize that there are many other perspectives and stories worth sharing from all parts of the world. We can learn so much from everyone and I hope that Brass Chicks can be helpful in facilitating this process. So far Brass Chicks has been viewed in over 10 countries which is unbelievably exciting!

3. Inspiration

When I was younger, I didn’t realize how many inspiring women brass players were out in the world doing incredible things. I didn’t realize how many different ways there were to make a living as a musician. I hope that Brass Chicks can provide some inspiration to younger musicians – at a time when it can be most valuable.

4. News

There are a few other organizations that are great for brass related news – and our monthly theme is after all, the International Women’s Brass Conference, so we are very thankful for this organization and others. We hope that we can provide a space for updates and announcements in the women’s brass community – everything from upcoming CD releases to performances and more. If you have news to share – please reach out to us! We will post a monthly news update and we would love to feature your project.

5. Passion

I love bringing people together – especially those with like-minded interests. It is an incredible opportunity to be at the forefront of Brass Chicks and create content to benefit the women’s brass community. I feel so lucky to interview some of my favorite people and feature them on our site. I hope that through Brass Chicks we can continue to positively impact the women’s brass community and create a more diverse and supportive musical environment.