Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE ( © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 18 February 2019

The Politics of Repatriating Civil War Brass Music

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores how the repatriation of Civil War brass band music participates in contemporary disputes about the deeply contested meaning and ownership of a particularly turbulent moment in American history. Specifically, it questions how the framing of Civil War brass music as a retrievable sonic agent of authenticity facilitates a simplification of the past that negates issues of power and racism that were the root of this war. Such a simplified interpretation of history, heritage, and citizenship ultimately privileges Anglo American men. If repatriation enables communities to control representations of past and present identities, then the literal and metaphorical “return” of Civil War brass music to its “rightful” white male owners becomes a discursive strategy used to both privatize and police national memory.

Keywords: Civil War, brass, memory, masculinity, whiteness, heritage, citizenship, control, discourse, United States


In the last few decades, a small segment of white American men across the United States with considerable amounts of leisure time and disposable income have dedicated many resources to researching, purchasing, refurbishing, and performing US Civil War brass music. In doing so, they contribute to the commodification and circulation of a partisan national origin story that celebrates the exceptionalism of a particular American subgroup with whom they identity.

I argue that this performance of Civil War music can be fruitfully conceptualized as an act of repatriation. Although the notion of repatriation has traditionally been limited to returning dispossessed objects to disenfranchised communities, what happens when dominant social groups appropriate that model and use it to engage in cultural reclamation and musical revival?

It is important to distinguish between repatriation and revival, as I employ these terms. Revival is a mimetic process that stimulates heritage by representing cultural practices that proponents associate with the past and believe to be endangered.1

My exploration of these issues is informed by ethnographic data collected from 2010 to 2014 from brass band collectors, performers, and audiences at the Cornets and Cannons Civil War Sesquicentennial Music Festival, Gettysburg Remembrance Day Commemorations, Berkley Plantation commemoration of Taps, both Shiloh 150th anniversary battle re-enactments, an annual Cornet Conspiracy gathering, and nearly a dozen other concerts, re-enactments, and observances, all related to Civil War memory. Most informants with whom I had close interactions self-identified as upper middle class, highly educated, white, male American citizens over the age of forty, most of whom were either raised or resided on the East Coast and who had an ancestor who fought in the Civil War.2 These informants generously shared their time and knowledge with me, and I am grateful for their willingness to contribute their perspectives and many intimate details about their hobby and personal lives. Like other elements of the Civil War re-enactment movement, these brass band revivalists are deeply invested in the preservation of Civil War–era history and music. They experience personal pleasure from their hobby and believe it to be their responsibility to preserve the memory of the war. Although most of my informants had never met each other, they sincerely believed in the existence of a close-knit community founded on a shared interest in Civil War brass music. While I respect these hobbyists for their musical skills and uncompromising commitment to their cause, it quickly became apparent that more was at stake in their revival than merely the preservation of musical artifacts.

I focus my analysis particularly on one subgroup of Civil War brass revivalists who collectively own approximately 2,000 Civil War–era instruments, many traceable to period instrument makers, regimental bands, and historical individuals. They call themselves the “Cornet Conspiracy,” a name that refers to the competition for instruments that ultimately kindled their friendship.3 These men found each other while competing for antique brass instruments on eBay. One member of the “Cornet Conspiracy” describes on his blog how he became an eBay relic hunter: “I wanted badly to collect vintage brass . . . but these were the days before the Internet and eBay, and you had to visit a lot of antique stores in Florida before you’d find an old horn of any type. It was largely a matter of luck…. My first authentic vintage pocket cornets [were] a J.W. Pepper Gautrot, and a rare Boosey E-flat. This was in the course of collecting all types of vintage cornets which became an obsession just short of addiction, starting in 1998 when eBay hit.”4 Collectors shared with me similar origin stories that highlighted their shift to eBay bidding. “What started this [collecting]? Mark Elrod’s Pictorial History. First book that turned me on to the keyed bugle. I purchased an instrument on eBay and then learned how to play it…. This keyed bugle [pointing to his horn] I bought on eBay and had restored by R—. Now I perform with [three] bands.”5

A common obsession for Civil War brass music drove these men and other collectors to spend enough time on eBay that their bidding wars became a form of socialization and competitive community-making. As the men began to recognize the usernames of other relic-hunters, they sent threatening eBay messages to each other while bidding on auction lots. Said one collector, “We met through eBay. Seriously, we were sending each other hate-grams.”6 Competition for instruments only intensified their sense of individual and community purpose. While tracking other collectors’ bidding histories, they gathered data about each other and discovered themselves to be middle-aged white American men who resided in New York, Ohio, Alaska, Texas, Kentucky, Georgia, and Florida, who share a considerable amount of expendable income, leisure time, and investment in Civil War memory. They traveled in 2001 to Gainesville, Florida, for their first annual meeting to compare their collections, and it was during this gathering that they “conspired” to cooperatively hunt for particular types of objects as a strategy to enlarge their individual and group instrument collections. The fetishes and skills of each man contributed a different expertise to the club.7 Said one member, “We were fighting over instruments on eBay until we decided it was OK to let each other have instruments if we were able to play them together.”8 This gentlemen’s agreement founded an exclusive community that is recognized within the larger brass revival community as including some of the most accomplished collectors and performers of Civil War music.9

