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Top 7 Tips For Choosing Background Music At Corporate Events

Corporate Events

Lots of corporate events, like happy hours and conferences, have their uses and functions, but do they have to be so stuffy?

If you’ve ever been to a corporate function like this, you might have found yourself counting down the minutes until you could leave (though it seemed like somehow time had learned to stand still during that event).

When you are the one planning the event, you want to be sure that you don’t impose that kind of atmosphere on your guests or attendees (supposedly you like these people, but even if you don’t, we know you’ll still show class).

You want to create a memorable event where your guests can relax and have a good time. So much pressure!

This is where live background music can gently swoop in to save an event. It lightens the mood, adds interesting visual and audial elements to the event, and helps to create a relaxed ambience.

When people feel relaxed, it’s easier for them to socialize, helping you to accomplish your mission.

So then, here are some things to think about when choosing a live band and ways to make sure your background music doesn’t become the center of attention at your next corporate function.

1. Understand the goal of your event.

Brass Band Brassanimals Top 7 Tips For Choosing-Background Music At Corporate Events

Is the function a meet and greet organized primarily for networking and conversation? Is it an evening reception with dinner and speeches? Is it a conference with time to socialize between talks or after the day is through? Is it meant to be a time for guests to have fun and relax?

For the most part, those hosting corporate events like to have an air of class and sophistication or maybe even elegance attached to their function.

You want the type of background music that will fit in with those goals (for example, a local rock band probably won’t fit the sound and aesthetic you’re going for but a jazz band might).

That is one of the reasons why next the point is so important.

2. Interview the band in person.

Brass Band Brassanimals Top 7 Tips For Choosing Background Music At Corporate Events

If you want to make sure the background musicians match up with your event goals, don’t rely solely on pictures from their website or social media (though they can be helpful).

Pictures can’t show you the band’s sound. When speak with the band in person, you can ask for a small sample (live or recorded) and get an idea of their range.

An in-person interview is also so important because it will tell you so many things that a website can’t. Things like:

  • Are they willing to commit to your event goals and not just go with their own agenda?
  • Will they dress the part and have a look appropriate to the function (you can dress the guys in ZZ Top up in suits but they will still look like the guys from ZZ Top, you know what we mean)? It can make the difference between blending into the background and becoming a focal point for attention (and not necessarily good attention).
  • Can they judge a room and know how to play at the right volume? Is the bandleader adept at being able to adjust the musical selection throughout the event as necessary?
  • Do they meet the needs of your budget and if not, are they flexible with the number of musicians playing in order to make your budget work?

3. When do you want the band to play?

Brass Band Brassanimals Top 7 Tips For Choosing Background Music At Corporate Events

Of course, you don’t want the background musicians taking attention away from important speeches or conference talks—it’s a given that you don’t want them playing during those times.

It’s best to decide exactly when you want the band to play and go over the schedule with the bandleader beforehand, don’t leave it up to their discretion.

  • Do you want the band playing before guests arrive so that they hear music as they enter?
  • Should they play light music during dinner or cocktail hour?
  • Will they be playing between speakers/talks?
  • Is there occasion for after dinner music (later in the evening guests are generally more inclined to relax and listen to the music)?

4. Getting the style right.

Brass Band Brassanimals Top 7 Tips For Choosing Background Music At Corporate Events

Maybe you are super into fusion polka bands, but that doesn’t mean everyone else will enjoy that style of music. It also may not be right for the type of event you are trying to plan.

Know your guests and look for background musicians that can play music that will appeal to the majority of your attendees.

For example, if the age range of your guests tends toward the baby boomer generation, they may have an appreciation for more classic types of music.

Millennials on the other hand might like hearing light jazz versions of modern songs.

With a mixed crowd, it’s hard to go wrong with music from the 70’s and 80’s, popular genres, or generally loved jazz genres (jazz covers a broad spectrum of eras and styles).  

5. Vocals or Instrumental.

Brass Band Brassanimals Top 7 Tips For Choosing Background Music At Corporate Events

Ah, the age-old question. Most people think of background music as instruments only.

Many might feel that a band with a vocalist will be a flashy attention grabber.

A great background band can cut right through those misconceptions.

Depending on what you want, the background music does not have to be instrumental only.

Naturally, you don’t want a vocalist to be overpowering the conversations as people mix, mingle, or eat dinner. But a great background vocalist can be just that—a soft voice blended into the background.

