Many of the instruments played by the 33rd Illinois Volunteer Regiment Band, Inc. were the same instruments that were in service during battle and dress parades in 1861. Many of the horns played date from the Civil War era. Restoration of the original horns is a high priority so the melodies of the 19th century can be heard as they were during that time in history. Among the instruments used by the 33rd Illinois Volunteer Regiment Band, Inc. are valved bugles, cornets, and an assortment of alto, tenor, baritone and bass saxhorns and rope tension drums. The design of the horns introduces the audience to the assortment of instruments common in that period.


Instrumentation of the Civil War Brass Band

Even within the brass band format, different instruments mad in different styles came into use. There were three basic horn designs popular at the time, separated by the direction the bell faced. The were bell-front, over-the-shoulder (OTS), and circular designs, each having its advantages and drawbacks. Military bands preferred the over-the-shoulder horns because the sound was better heard by the soldiers while on the march.

Some bands were equipped with a matching set if horns, made by the same instrument maker. The advantage of having matched horns became apparent when the musician attempted to tune with the others to create a more pleasing sound. Since each maker used a slightly different pitch base, horns of different makers made it difficult to tune together, Slide trombones were used in some bands but were impractical for field use in the event a dent in the slide would render the horn unusable. Valved tenor horns or valved trombones were usually substituted for the slide trombone. Woodwinds like the Albert or Simple system clarinet or D-flat piccolo were used when available but were not present in most bands of that era.


The E-flat cornet typically played the melody of the Civil War brass band. The Bandmaster also played the melody line. Other instruments included the B-flat cornet, E-flat alto horn, B-flat tenor horn, B-flat bass or baritone, E-flat tuba, side drum, bass drum, and cymbal. The cymbals were usually played by the bass drummer, who attached one cymbal to the top of the bass drum and struck it with the other cymbal. Woodwinds were used when a player was available.

Commonly in Confederate Bands, there would be a mixture of horn designs. Southern armies often lacked funds to purchase complete sets of matching horns. The musicians would play whatever was available. Drums were necessary for marching and sounding calls to the soldiers. Drums of the period had calfskin heads, catgut snares, and wooden or brass shells. They were often decorated with paintings of eagles or patriotic designs and generally had rope tension heads, although there is evidence of rod tension drums in use.

To provide variety, some Bandmasters would compose new tunes or change existing ones to suit the instrumentation of their band. Many of the same tunes were popular in every unit, North or South. "Dixie," often thought of strictly as a Southern tune, was popular with both sides and was a favorite of Abraham Lincoln's.

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