Brass revivals are not merely about reclaiming objects but also a reaction to a shared sense of lost or missing cultural heritage. As instrument collection and performance realizes the sonic possibilities of these artifacts, intangible expressions of the impulse to repatriate also occur. The correspondence and friendship of the Cornet Conspiracy on eBay eventually led to their collaboration to return American Civil War music to locations (both metaphorical and literal) where they believe that this heritage should reside. Some of their philanthropic efforts include the donation of material musical culture to heritage organizations, museums, and archives, as well as the establishment and managing of performing ensembles. These activities were often conducted with the intent of encouraging descendants of Civil War soldiers to engage with what they believe to be a significant and unique heritage.10

The primary strategy by which brass revivalists recreate an audible heritage is to impersonate mid-nineteenth-century military bandsmen in sound and appearance. This is a form of escapism, creating an artificial experience of time and an opportunity to socialize with like-minded people. In a way similar to what Thomas Turino has described in other revivals, “the community isn’t imagined but actual; nonetheless, it is sporadic, temporary, and geographically diffuse” (Turino 2008, 161). Although most visible on the East Coast, brass bands and battle reenactments occur concurrently across the United States and abroad. During the 2011–2015 US Civil War sesquicentennial observances, hardly a day passed without a Civil War commemorative event somewhere in the United States, and these heritage events often included brass band performances that announced gendered and racialized reconstructions of an American past.

Conspiracy: The Sounds

Around nine o’clock in the morning on April 20, 2012, eleven casually clad men carried armfuls of instrument cases onto the stage of a southern concert hall and curiously peeked over their shoulders to size up their competition while piling their arsenal in self-claimed corners. The unsheathing of their instruments revealed E-flat and B-flat cornets, alto and tenor horns, and baritone horns of various shapes, sizes, and lacquer hues.11 With so many more instruments than there were men on the stage, they transformed the concert hall into a veritable museum of nineteenth-century musical instruments. There was a ritualistic pattern to the way the men removed each artifact from its case, examined its body for imperfections, rolled their fingers over the valves, and then propped the instrument on its side for display. When they seemed satisfied with their exhibits, they turned to each other with handshakes, hugs, and group photographs. They spent nearly an hour asking after each other’s families, comparing their instruments, inquiring after the minute details of the design and history of their horns, expressing mock jealousy or contempt for each other’s prized possessions, and swapping war stories about the acquisition of their items and of being “sniped” by other collectors who outbid them for prized artifacts.12 It was at once a fraternal reunion and a confrontation between skilled competitors, a blend of comradeship and rivalry. This was the annual meeting of the Cornet Conspiracy.

By ten o’clock, they transitioned to a formal band rehearsal, and after warming up with a couple of major scales, they arranged their chairs in a semicircle at the edge of the stage, tuned to a cornettist, and rehearsed the William Tell Overture.13 One performer interrupted the rehearsal to deliver a critique, “That’s a piece-of-trash horn,” which garnered the response, “I don’t feel comfortable on it,” to which another man replied, “Why don’t you go get another one?”14 The musician in question exited with his devalued horn and returned with a different instrument of the same type. As the rehearsal continued, the musicians frequently paused for critiques, repairs, and inventory exchanges when players encountered intonation problems or uneven tone across an instrument’s range, or if the timbre of one horn was too piercing. Seeming to aim for a homogeneous, mellow, and almost muted sound quality, the band spent the first half hour of their rehearsal adjusting the balance and timbre of the ensemble, and appeared most satisfied when they produced an organ-like sound.

They devoted the remainder of their practice time to selecting and rehearsing the repertoire that they would perform later that afternoon in a public open-air concert, reminiscent of Victorian-era gazebo concerts, in front of the concert hall. The musicians agreed that their repertoire should have a southern theme since they were performing for a southern audience, but their opinions diverged as to what criteria constituted southern music. When the lead cornettist suggested that they play an arrangement of Marching through Georgia because it had a southern state in the title, another member declared it to be inappropriate because it was a Union army favorite, but this was quickly rebutted. “But they [the audience] won’t know it. They will see the title but won’t know the tune,” the lead cornettist added; “when they hear it, they’ll love it, and it will be[come] southern.”15

The series of decisions made by the Cornet Conspiracy during this rehearsal reveals an acute awareness and attention to the active construction of heritage that is at the core of Civil War brass revivals. With each instrument selection, critique of each other’s technique, and debate over repertoire, these collectors shaped a “Civil War” music heritage that they, as cultural authorities, presented to a public audience as “authentic” representation of that tradition. The production of “heritage” by Civil War brass band revivals promotes a culture of nostalgia and escapism that promises a beneficial and usable past (Cullen 1995). I posit that it is not the things that they collect but the indexed meanings that are associated with these musical artifacts that are the crux of this revival.16 These musicians contribute to larger conversations about the meaning of Civil War music, and more generally, of the war. Members of this ensemble believe that nineteenth-century brass music represents a burgeoning national music ethos that was characterized by a blend of European and American popular and art music traditions. Some claim that their interpretation of this music tradition revitalizes the memory and sounds of the common men who participated in this war.17 The series of instrument, timbre, and repertoire choices made by the Cornet Conspiracy suggests that Civil War memory can be stabilized through music, which is why the sound quality by the Conspiracy band was of vital importance.