When searching for the right band, look for a vocalist that has the ability to sing in the background just as well as they can when they are in the lead.

It doesn’t mean that all bands have a vocalist that can fit every event. A band whose singer only does power vocals or operatic arias is going to steal the show, not fit into the background.

If you want a vocalist, make sure their style is something that you check out when interviewing the band.

6. Don’t fear percussion.

Brass Band Brassanimals Top 7 Tips For Choosing Background Music At Corporate Events

The moment you see the word drummer, you might conjure up a picture of wildly energetic drummers like Ginger Baker or Keith Moon (who viewed the drums as more of a lead instrument). Not exactly a background sound.

Drums have had a long-standing reputation for being loud and wild (basically the opposite of elegant and sophisticated) and though they definitely have their place in music, many shy away from bands with percussion when planning corporate events.

That is a shame—they may be missing out on some amazing background musicians. And drummers are the ones who are the best at holding down the beat!

Drummers that are good at playing background music have a few tricks up their sleeve to ensure that they’re not the “noisy” one in the group.

First, many drummers play background music with special drum sticks, usually either brushes or sticks that are made up of smaller rods of wood instead of one piece of wood.

drum brushes for background music

This drastically mutes the amount of sound that the drummer can make.

lighting rod drum sticks for background music at corporate event

Second, seasoned drummers excel at volume control. Even drummers of hard rock and metal bands who are supposed to play loud have to control their sound because their main function is to keep time.

For drummers who consistently perform background music at events, they’ll be able to match the appropriate volume to the mood of the event.

Brass bands (who are a great choice for background music) traditionally include percussionists.

Jazz bands are also another excellent example of band who’s drummer typically plays with a softer sound.

So, before you totally discount percussion or a band that includes a percussionist, speak with the band leader about how they blend their instruments into the background and can make it conducive to your type of event.

7. Where in the venue will the band be situated?

This can be a bit of a tough one—the shape, size, and layout of venues varies widely. It’s good to take stock of the general layout of your event first and then figure out where the band will work.

If you don’t want the band to be a focal point, positioning could be an important element.

If you station them next to a table of guests or right in the faces of front row attendees, they are now very much in the foreground for those unfortunate people.

It won’t matter how softly they play, it’s still going to be uncomfortably noisy for anyone sitting too close to the instruments and/or amps.

Proximity to your guests is one factor, but there are others.

Where do you want your guests to hear music?

Your event may span multiple rooms or even have lobby space available.

Do you want your guests greeted by music when they walk in the door or will they only be playing in the main event area?

Will the musicians change locations as the event goes on (if the event takes place in different rooms at different times)?

Still not entirely sure where the band should set up shop or feel that there won’t be enough space between band and guests?

You can consider having the band roam instead of staying stationary.

A background band can still play light music while moving about the venue or from room to room and this can alleviate the problem of some guests being stuck too close to the band for an extended period of time.

Background musicians usually play acoustically, but depending on the size of the venue, their location in it, and the number of guests attending, they may need some light amplification so that they don’t go from background music to non-existent sound.

Especially if your event is split up into different rooms or if the room that they are performing in is huge, then it’s necessary to take the band’s amplification needs into account–including a location where they have the right resources (outlets, etc.) for playing at a comfortable level.

The thing is, background music requires musicians to create a perfect balance.

You don’t want the music to be so light that it’s imperceptible, but you also don’t want the room to turn into a rock concert where every word in a conversation has to be yelled.

It’s an art unto itself and not every band has the gift.

While you might have previously thought of a live band as creating a show-stopping exuberant concert-type atmosphere (and those bands do have their place), it doesn’t always have to be so.

Even some bands who typically perform lively music are adept and flexible when comes to being able to play in the background at a corporate function.

In the end, it’s all about making the event more memorable for your guests.

By picking music that caters to the general tastes of those attending and is a complement to conversations, you make it an event that is highly enjoyable and maybe more importantly, hard to forget.


The Ultimate Way to Celebrate Mardi Gras

A Southerners Guide to Celebrate Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. I know it as an exciting time of unrepentant energy, celebration, and alcohol. Especially the alcohol.

This holiday event is all about indulgence and jubilation, a time of excess, tasty food (beignets and jambalaya), and exotic drinks. Traditionally, this celebration is conducted before the ritual fasting of Lenten. The idea, then, is to get your eat on and drown yourself in every tasty beverage you can handle.

It’s a magical time, where everyone comes together so they can get sloppy drunk and wake up in places they don’t recognize.

