Helen May Butler’s career provides a welcome counternarrative to the men’s professional bands—such as John Philip Sousa’s—that were the rage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Butler had the professional and musical clout to attract the top female talent needed to form a first-rate professional ensemble. Her Ladies’ Military Band rose to prominence during a time when being a professional woman required sacrifice, in terms of both family life and customary female identity. Butler’s perseverance and tenacity in creating an accomplished ensemble of women in a male-dominated field is an important and inspirational addition to the history of both U.S. concert bands and the women’s movement of her time.
This according to “Helen May Butler and her Ladies’ Military Band: Being professional during the golden age of bands” by Brian D. Meyers, an essay included in Women’s bands in America: Performing music and gender (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017, pp. 15–49).
Today is Butler’s 150th birthday! Below, an undated photograph of her Ladies’ Brass Band, which toured between 1901 and 1912 (click to enlarge).
Since 1914 a Winter Carnival has been held in February in the picturesque resort town of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, to promote skiing and celebrate the season. Events include ski races, ski jumping, dogsled pulls, skijoring, and fireworks.
The main attraction, though, is the performance of the Steamboat Springs High School Band in the parade held on the last day of the carnival.
Every year since 1935, members of the band have donned red wool uniforms, fixed plastic mouthpieces to their instruments and lubricated them with no-freeze valve oil, attached shortened skis to their boots, and skied in formation as they played.
This according to “The Steamboat Springs High School Ski Band 1935–2005” by Daniel S. Isbell (Journal of historical research in music education XXVIII/1 [October 2006] pp. 21–37). Above and below, the band in performance.
In 2010 Scarecrow Press launched the series The American wind band with A history of the trombone by David M. Guion; the book is a comprehensive account of the development of the instrument from its initial form as a 14th-century medieval trumpet to its acceptance in various kinds of artistic and popular music in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Further entries in the series include The Tennessee Tech Tuba Ensemble and R. Winston Morris : A 40th anniversary retrospective by Charles A. McAdams and Richard H. Perry; and Bands of sisters : U.S. women’s military bands during World War II by Jill M. Sullivan.