The Town Band of Indiana, Pa.

Indiana Keyed Brass Band Indiana Town Band
Indiana Brass Band Circa 1835 (keyed horns)
Indiana Brass Band Circa 1845 (over the shoulder horns)

Keyed Bands

Their days were numbered; those keyed bands. And, though they were state of art for only a few years, and were soon retired to oblivion, they began a tradition. And that tradition continues to flourish to this day - the community band.


They were the first attempts at making music a community event, one in which the audience didn't have to count among the privileged few. Music was on its way out of doors, and the instruments of indoors were entirely unsuitable for performance in the open air, as the sound of strings dissipates quickly without the encasement of walls.

Military bands performing outside were becoming popular, and instruments were needed that could stand the rigors of performing out of doors as well as having sufficient projection so they could be heard in the din of street.


The bands using keyed instruments had no standard configuration. They could be made up of a variety of instruments. They could also fill the middle ranks with French horns and trombones. Sometimes, woodwinds were also used.

The Transition from Keyed to Valved Brass

One popular theory for the invention of the valve was to make the swapping of tuning bits unnecessary. However, the evidence does not seem to bear this out. The earliest sources are unanimous in stating that Stoelzel (1814) and Bluhmel, the co-inventors of the valve, clearly intended to perfect the brass instruments by making them chromatic. Stoelzel says:

"The horn, to which I have chiefly dedicated myself, is most defective as regards the inequality of its notes and the impossibility of producing them with the same purity and strength. This fact often made me very impatient and led me to make experiments which might alleviate the problem, which at the beginning were all failures, but which finally led me to an invention, which rewarded me for all my trouble and satisfied my demands on the instrument. My horn can play all the notes from the lowest to the highest with the same purity and strength without having to stop the hand into the bell."

Similarly, Bluhmel also was seeking chromaticism:

"The numerous uses of the mechanical forces, which I had an opportunity of seeing during my presence in Upper Silesia, particularly the various air pipes used in the blast apparatus of the high and low furnaces which always led me back to the basic idea of executing an improvement on these instruments, I believe I could use to reach my goal and therefore sought the company of the keepers of the machines and other experts in order to comprehend the closing and opening of the wind pipes, whilst I started out with the idea of which way the air must pass through the tubes of the instrument, to lengthen or shorten according to certain dimensions, in order to make up the missing notes of the compass. ..."

Another attempt at making them chromatic was in an experiment in 1812 where Christian Dikhuth applied a short trombone type slide which was retracted by means of a spring to a French horn.

A keyed version of the French horn was also attempted as early as 1815. The problem with this horn was that it could not be used with the hand in the bell and the keys also altered the tone of the instrument.

The various valve types that were invented each had their own characteristics. Mechanically, they all would operate satisfactorily. However, the Vienna valve tended to blur the notes during valve change. The Stoelzel valve tended to disrupt the flow of the air when valves were changed. Piston and rotary valves had quick action and were the most efficient overall.

Valved Instrument Bands

And once the tools and industrial procedures were applied to the manufacture of musical instruments, horns were affordable and available to amateur musicians. From the late 1850s the cost of musical instruments fell, due to removal of tariffs, and increased volume and competition between manufacturers. Unlike their predecessors in orchestras, the members of the band were generally not professional career musicians. They had other real jobs.

And those part time musicians brought something else - innovation. They began to apply the procedures and innovations of industry to instruments. The concept of valves was adapted from the mines and applied to the passageways of the brass horn.

What resulted was a family of instruments characterized by valves to change pitch. And, a number of designed were explored but thanks to the marketing efforts of Adolphe Sax, the saxhorn became the standard.



For a while, the brass band was an odd mix if cornpoeans, cornets, and trumpets in various keys; trombacellos, and the left over keyed ophicleide. But by the 1860's, community bands played on saxhorns. The saxhorns are a family of instruments, all similar in character, and capable of a homogeneous sound.

The town of Indiana, Pa. was an example of a community that had it's own town band prior to the Civil War. The pride of Indiana County, this band had been in existence since 1842 and was highly regarded for the ability of its members. Other communities in the area also had bands, including Brookville and Strattonville. And, when war came, the members of the Indiana Brass Band joined peers from Brookville, Pa. and Strattanville, Pa. to form the Wildcat Regiment Band.

The Music

W.H. Wills for Charles Dicken's journal, Household Words, expressed surprise upon hearing boys in the Cyfarthfa works whistling airs rarely heard except in concert halls. He later discovered that the proprietor of the works, Robert Crawshay, had established a brass band, and had the pleasure of hearing the band play: Zampa, Caliph, Fra Diavolo, Vivi tu, Roberto, Don Giovanni, and Lucia. (1850)

In England, published music for early brass bands stared to appear in the 1830's. MacFarlane's "Eight Popular Airs for Brass Band" was published in 1836. In 1837, D'Almaine published "The Brass Band", a set of popular pieces arranged by J Parry, a former militia bandmaster and music critic of the Morning Post. Parry's Brass Band was the mainstay of the W.L. Marriner's Band in the early 1840's.

From about 1840, publishers started producing brass band journals. The first regular subscription journal for brass band is probably the one published by Wessel & Co. Brass band journals were musical publication; they contained little text other than musical text. Bands subscribed to them and received up to twelve publications each year. The instrumentation was flexible; alternative parts were provided for different instruments. Wessel's journals in the 1840's were for cornet-a-pistons, first and second cornet-a-pistons, two horns, three trombones and ophicleide, with ad libitum parts for Db cornet-a-pistons or bugle, three trumpets, and kettle drums.

The arrangements were workmanlike and functional. Brass bands were not the only ensembles to be served by journal music; concertina bands, military bands, string bands, and a plethora of other instrumental combinations were also catered for. The journals contained a mixture of light pieces and arrangements of art music. Several publishers brought out band journals. Smith's Champion Brass Band Journal was published in Hull from 1857; Chappell, Distin, Jullien and Boosey all published journals. Distin's Journal, which was published by Boosey from 1869.

"So it is likely that some band arrangements were fourth-hand, via the composer's original, the short score, the journal arrangement, and then the rearrangement by the bandmaster."

The Impact

Although today, the fact that the American Brass Band Movement was once an innovation, is largely forgotten. The Brass Band was so popular in and before the Civil War, and continued to dominate through most of the rest of the 19th. Century. It was modified by the influences of Gilmore and Sousa, and jazz. It was institutionalized by the development of mine band, community band, and the incorporation of instrumental band music in schools.

Town bands and school bands continue to play an important social and artistic role in their communities.

The Photo is of a local town band in Punxsutawney, Jefferson County, Pa.

This is a post Civil War picture of a band from one of the communities that added to the ranks of the Indiana Brass Band to form the Wildcat Regiment Band. It is certainly possible that the instruments shown are those that were used by the Wildcats.

Post Civil War Band from Punxsutawney, Pa

The current

Indiana Brass Band

represents the historical bands in three different configurations that include:


Contact Us
Email:  Bruno Pino
Phone: 724-397-2814
Mail:   3935 RTE. 85 Hwy N.
            Home, Pa. 15747