If that sounds like your jam, well, good news. You’ve stumbled upon my guide for celebrating Mardi Gras the best way: your way. Sure, anyone can just waltz into a festive carnival and find themselves duking it out with a keg or three. But not you, right? You want to make the next Fat Tuesday is one to remember. Problem is, you don’t exactly know where to begin.

Well worry not connoisseur of the carnal delights. This quick-fix guide will grant you inspiration to indulge all those sordid ideas. Whether you plan on getting “I’m going to fight this shark” level drunk or just want to have fun with friends, I have you covered.

Getting Started – Plan Your Attack

The Ultimate Way to Celebrate Mardi Gras

While ‘planning’ doesn’t exactly sound like the high-octane, impulse driven celebration style you’d think with Mardi Gras, it’s still kind of important. The holiday offers something for everyone. What you want out of it is determined by what you plan to do.

Hard to catch that alcohol laced parade if you didn’t wake up in time, right? Or maybe you want a family-friendly escapade? Regardless, get some ideas together.

  • How many people do you expect to hang with?
  • What does everyone want to do?
  • What will this cost?
  • Where do you plan to go?
  • Staying in, going out, or half and half?
  • Alcohol?
  • Willing to travel?

Questions like those will keep some semblance of organization during a party day. Even a loose group of friends can get disentangled if they aren’t on the same page.

While we don’t expect you to crank out a bible of rules, it pays to prepare. Literally.

The Mardi Gras Parade

The Ultimate Way to Celebrate Mardi Gras

Once you get a solid feel for the “logistics” of your escapade, it’s on to the next big thing. No, not drinking (not yet at least). Fat Tuesday’s colorful parades are a big component of the holiday. In fact, regardless of how you plan to celebrate, we recommend catching one of these.

The vitality of crowds intermixed with amazing floats is something you don’t get to see often, so why not treat yourself? This is especially the case if you want something entertaining for everyone. Kids and adults alike can enjoy Mardi Gras parades, no matter where they plan to celebrate.

But hey, it’s one thing to want to go to one. It’s another to figure out where the best ones are. Again, we’ve got you covered.

So where are the parades? Well that’s the question: location. For the most part, the largest celebrations are conducted in New Orleans. In fact, it’s mostly here. While there are other Mardi Gras celebrations around the States, if you want elaborate parades, you go to New Orleans.

If you’re willing to travel, great! But guess what? It doesn’t stop there. There are multiple parades throughout Fat Tuesday in New Orleans. So which one to catch and where to go?

Again, it depends on what you want to see and how far you’re willing to go. Different parades occur at different times. If you’re not an early bird, chances are you and the gang want to catch events later in the evening. If the family has plans, earlier parades might help.

Still not sure? Here’s a quick resource to give you a better idea:

Mardi Gras 2019 Schedule

As you can see, there’s a whole mess of things to do and places to go. Choosing what works best for you and your schedule assures there are no slip-ups on the big day (or days, if you’re partying hard).

The Partying

The Ultimate Way to Celebrate Mardi Gras

Not in New Orleans? No problem. It’s great for the spectacle of catching colorful floats, but if you just want to find celebrations in general, you’re not restricted to New Orleans. If you want to get out and experience bead tossing, alcohol-induced fun, there are likely celebrations held in your area or near a major city.

Look, this is an excuse to eat like crazy, get stupid drunk, and hang out. At the beginning of the week, no less. If there’s a party to be had, you will find one.

But maybe that’s not your style – maybe you want to handle the party itself. Good call. Or, potentially bad call, depending on how you prepare. If you don’t do the latter, you might have a bad time. It’s all about expectations, guests, and what you want out of the big day.

If you’re planning a quaint get together with family and friends, wearing a few celebration-appropriate things topped off with a nice drink, no problem. But if you want to get dizzy in feasts and alcohol, you have to invite the right people for the right time.

So, let’s take a two-pronged approach. We’ll cover some ideas, recipes and things to do for a nice get together or a crazy night of fun.

At Home

If you’re thinking of staying at home or celebrating in a smaller way, you can still live it up without losing your mind at a friend’s party or colorful parade.

The first big thing to do then is to get your big eat on. It’s not called Fat Tuesday just for fun! Since the traditional roots of the holiday were about eating a lot and then conducting a fast, this was an opportunity to “live it up” before controlling what one ate afterward.

