Wind Band

A Relic and a Resource: Rare Percy Grainger Recordings

Image © 2017 Gregory Briggler

I have a cassette that I have been carrying around for twenty years. It even survived a surprisingly recent “ancient media” purge. The cassette had captured in its magnetic dust wax cylinder recordings of English folk songs recorded by Australian composer Percy Grainger. Also captured there were demonstrations by the composer of “Rufford Park Poachers” and “Lord Melbourne” from Lincolnshire Posy performed on piano and harmonium, a foot-pumped organ. Grainger was asked by the band director who premiered the work to record the music to better understand how it flowed together.


I had first heard the recording at a concert at the University of North Texas Wind Ensemble. Eugene Corporon, the intimidatingly bald director of the wind ensemble, gave the audience a taste of the origins of the classic British band piece that they were about to play. He pointed out seagulls squeaking in the background of the recordings captured on the English seashore. Later, I borrowed his demonstration cassette, and after keeping it a little long, dubbed it to another. There the recordings stayed, unlistened, until last December. It was finally in my means to digitize the cassette. I felt it a shame not to share the music as a relic and a resource. The performance of this music is still a challenge after almost eighty years.

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The recordings were originally copied out of the Library of Congress recording collection in Washington, D.C. by a friend of Corporon’s who was researching the composer for a thesis. The wax cylinder recordings were on a vinyl record, Unto Brigg Fair, and the recordings of Grainger seem to be transferred from reel-to-reel tape. There is minimal cleaning of the digital recording other than removing the record noise -not to be confused with the surface noise of the wax cylinder recordings.


There are voices on the track on which Grainger plays “Rufford Park Poachers” on piano. I did not attempt to transcribe the speaking. It has the push and pull of a music lesson, but I don’t know what’s really going on. I find the craggy, limping singing voice of Grainger on the harmonium track of the same movement particularly noteworthy. This is an imperfect, intimate recording for a friend who is trying to understand Lincolnshire Posy better. I hope my sharing it helps you, too.

Some of the facts in this post might be wrong, I have been carrying this information around in the electric field of my mind for twenty years as well…

Thank God for Football

What would American wind band playing be like without high school and college football? Bands and football go together like majorettes and sparkly bathing suits. Because of this cultural link which goes back to the beginning of the sport (bands are much older), wind bands have found favor in schools and towns that otherwise would not support them.

Where football programs are cherished, band programs find funding. In the book “Friday Night Lights” the Permian High School English department decries the money that the band receives because of football. I suppose the English department saw music as frivolous, or at the least, not as important as reading and writing. It is hard to see band funding as a bad thing from the point of view of music education whatever the source. In addition, because of strong bands, schools can add more music: choirs and sometimes orchestras.

Without this cultural link between wind bands and football what would happen to large-ensemble music making in schools? I think one need to look no further than any large American city. Band programs, and even cheaper choirs, are struggling without a reason to survive. Why get together and make music for no other reason than making music? This is a difficult thing to justify to a cash-strapped school board or city council.

With football, you need band. Without football, you don’t. Thank God for football.

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