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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




Early Bands

The history of the formation of the earliest New Zealand brass bands is obscured by a lack of comprehensive written records. Many early bands have now either gone out of existence or have been amalgamated or reorganised under new names – a process which continues to our own day. One of our best-known contemporary bands, for example, the St. Kilda (Dunedin), was first known as the Mornington Band. During the years of colonisation the public relied entirely upon the bands of the various Imperial regiments, or of the Royal Marines, then stationed in New Zealand, to provide music for State and civic ceremonial, as well as for vice-regal balls and public concerts. After New Zealand organised its own military forces during the Maori Wars, the traditions left by these Imperial bands were soon continued by their Militia and Volunteer counterparts such as the Dunedin Engineers, Dunedin City Guards, Timaru Artillery, Wellington City Rifles, Wellington Navals, Taranaki Rifles, or Wellington Garrison – all of which are non-existent today. The band of the Taranaki Volunteer Rifles, formed at New Plymouth on 14 March 1859, is believed to have been the first in New Zealand; on 30 April 1860, after a year's tuition, it marched proudly through the settlement. In 1864 the celebrated Auckland Artillery Band was formed. This combination is believed to have been a continuation of the 58th (Imperial) Regimental Band and, although later known as the Northern Districts Military Band, can claim to be the oldest still existing in New Zealand. The Petone Band also claims to have existed prior to 1866. Many bands became redundant as the nation's defence pattern changed and units were absorbed or passed out of commission. Their future, however, was assured because civic officers realised their community value, for they satisfied the ordinary citizen's desire for music. Thus bands came to be formed in connection with such local volunteer organisations as fire brigades and the like. For many years almost every township, even the toughest gold-fields town, possessed its band which could be relied upon to parade on the flimsiest pretext. The band became a symbol of civic pride, and even private bands like Jupp's, Grey's, Jenkin's, and Derry's – once almost household names – show the general enthusiasm for such music. As R. J. Estall, M.B.E., one of New Zealand's outstanding authorities on brass bands once said, “The Brass Band is the working man's Symphony Orchestra”.

New Zealand bands are non-profitmaking. No member is paid (except the conductor, who receives a small retaining fee). Bands therefore rely on subscriptions, concerts and, in some cases, a subsidy from the local authority, money received from such sources being used to procure uniforms, instruments, and music. The greatest problem all bands have to face is to raise sufficient money to enable them to attend the annual brass band contests upon which so much of their competitive success depends.

Contests and Administration

The years 1878 to 1880 were milestones in the story of brass bands in New Zealand, for it was in this period that the first national contests were organised. The honour of pioneering this movement belongs jointly to Captain W. Heywood, of Invercargill, the Hon. George Jones, M.L.C., of Oamaru, and J. Fraser, of Queenstown. About this time the Oamaru and Invercargill Garrison Bands regularly held musical duels and these paved the way for those larger contests which have been held at regular intervals ever since. The first contest in which bands from all parts of the country competed was held in the Drill Hall, Christchurch, in 1880. Six bands competed, the audience adjudicated, and the Invercargill Garrison Band, under Captain Heywood, won the contest. The New Zealand Brass Bands Association, the administrative body governing bands in New Zealand, was formed in 1889. Thereafter, for many years, contests were conducted, not always harmoniously, by separate associations for North and South Islands. In 1931 these merged into the New Zealand Brass Bands' Association. Today there are no fewer than 120 bands affiliated to the parent body and all are graded for competitive purposes. Provincial band associations have been formed under the jurisdiction of the national body, and these function to promote band interests within their respective territories. They organise provincial contests, solo competitions and, generally, act as liaisons between the New Zealand Association and their district bands.

Famous Bands

As a result of their high degree of musical efficiency some leading bands have not hesitated to test their standards in overseas contests, and Oamaru, Woolston (Christchurch), St. Kilda, Kaikorai (Dunedin), and Port Nicholson bands have performed creditably in Australia. Conversely, Australian bands have competed in New Zealand championships, and the following have been successful: Redfern (Sydney), 1923, Malvern Tramways (Melbourne), 1925, and Cairns Citizens (Queensland), 1936. In 1903 a representative New Zealand band called the “Hinemoa Band” toured Great Britain, and this was followed in 1953 by a New Zealand National Band under the baton of K. G. L. Smith. This band was successful in winning championships at Belle Vue, and at that Mecca of brass bands, Edinburgh. Although English bands have never competed in New Zealand championships, several have visited the Dominion, namely: The Besses o' the Barn (under Alec Olwen) in 1906–07; the Royal Artillery Band in 1914; the Grenadier Guards Band (under Captain Miller) in 1925; while the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders under Major Ricketts, O.B.E. (the composer of the immortal march “Colonel Bogey”), were the special guest band at the Dunedin Exhibition in 1926–27. Although, strictly speaking, it is not an English Band, the Newcastle Steel Works Band (under H. Baillie) toured New Zealand in 1925, shortly after winning the seventy-second Belle Vue contest; and in 1910–11 Sousa's Band from America visited this country. No account of brass bands in New Zealand would be complete without mention of the Salvation Army, whose bands, though dedicated to a higher purpose, have done much to assist the development of their civilian counterparts, and many of our leading soloists and bandsmen owe their training in fundamentals to tuition received from them. In this record the names of Brigadier Goffin and his sons stand very high with the New Zealand band world.

As we know them in New Zealand, brass bands provide one of the most satisfying mediums for cultural and recreational pursuits. The countless hours spent in practising or given up to social and civic engagements are more than rewarded in the knowledge of a service well rendered and gratefully appreciated.

There is a National Brass Band Club in England which gives recognition to all bandsmen within the Commonwealth who have completed 50 years or more active service with bands, and many New Zealanders have received this award.

by Lt.-Col. Maurice Osborne, Christchurch.