For this, you’re free to chow on any dishes that come to mind but consider dishes in the spirit of the big day.

May we suggest:

You can also slap together jambalaya, fried shrimp, seafood/crawfish boils, and anything else you can think of. These recipes aren’t mandatory – but if you want that authentic Mardi Gras taste, they’re certainly some of the more popular dishes.

Now that you’ve got some ideas for food – what about décor? Well, all depends on whose showing up. But let’s assume there’s a desire for festive costumes. Mardi Gras isn’t just focused on eat and drink, there’s a costumed element too.

How you want to proceed is up to you, but typical décor include masks, colorful beads, feathers, and whatever else comes to mind. If you want to feel creative and include family members (like younger kids), you can make some of these yourself. It’s a good way to get others involved and add your own personal touch to the celebration.

As a side note, if you plan to make your own stuff, we don’t recommend glitter – that’s a nightmare of a mess.

You’re free to extend this colorful array to your home as well; nothing says celebration like a canvas of different lights and mysterious attires. If you do this, we also recommend using the three primary colors associated with Mardi Gras: purple, yellow, and green. Purple for faith, yellow (or gold) for power, and green for justice.

There are plenty of other touch ups you can do for your home, but that all depends on how far you want to go. We assume that by taking the home “Netflix and chill” approach you’re just looking to hang out with friends and family. But, these touches will provide a pleasant atmosphere while you enjoy Fat Tuesday.

Oh, but we haven’t forgotten the best part. Alcohol. Since you’re at home, you probably aren’t planning to get too drunk. Or maybe you are? Whatever the case, we can also suggest drinks to make at home for the big day. Sure, you can skip that process and just buy a twelve of your favorite brand, but if you’re going to the trouble to decorate and invite, you may as well try some authentic alcohol too.

It shouldn’t surprise you Mardi Gras drinks are mixers and cocktails. Cheap beer isn’t usually found on the menu – unless you’re hanging out for the night or visiting a bar – so the idea is to douse all the delicious food with tasty drinks.

What kind? There are plenty to choose from, but for your convenience, we’ll include a recipe list.

Partying Out

Home isn’t for everyone on Mardi Gras. Maybe you’ve got a schedule to attend some big parades or you’re ready to experience the night life.

We’ve already gone over the parades, and there are plenty to choose from if you happen to be in New Orleans. But if you’re visiting and more interested in the drinking aspect, there are plenty of great taverns and bars to visit too.

Even better, some bars serve some food with your drink, so you can really get a taste for Fat Tuesday.

But hey, whatever the plan is, just remember a few things for your big night out:

  • You might need a designated driver, depending on where you are
  • Not everyone is looking to get the same level of drunk so make sure you know what’s what
  • You might want to set a spending limit – that bill adds up fast

For your convenience, here’s a link with some recommendations to Mardi Gras specialty bars. And hey! It even includes a bunch of extra useful info for celebrating the big one.

The Countdown

The Ultimate Way to Celebrate Mardi Gras

Now, the only thing left to do is countdown the days until Mardi Gras. With this quick guide, you’ll find a dozen different ways to party up, and celebrate Mardi Gras the best possible way. Just try to stay conscious so you don’t forget the crazy night!

What Is A Second Line Parade?

Often seeming to appear out of nowhere and full of vibrant energy, second line parades have been likened to a raucous, moving block party. With roots that span centuries, you’ll find these festive marches that had their birth in New Orleans to be wonderfully spirited processions that are quite the sight to behold (and even more amazing to join).


What exactly makes up a second line parade? Who marches in one? How did they begin and where can you find them today? You’ll find the answers to these questions and other interesting facts when you keep reading below.

What exactly is a second line parade?


Though different aspects of the second line parade may vary slightly or be given unique touches by the creative characters who form it, you’ll always find certain tried and true components in a second line parade.


To begin with, a second line parade would be nothing without a brass band to take the musical lead. You’ll find trumpets or tubas acting as heralds to announce the approach of the procession. Two different kinds of drummers establish the rhythm. The first is usually drumming out a typical marching brass band beat and the other, the snare drummer, adds a more creative element, often improvising patterns and beats on the fly and according to their own unique style.

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ZURICH – AUGUST 1: Swiss National Day parade on August 1, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. Parade opening with Zurich city orchestra


The music played by the band is in itself a beautiful fusion of traditions and culture. Amidst the inherently jazzy sound, you can hear glimpses of sound that mix standard marching music, African American gospel, and Caribbean rhythms, along with spiritual and secular black slave dances.

