The Golden Age of American Bands - Book

A Document History (1835-1935)

Bryan J. Proksch

Item #: G-10368     Status: Available

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This is a fascinating and important book for everybody even remotely interested in the history of American bands. Bryan Proksch has done some painstakingly thorough research in putting together an amazing assemblage of documents… This is a must-have book!

—Jon Ceander Mitchell
    The Wind Music Research Quarterly: Mitteilungsblatt der IGEB
    (March 2022), 14–15

For the scholar, each entry presents an opportunity for expansion. For the teacher, this work provides source readings for courses on wind band history or for complementing Strunk or Weiss-Taruskin in university music history courses. That said, these documents stand as an enriching and entertaining read in their own right for anyone interested in the subject.

—Michael O’Connor
    Historic Brass Today 1/2 (Spring 2022), 32

The Golden Age of American Bands is ideally suited for courses on the history and literature of bands in America. Indeed, this volume could suffice as a textbook for adventuresome teachers in that it touches on the major musicians, instruments, ensembles, and functions expected of such a course. . . . Both private and classroom band instructors will find compelling glimpses into the history of their craft. [It is] bursting with opportunities to inspire curiosity in their students while effectively supporting their own curricular goals.

—Benjamin D. Lawson and James A. Davis
    The Journal of Music History Pedagogy

Proksch’s new collection of documents is a most welcome step in the direction of getting [the story of bands] under control. The juxtaposition of documents from so many levels and types of ensembles proves to have a cumulative effect: one begins to see the subtle and long-lasting connections among them despite the big differences. It is easy to envision it as a supplemental text in a course on band history and literature, but the book is also just an absorbing read. There is much to learn here, and much to enjoy.

—Ken Kreitner
    Notes 79/2 (December 2022): 217-218

Proksch’s selection of material scripts a gripping first-person narrative of the evolution of bands in America. He blends valuable and relevant content with a prose-like approach that allows the reader to feel as if they are involved in the very conversations that occurred. The wide variety of perspectives represented . . . give the reader a full view of how bands came to be a significant piece of American culture.

—Eric Millard
    International Trumpet Guild Journal 47/3 (March 2023): 79–80

This is the story of the American wind band, told chronologically by those who experienced it in real time from 1835 to 1935.

How did bands become bands? How did they rise in popularity? Which figures had insights and specific impacts on the development of the genre?

Through source documents and articles, Bryan Proksch takes us on an extraordinary journey from the time of the first brass bands in the 1830s, through the Civil War and the golden ages of Gilmore and Sousa, to the cusp of the wind ensemble just before World War II.

Hear from a young Frederick Fennell about his efforts to create the first band at Eastman. Read the outline of Allessandro Liberati’s unpublished trumpet method book.

Eavesdrop on Karl L. King as he muses on the fate of bands after the death of Sousa. See Patrick Conway’s first undergraduate music education curriculum. Gawk as trombonist Fredrick Neil Innes embarrasses “world’s greatest cornetist” Jules Levy at Coney Island.

Explore as Alan Dodworth revolutionizes bands. Retreat with a military band in the middle of a Civil War battle. Find out what it felt like to sit in a Sousa Band rehearsal. Ask Herbert L. Clarke why he thinks you should be playing a cornet instead of a trumpet.

Find out how P. S. Gilmore managed to pull off the biggest concert events in American history.

The book includes numerous rare and unknown illustrations to show you the places where band history happened. The documents include rare periodical excerpts, handwritten letters, and other writings taken from archives throughout the United States.

These first-person accounts are certain to further refine and deepen our understanding and appreciation of American band history on a grand scale.


  • Beginnings (1835–1859)
  • The Civil War (1860–1865)
  • The Jubilees (1866–1879)
  • The Gilded Age (1880–1896)
  • The Band Age (1897–1914)
  • World War I (1915–1919)
  • Transition and Decline (1920–1935)


Click here to download a FREE addenda.

Bryan Proksch is a distinguished faculty lecturer and associate professor of music history and literature at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. This is his third book. His A Sousa Reader: Essays, Interviews, and Clippings (GIA Publications, 2016) explores the documents relating to the life and career of John Philip Sousa.

Categories: History, Reference/Textbooks

Number of Pages: 346

Format: Book

Discipline: Band