The very first band competition in Queensland was held in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens in 1877. Advertised in the Brisbane Courier on 15 August, the contest was for brass bands, to be held on 21 August at 8.00pm. Interested bands were required to submit the names of three pieces they intended to perform, and the entry fee was 2 pounds. At stake was the Challenge Cup, a fine silver cup valued at 20 pounds and provided by the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows.
Three bands entered the competition, the City Band, the Band of No 3 Company Rifle Volunteer Band, and the Gympie Oddfellows Band. Each band submitted its competition programme, and these were published in the Brisbane Courier on 21 August:
- March—Come where my love lies dreaming
- Selection- Don Juan – Mozart
- Fantasia—On German Songs – Basquit
- Gloria—12th Mass – Mozart
- Lancers—Pet – R. Smith
- Grand Slow March—Festival
Messrs. Jefferies, Atkinson, and Rosenstengel were chosen to judge the contest, however Mr. Jefferies’ temporary absence from Brisbane saw Mr. Newbury take his place. On the night of the contest, judges were not permitted to know which band was playing, but each band had adopted a motto for identification. Despite considerable advertisement, on the day of the competition and with an audience exceeding 2000, the Gympie Oddfellows Band was the only band which actually played. Regrettably, the other two bands withdrew for reasons undisclosed. Not an auspicious beginning for band competitions in Queensland.
The Brisbane Courier offered a fairly stern summary of the event the following day:
‘The Manchester Union of Oddfellows, and indeed the large number who attended in the gardens last night to hear the competition of the bands have to thank the Gympie band that they heard any music at all. For some reason yet unexplained publicly, the City Band and No.3 Company Rifle Volunteer band withdrew from the contest. Some satisfactory explanation of this is certainly due to the public from these bands, as their conduct at present appears deserving of very grave censure…’ (Brisbane Courier, 22 August 1877, p.4)
Judges comments varied:
‘Shortly after eight (the other bands not having turned up), the Gympie band commenced a well-arranged selection from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, admirably rendered. The air ‘La ci darem’ was conspicuously well played upon the euphonium. The gentleman playing this instrument exercises great taste and judgment. This was followed by a fantasia on German airs, exceedingly well and tastefully rendered. Conspicuous amongst the airs we recognised what is familiarly known to English ears as ‘Am I not fondly thine own?’ and an air that would set many a German heart dancing ‘Krambambouli’. Of this selection, and of its manner of rendering we cannot speak but in high terms of praise, but we regret, after having to commend all else so highly, that we could not appreciate the performance of the ‘Gloria’ from Mozart’s Twelfth Mass. It seemed to us rather bald, whether owing to indifferent scoring or to absence of necessary instruments we could not determine.’ (Brisbane Courier, 22 August 1877, p.4)
With so many people in attendance, the judges decided to award the prize. The Gympie Band had made a night of it, and commenced an accomplished selection of pieces to entertain the crowd. According to the Brisbane Courier, the judges ‘congratulated Mr. Snell, their conductor, upon his band, and the band upon their conductor, and in conclusion expressed a wish that at a day not far distant Brisbane would possess a band able to successfully compete for the trophy’. (Brisbane Courier, 22 August 1877, p.4) In a show of goodwill, the Gympie Band and the Rifles Band also appeared together ina moonlight promenade concert in the Gardens on the evening of 23rd August. The Rifles Band performed its familiar march and dance repertoire, and the Gympie Band played a varied programme which included a glee, a march, a valse, a quadrille and an item mysteriously titled Deliverance. (Brisbane Courier, 23 August 1877, p.1)
Clockwise from the top left corner: J. Carkeet (bass); 1877 Challenge Cup; T. Carkeet (euphonium); C. Roles? (2nd baritone); J. Carl? (tenor horn); Bob Metcalfe (cornet); Alex Short (drum); C. Kidley? (cornet); E. Holmes? (cornet); William Olds (1st baritone). The man in the large middle photograph is John Snell (Bandmaster).
A further contest was announced for 24th August at the Exhibition Building. Two bands entered the contest this time – the Gympie Oddfellows Band again, and the Band of No.3 Company Rifle Volunteer Band. As many members of the Gympie Band had no option but to depart for home before their performance, their ranks were depleted and the Band of No 3 Company won hands down. Another unusual adjudication. Queensland’s first band contests produced two winners, neither of whom had faced competition.
State Library’s current exhibition Live! Queensland Band Culture explores 160 years of band activity in Queensland.
Robyn Hamilton- Queensland Music Coordinator, State Library of Queensland