The revelers who make up the second line add their own flavor to the parade. They add beats by clapping their hands, bottles, sticks, or anything else they can make into an improvised instrument. This mix of beats and personal stylings lend a one-of-a-kind sound to each parade, making them all distinctive in their own right.


 The term “second line” originally referred to those that joined in behind the band, but it has since evolved to really encapsulate the whole event. Though traditionally second line parades honor a specific person, as time passed, the fun could no longer be contained to only specific events, like weddings, corporate events, festivals, and holidays. Many will find that nowadays, a second line parade is not for a particular purpose or tied to an event, but often they are held just for the sheer joy of it.


Who makes up a second line parade?


If there is a second line to the parade, it makes sense that there has to be a first line, doesn’t it? Traditionally, the parade was hosted by a neighborhood organization or social club and usually comprised of multiple generations of family members, friends, and neighbors. These hosts would be in the first line along with the band and headed up by the honoree(s) (such as a bride and groom).

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The second line is comprised of pretty much anyone else sporting enough to join the festivities. Second lines are very inclusive and welcome any and all who can’t resist joining in and can keep up with the intense energy.  These ones march, dance, and strut in step with the music but behind the honorees, band, and hosts in the first line. Second liners are far from being an unimportant element to the parade as their enthusiastic movements add to the liveliness and fun of the event.

History of the second line parade

Though they are more direct descendants of New Orleans famous jazz funerals (minus the casket and mourners), second line parades have a much longer heritage, incorporating traditions that go back several centuries. In fact, a number of scholars have traced elements of second line parades back to the traditions of West African tribes and Caribbean festival culture. More than just having a good time, these parades are part of a long-standing heritage that has been carried on through the music and dancing of second lines.


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Barranquilla , Colombia – February 25, 2017 : people participating at the parade of the carnival festival of Barranquilla Atlantico Colombia


In the area where second line parades began, slaves were given more personal freedoms than in other areas. In fact, they often had the weekends off in order to leave the plantation and gather with others. In New Orleans, these gatherings usually took place at Congo Square.

More than just hanging out and socializing, slaves often brought instruments such as drums, banjos, violins, and other instruments. They would play traditional African music while others would perform cultural dances, often with a spiritual undertone.

From this, they were able to build a kind of community that would help preserve their native heritage. In time, support groups were formed (referred to as societies or clubs). One element that all these societies had in common was performing processionals that became the framework of second line parades.


Second line parades emerged close to the same time that brass bands made it to the states—generally somewhere in the earlier to mid-19th century. Brass bands would create a procession (often for a funeral) as they played music through the streets. The African American societies began to adapt their traditional processionals to blend in the music of the European brass bands that had become so popular during the time.

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Young African American males began following these processions, adding in their own elements or dramatically mimicking the first line. Danny Barker, an early 20th-century jazz musician, said that these boys were so ‘delighted by the music that they would gather to dance and strut in tempo and emulate the motions of the musicians and Grand Marshal’. In this way, the second line parade became a way for young African Americans to socialize and express their culture.

Musician and jazz historian Dr. Michael White said of the earlier second line parades that “the social and spiritual dimensions of the jazz culture became especially evident in processions – parades by benevolent societies (also called ‘social and pleasure clubs’), church parades, and jazz funerals – where large segments of the community would gather in an almost religious- like ‘celebration’ to commemorate special events and occasions (or just to gather in revelry ‘for no reason at all’).”


As joyous second liners added a more celebratory feel to the processions, they gradually began to move away from a more formal style into one that took on a feel of jubilant fun.

Second Line Parades and Wedding Traditions


Weddings are festive and celebratory, and brides and grooms often choose to express their joy in the form of second line parades held after ceremonies, during receptions, or at the end of the night to help bring a fantastic party to a spectacular close.

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The bride and groom are honorees in this case, so they lead the first line along with the brass band. Traditionally they may hold a decorative parasol or umbrella, easily followed as they front the march. Second liners join by forming a line behind the couple, dancing and strutting to the music while waving handkerchiefs or napkins.

Some couples go the extra mile by making personalized handkerchiefs as party favors, used by guests to wave during the procession. Some personalize highly-decorative parasols and canes for the wedding party to use in the march, and others hand out beads and other like favors to help foster the revelry.


