Brass Bands and Minstrelsy

Newcastle Amateurs’ Musical Association

On Wednesday 7 August 1861 the Newcastle Amateurs’ Musical Association held its first concert at the Courthouse in Newcastle, New South Wales. The concert was to raise funds for a Volunteer band associated with the Newcastle Artillery corps. The concert was sold out in advance so two performances were planned for Wednesday and Thursday nights. The musical association appears to have been initiated by Edward Faning (1819-1870). Faning was something of an all-round musician, playing several instruments, forming and leading various ensembles, including string bands and minstrel troupes. He was a member and supporter of the Temperance movement and formed a Temperance band that first performed in 1844 at the Temple of Concord, Maitland. It is likely that he trained most of the sixteen musicians who made up the band that performed at these two concerts. The review in the Newcastle Chronicle is unusually detailed for the time and hesitantly critical of some of the performances whilst praising others:

“The Caliph of Bagdad” … was excellently given by the full band, numbering sixteen members …

“The Witch’s Glee” is an exceedingly grand but intricate composition, and requires experience and study of no mean order to render its execution perfect. We trust that these remarks may be taken in the friendly spirit in which they are given …

Newcastle Chronicle 10 August 1861

The band left the stage at interval to reappear, surprisingly, fifteen minutes later to perform the  second half of the programme as a minstrel troupe. For this entertainment, the band members had blacked up, and were described, as was common in this period, as ‘Ethiopian serenaders’ and a ‘sable troupe’. The programme now revolved around popular songs, jokes and witticisms and ‘eccentricities’.

Such a programme must have met with success because Faning went on to repeat the performance formula, with two appearances in December at the Courthouse (see extract of programme below) and later at Watt Street Assembly Rooms in April, 1864.

No doubt it was Faning who was behind such a doubling up since he was known for his sense of humour and had previously mounted numerous ‘Ethiopian’ entertainments. The newspaper reviewer (not named) concludes by congratulating Edward Faning on the association’s proficiency and the success of the evening.

Fanings concert NC 21.12.1861


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