Excerpts from the notes of a lecture

delivered as part of the University of Florida musicology series
by V A Austin

REASONS for the lack of attention to this topic:

1. The first, most important, and recurring challenge in looking at this topic is itsbreadth. Town bands existed in England, Austria, Germany, Italy, and a few places inFrance. There is recent information suggesting they were also found in Yugoslaviaand Czechoslovakia. A common terminology is challenging.

2. The challenge of general to specific. Yes, there were some commonalities between bandsthroughout Europe and England. On the other hand, there are tremendous complexities whichdo not do justice to Town Bands by generalization. Instead of a single broad history, theapproach to studying this type of music should be as specific regional or localperspectives, under the broader umbrella of ‘town bands’. A broad approach to ‘town bandmusic of Europe inclusive of 7 centuries’, represents the real danger of creatingand transmitting a caricature of town bands.

3. Resources. The primary resources are civic in nature. Local and regional musichistories were not compiled until the 18th century, when town bands had already beendismantled. Little narrative exists about the waites, somewhat more about stadtpfeiffers.A reasearcher must look very hard to present more than a mere enumeration of isolateddata.

4. Lack of musical artifacts. Little was written BY the waites. Most music was borrowed from other sources, and little, if any, was written down (in England – there are more sources for Stadtpfeifer).

5. The hierarchy of musicology

6. ‘Band’ stigma.

7. Non-art music.

8. Waites music relates to the ‘average’ person. Difficulty of a “vision” or “mental image” of what it was like to be an average person. Most of what we read about the period comes from the educated and/or the aristocracy. Life of the average town dweller is seldom examined.

It is a logical assumption that the nature of their public dutiesmeant that Town musicians represented the primary musical instrumental exposure which anaverage person received throughout the course of life in an English town. This fact is thecrux of a paradox, however, for town bands, their music and duties, the people playing inthem, are scarcely represented by the modern musicology world. Current information aboutis scarce. Any researcher looking for information about theĀ  English Waites, or,indeed, any European town band music, will be sorely disappointed. The ‘Waites’ entry inGroves covers a single page, the entry on the German Stadtpfeifer about the same…

… Town musicians were found in Europe as early as the 12th century, and the players were frequently referred to as ‘pipers’. An incident involving one town piper made its way into the legends of the world when, in 1284, a man called a ‘piper’ led 130 children out of theGerman town of Hameln. The children were never seen again. The event so traumatized thepeople of Hameln that they never recorded details of the even, but referred to itconstantly in their town records, which began to be dated by the number of years since thedisappearance of the children. Numerous theories exist to explain the disappearance of thechildren, and two German Ph.D.s have been awarded to researchers of the event. Theoriesinclude the murder or accidental death of the 130 children, their resettlement in anothercountry, and even, more recently, with simply no supporting facts, their abduction byaliens. Of course, what I really want to know is, ‘what sort of pipe was the pied piperplaying?’