For added flair, a newly married couple might hire Mardi Gras Indians to march in their parade. These wear colorful, elaborate costumes and headdresses, turning the second line parade into a living work of art and culture. It also helps in creating some stunning wedding day photos for the bride and groom.


Then there are couples who decide to take their celebration to the streets. It is not uncommon to find a second line wedding parade dancing their way through the streets of New Orleans. Police on motorcycles clear a path on the parade route, blaring their sirens in announcement of the honorees. Tourists and natives—pretty much anyone along the route—are welcome to join in the celebratory march which usually lasts from 5-8 blocks (about 20-30 minutes).

Although the second line wedding parade is seen as a New Orleans tradition, the fun has spread out beyond the boundaries of the city so that second line parades can be enjoyed during wedding festivities in just about any part of the country.


Second Line Parades and Funeral

While we’ve discussed how the second line parade is such a joyful event, it might seem odd to incorporate such a festive event into a funeral. However, the concept of a funeral procession is not new by any means. In fact, it has been a long-standing aspect of burial traditions in many cultures, including the West African cultures that so heavily influenced the characteristics of the second line parades (though it mixes in European and Anglo-American burial traditions as well).

Many view it as a ‘celebration of life at the moment of death’. Traditionally, funeral processions were held for prominent black male members of a community, often times a musician (who was appropriately “buried with music”). Following the adage “solemn music on the way to the grave and happy music on return”, the parade would make its way to the grave with the more typical sounds that would be found in a funeral—those of mourning and grieving.


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However, after the body was laid to rest at the grave (or symbolically “cut loose”), the band would begin to play up-tempo music as a celebration of life. As the musical procession left the cemetery, second-liners would join behind and begin to dance to the more festive music, turning the funeral into a street celebration.

The spread and musical evolution of second line parades

With its brass band sounds being so closely tied to jazz and other musical genres that evolved from it (like funk and rock and roll), it is no surprise that there would be a widespread influence. Jazz legend Louie Armstrong and the “Godfather of Soul” James Brown are among the many who have spread the music inherent in second line parades to people around the world. In fact, it’s a fundamental aspect of many international jazz styles today, not to mention the influence it has had on other musical genres.


The 20th century saw a great evolution in its musical landscape, and the second line has adapted accordingly. Its music has seamlessly absorbed the musical genres of the day—be it swing, jump blues, rhythm & blues, or rock and roll—and made it its own. Second line musicians have added their creative twists by mixing genres and boldly experimenting with new styles created from the traditional ones.


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Musicians select their instruments in the air


In recent years, second lines still have a hold on hearts and minds and have been used to express triumph. One example of this was after the catastrophic devastation left by Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans rallied in the way they knew best. A mock jazz funeral was organized, complete with a second line, to symbolize the “death” of the hurricane. It was also a call to all who left the city to return to the rich heritage of their home.

Even though second line parades are closely linked to New Orleans and its rather unique traditions, the fun and festive atmosphere that it fosters have universal appeal. People everywhere want to experience the joy and celebration, and second line parades give the freedom to experience it all.

What is a brass band?

Brass Band

The History of Brass Bands

Lively, exuberant, and full of energy—probably the first words that pop into your head when you hear “brass band”.

Without a doubt, the brass bands of today certainly fit that description (especially if you’ve ever seen one in New Orleans).

What exactly is a brass band? How did they start? Is anyone still playing brass band music today?

These are fantastic questions and you deserve the answers!

Let’s talk brass bands from origin to evolution to modern revival.

Interestingly enough, as alive and colorful as brass band music might be, you might be surprised to know it had a somewhat more somber beginning.

Now you might be wondering, how in the world could a brass band even come within a universe length of somberness?

By having its birth on the battlefield.

In 19th-century England, it wouldn’t be surprising to find military units that included cadets with bugles and drums.

This wasn’t meant for battlefield entertainment; these instruments served a vital purpose in communicating orders and movements to troops in a way that could be heard above the fray.

But off the battlefield, where there were soldiers with instruments and downtime, cadets came together to play music and entertain their buddies (and themselves).

These soldiers formed bands that consisted of brass instruments (bugles) and percussion instruments (drums), the foundation of all brass bands thereafter.

The brass band music set Victorian England ablaze and by 1860, an amazing 750 brass bands had formed in England alone.

These were no longer soldiers playing their field instruments, these were now amateur and professional civilian musicians.

What were some of the factors that caused the wildfire-like spread of this new musical genre?

Actually, there were quite a few different fuels that fired the brass band trend.

