Bold as brass – BIU band call out

Miners used to have 50 cents a week deducted from their pay packets for the Barrier Industrial Union (BIU) band, which is reviving interest through a drive for members, including anyone new to town.

Such as David Gaffney, who left a small hamlet outside of Bendigo in Victoria in October and moved to Broken Hill during lockdown.

“Everyone was wearing a mask, and I can’t recognise them now,” he said.

“This is where band comes in.

“You’re never alone.”


David has been playing music since he was 10, and he studied seventh grade Australian Music Examination Board (AMEB) clarinet and seventh grade musicianship.

Brass bands are David’s passion, and he started a library to prevent more brass band music from being lost or destroyed in fires.

David comes from a concert background and played in a clarinet choir where eight of the ten musicians were clarinet teachers. He also plays the bass clarinet.

“You hear it a lot in cartoons,” he said.

David used to play the euphonium, and he now plays tuba in the BIU band.

“The bigger the instrument, the lower the sound and the bigger the time delay when playing a note,” he said.

“On the tuba down there, there’s no-one to contradict.

“That’s why I’m on tuba – if you get lost, you make it up.”

David takes a playful approach to music and enjoys seeing the Melbourne bicycle band, which is an offshoot of a big band.

“It’s a 10-seater bicycle, and the conductor sits on the handlebars,” he said.

“A trailer towed the drummer.”

“It sparks off interest in music in the whole town.”

David’s strongly believes that Central Victoria was the birthplace of brass bands in Australia as there were 200 brass bands in Castlemaine in the 1860s and 1870s.

“Maybe not the first brass band, which may have been in Hahndorf, but the movement grew from there,” said David.

“During the 1850s in Australia, that’s where the money was – the Central Goldfields.”

He explained that, before the 1850s, brass instruments were based on pistons, the technology in steam engines and factories.

“Although a trombone is a slide, not pistons,” David said.

“It’s the odd one out.”

The purpose of a brass band was to lead a parade because a concert band couldn’t do it, not even with an oboe leading.

“Adolph Sax invented the saxophone in approximately 1835, and the first saxophone pointed backwards over the musician’s shoulder,” said David.

“Everyone in the parade behind could hear, musicians and audience.

“The band was like a Pied Piper, and it was popular in the American Civil War.”

After the saxophone, which is a woodwind instrument, Adolph Sax invented brass instruments.

“Instruments were around before then but were more like post horns and fanfare horns, which announced royalty,” said David.

“They couldn’t do intervals or scales.”

Before the cornet was invented, its prototype was half recorder, half brass and was called a serpent.”

“In the old Pride and Prejudice film, a band member is playing the serpent.”

Brass bands were hardest-hit in the 1940s when the pitch of their instruments changed to match the higher pitch of concert instruments.

“Brass band instruments were too low a pitch and were phased out,” said David.

The instruments now have a higher pitch, so old recordings really do have a different sound.

A lot of brass band musicians in Australia taught themselves to play, and the BIU continues the brass band tradition of supplying instruments, which especially helps beginners.

“It’s between $2,000 and $5,000 for a cornet,” said David.

“My tuba cost $5,000, and transposing music costs $200.”

David specialised in teaching adults, and he looked for shortcuts.

“We have a pianola, and this taught me a lot about transposing because I look for intervals,” he said.

“I look at the dots and pick out some notes for reference.”

David believes that rhythm is more important to keep up with the music.

“If you hit a wrong note, laugh it off,” he said.

David urges new musicians not to be afraid to try something different.

“It’s part of the adventure.

“That’s what band is about.”

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