An introduction to music research
An introduction to music research

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An introduction to music research

Appendix 3 Images of military bands

Helen Barlow

Having trained originally as an art historian, my instinct is to ask not only ‘what does the image show?’, but also ‘why and how was it made?’

Figure 1 George Scharf, At the Marine Officers Mess Room at Woolwich, during Dinner; A Band of Musicians, 1826, graphite. British Museum, London, 19000725.101. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Figure 1 shows a drawing that I have researched – it comes from the sketchbook of a minor artist, George Scharf (1788–1860). An artist uses a sketchbook for preparatory work – often on the spot as an aide memoire for future paintings. For that reason, a sketch may be far from ‘sketchy’ – it may be a detailed record. Here, Scharf has taken pains with the uniforms and instruments, and the location and occasion are clearly identified in his own hand – ‘Marine Officers Mess Room at Woolwich, during Dinner’. The details tell us something about the transitional nature of the instrumentation of the military band in the 1820s, with trombones coexisting alongside serpents, which they would soon replace.

The image also gives us clues to several other avenues. What about the boys who are holding the music? Military music education was only centralised and formalised in 1857, so perhaps this image gives us an insight into the role of boys in bands and how they received musical training before then. From the instrumentation and from the occasion, dinner, we might deduce that sophisticated instrumental repertoire was being played. And this image also strongly indicates the gentlemanly, socially exclusive culture of the officers’ mess of that period, and identifies one of the distinctly unwarlike performance contexts in which regimental bands played.

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