For starters, the British Industrial Revolution was taking England into a new modern age and things were changing rapidly.

Old ways were being left behind, and this included medieval and Renaissance-era music.

The Revolution also stirred up discontent and increased political activity (rallies, protests, etc.) among the working class, something that unsettled employers.

In order to keep the masses calm during their leisure time and prevent them from participating in hostile political activities, employers encouraged employees to form musical bands, even going so far as to finance them.

Which was the first named brass band to appear?
In one of the greatest debates since “which came first the chicken or the egg, there is universal disagreement about whether Bessies O’ the Barn Brass Band or Black Dykes Mills Brass Band came first as the band with the longest-standing tradition of brass music.

What makes up a brass band

Musical education also began to be an important part of a university curriculum.

Put together bright musical minds coordinated into music departments, and music technology and performance can’t help but progress and improve.

The brilliant invention of keys and valves for brass instruments (the original bugles didn’t have either) meant greater versatility as they could now play many more notes (almost, if not as many, as windward instruments).

Greater musical versatility could only mean one thing—brass music had the freedom to take off in just about any number of directions and styles.

Though the brass band wasn’t fully a brass band until later in the 19th century, the brass instruments you’ll find played in a brass band even today include cornets, flugelhorns, tenor horns, baritones, trombones, B & E flat basses.

Though they are not considered brass, in keeping with the original drum position, no brass band is complete without percussion instruments.

With the variety of instruments that came to be included in brass bands and the ability to play different types of works (including original compositions, orchestral transcriptions, marches, medleys, and hymn arrangements), brass bands were the hottest new form of musical entertainment.

They were even being hired by political candidates to liven up campaigns.

Brass Bands Head to America

The brass band exuberance couldn’t be contained to one nation for very long.

It eventually spread to far-flung areas such as Japan, Australia, and New Zealand and spread closer to home, being embraced by several different European countries as well.

Given the close links between Britain and America, it was no surprise that brass band music would spread across the “pond” and make its way into American life.

The lively music of brass bands hit the height of their popularity just before the Civil War.

War didn’t cause brass band music to fade into obscurity, however, American troops, embroiled in civil war, formed similar bands to their British counterparts.

Musicians with bugles, bassoon-like instruments, and saxhorns played to bolster the spirits of their fellow soldiers, especially on the long, trudging marches they faced during the Civil War years.

Even after the end of the Civil War, brass band music was alive and well in America, becoming an important part of life in the 19th century.

Its high-spirited sound was a perfect way for Americans to celebrate civic pride, even on a more local level.

Fun Fact

Saxhorns actually fit over the shoulder of its player and became a troop favorite because it’s horn faced backward, projecting its sound so that troops behind could clearly hear.

At one point, it was hard to walk into any town in the nation that didn’t have its own brass band.

Sometimes made up of amateurs and sometimes comprised of professional musicians, the bands were often sponsored by factories, companies, fire departments, and militia units.

John Philip Sousa

Some players who started out as amateurs went on to become brass band professionals, leaving their mark on America’s musical history.

One of these was a musician and eventually director of the US Marine Corps band, John Philip Sousa.

A songwriter, composer, and bandmaster, Sousa became known as “The March King. Many of his marches and compositions were patriotic, maybe the most notable being “Stars and Stripes Forever”.

He also invented a marching-style bass tuba, the sousaphone, which would eventually become a staple of New Orleans-style brass music.

Fun Fact

The Salvation Army, then newly established in 1865, used brass band music as a way to play Christian Gospel music and even wrote some of its own music. In modern times, the Salvation Army has been mainly responsible for keeping the brass band tradition alive in America.

Brass Music Moves South and Undergoes an Evolution

The great cultural diversity between the American North and South meant that once brass music reached the mouth of the Mississippi River, its transformation was pretty much a foregone conclusion.

In northern parts of the country, the band had a bit more formal style which made sense for military, political, civic, and patriotic events.

But the South saw music as more of a celebration.

It grabbed a hold of brass band music and took it to the streets, infusing it with a liveliness it hadn’t previously known.

The place that gave new birth to brass band music? The city of New Orleans.

In the past century, the mention of New Orleans almost certainly brings to mind colorful, enthusiastic brass music played in the streets with gusto and danced to by revelers.

Once brass music had reached New Orleans, musicians–many of them with African heritage–took the original sound and began mixing in their cultural rhythms to form the New Orleans-style brass music that most recognize today.

A city filled with such a rich diversity of ethnicities saw a variety of cultural traditions being kept alive by their people.

One such tradition was the funeral procession, in which families often hired brass bands to play. Each ethnic group had its own variation on this rite with songs particular to their culture.

Since brass band musicians didn’t always know songs specific to every culture, the music became blended into a common sound that could be played at any procession. This sound became unique to New Orleans.

However, by the time brass music had reached New Orleans, the city already had a history of violence and corruption.

The youth of New Orleans needed an escape from the cycle of poverty and violence they were seemingly trapped in, and many of them turned to brass music as an outlet.

These youth helped mix in the cultural musical styles that formed New Orleans-style brass band music.

From there each successive generation took styles they learned from past generations and began mixing in other genres of music like funk, soul, hip hop, rock, and pop music, all while keeping the music true to its roots.

A far cry from playing on battlefields, New Orleans brass music could be heard throughout the night powering out of nightclubs, bars, gin mills, ballrooms, brothels, and in the early days (pre-Depression era) being played right in the streets.

Brass music was incorporated into marching bands that livened up various parades.

Its vivacious sound began reaching an even larger audience as some bands started to make recordings of their music.

By the 1930s & 1940s jazz had taken on an art form in America and it came to be closely linked with brass band music.

Though brass band music was more closely associated with New Orleans, both musical styles lent influence to one another.

Brass bands were heavily influenced by the jazz movement, and eventually, brass band music came to be considered a traditional aspect of jazz.

Despite its rather rapid evolution, eventually, the pace of change in the genre slowed down, leaving some concerned for the future of brass music.

Modern Revivals

For a music tradition to be kept alive and thrive on into the future, the younger generation has to take hold of it, nurture it, and help it grow.

By the 1960’s brass music was struggling, and rhythm guitarist  Danny Barker wasn’t going to let it die.

Taking matters into his own hands, he formed the Fairview Christian Marching Band and started recruiting young musicians to the brass band style.

Danny Barker’s plan to revive brass band music in America had worked.

What the new generation was able to learn from Barker helped them to revitalize New Orleans brass band music and carry the torch, even after they left the Fairview band.

Clarinetist Dr. Michael White went on to play in the Liberty Brass Band.

And later he and trumpeter Gregg Stafford became integral members of the Young Tuxedo Brass Band.

Four later members of the band–Gregory Davis, Charles Joseph, Kirk Joseph, and Kevin Harris—went on to form the revivalist band the Dirty Dozen Brass Band in 1977.

These have helped keep New Orleans brass music fresh and alive for 40 years.

Their sound inspired others to form New Orleans style brass bands in the 1980’s, most famously Kermit Ruffins, the Hot 8 Brass Band, and the Rebirth Brass Band.

The devastation left by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 could not dampen the vibrant sounds of brass music in New Orleans.

In fact, the tragedy has seemed to help the movement grow as residents refuse to let their strong spirit be broken.

Up and coming bands like To Be Continued Brass Band and Young Fellaz Brass Band are making their mark on the scene, while new bands such as the Baby Boyz Brass Band are formed by students still in high school that want to continue the long musical traditions of New Orleans.

The history of brass bands has undergone many transformations, branching out and spawning into other arenas (marching bands, wedding parades, funeral processions, etc.).

Fun Fact

Gregg Stafford was dubbed “The Last Trumpet Player in New Orleans” for his dedication to keeping the New Orleans musical tradition alive. He led the Young Tuxedo Brass Band for 30 years.

Its traditions are kept alive and are still part of the vibrant culture of New Orleans today.

Almost no major social event in the city could be considered complete without the performance of a brass band, from funerals to carnivals and from picnics to parades.

The sound is alive in the French Quarter and on the streets, and most important of all, in the heart and soul of New Orleans.

Modern Brass Bands Across North America

Even though New Orleans and brass bands might be somewhat synonymous, that amazing genre of music couldn’t be contained to one city.

Even in current times, brass band music has spread its way across the country from New York to Chicago to California.

The past 15 years has seen a resurgence of  the brass band in North America. Specially essential to keeping the tradition alive across the country has been the formation of the North American Brass Band Association (NABBA).

Currently there are several hundred brass bands across North America, while modern composers (including the Salvation Army) continue to compose new music, keeping the genre alive and progressive.

From coast to coast and everywhere in between, its popularity is growing as new bands form and younger generations learn and expand this art form.