While observing their 2012 annual rehearsal, I sat in the concert hall with a senior bandsman who shared with me his insight about Civil War music.18 He told me that it is not the composition, but the instrumentation that matters. Although he believed that repertoire should correlate to the time period and function of the brass instrument during the war era, it was not important if the audience recognized the melody. What was critical was that individual timbres and ensemble blend be historically accurate, because these sounds aid his imagination process and help him crystallize memories about American history. What mattered was that the ensemble somehow “sounded” like a Civil War–era ensemble, however this is supposed to sound. Many of the musicians with whom I spoke are conscious and attentive to how their preservation and re-presentation of Civil War music directly influences contemporary perceptions of American history. One collector explained, “music is the best way to create the atmosphere in which a modern audience can start relating to these people that breathed and loved, and had wives and girlfriends, and somehow you start relating to that. Music is the most powerful way to take an audience back to really thinking about these people, and you admire them.”19 To these collectors, music confirms a truth about the past that is not obtainable through history books, and this suggests that music can register unspeakable aspects of the past.

Reconstructing Civil War brass music is an active and physical experience. If, as Diana Taylor proposes, heritage should be considered an embodied practice and the bodily transfer of knowledge, then music becomes heritage through performative acts of collecting, restoring, sharing, and listening (Taylor 2003; see also Rojek and Urry 1997; Smith, 2006). The practices of brass revivalists may be interpreted as transforming commodities into living objects with which practitioners can interact, controlling them through touch, movement, vibrations, and breath. Collectors have described their performances as breathing life back into the metal and when accomplished as an ensemble, the blending of instrumental timbres creates a sonic cohesion that enhances a sense of group homogeneity.20 The brass collectors described in this chapter value and try to replicate what they call a “sweet” or “warm” sound that they imagine characterized the brass soundscape of mid-nineteenth-century America.21 Said one collector, “These instruments have such a sweet, melancholy sound that carries well outdoors. The keyed bugle is so good at producing a smooth, legato sound. The most comparable modern brass instrument would have to be the flugelhorn…. I know that when I play different pitches from different parts of the horn, it sounds really different in my head. The difference comes from the cutting holes into the metal, so it feels different when the sound is coming out of here [points to a hole in the horn near the mouthpiece] than when the sound is coming out of here [points to the bell].”22 This aesthetic informs the criteria with which they judge the authenticity of their music and that of others, and this is why the exhibition and critique of instruments during the Cornet Conspiracy rehearsal was significant. The obsession with authenticity makes collecting an ongoing heritage test, and those who pass the scrutiny of other aficionados can become influential cultural authorities.23

Revival: A Historicization

The conspiracy band examined here represents a larger impulse to return Civil War sonic heritage to its “rightful owners.” Briefly historicizing this movement will help clarify the political and discursive function of brass revival bands. Long and didactic relationships between Civil War hobbyists and American educational, military, park, and media systems have been instrumental in facilitating and legitimizing this revival. Financial resources and access to archives and performance spaces by employees from these institutions paved the way for other people to participate in Civil War music. One of the first Americans to organize a Civil War reenactment band was Fred Benkovic, who began collecting instruments while serving in World War II, as did Arne B. Larson, a band director whose collection became one of the founding inventories for the National Music Museum.24 Robert Eliason, a former curator of the Henry Ford Museum Musical Instrument Collection and notable brass historian, collected and performed with the Yankee Brass Band, and this type of public administrator–private collector identity continues to be common among Civil War instrument collectors.25 The most celebrated Civil War brass music collector is Mark Elrod, a former bugler and historian with the US Army’s Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps and “The President’s Own” Marine Band, who teamed with Robert Garofalo, Catholic University of America professor/conductor emeritus, to author a two-volume pictorial history of Civil War–era instruments and formed the Heritage Americana Band.26 As these examples suggest, leaders of the brass heritage revival have often had professional ties to military, educational, and cultural memory (museums) institutions, and their heritage hobby seems to be a natural extension of their professions.27 Through enactments of cultural heritage, these notable participants began to create communities of like-minded people who shared their passion for history and music.28 Although it is unclear when the Civil War brass revival originated, it increased markedly in vigor during the 1961–1965 centennial celebrations—a historical milestone that compelled people to revisit and renegotiate the war’s contested legacies.29 At this time, interpretations of the war began to be frequently revitalized through activities known as “re-enactments,” a selective, scripted performance, a mode of interpretive representation that is similar in content and performance style to “living history.”30 Civil War re-enacting, as it developed in the 1960s and continues to the present, is a recreational activity most commonly consisting of men in mid-nineteenth-century military dress with replica firearms partaking in role-playing activities. In this context, the closer a re-enactment brings the actor to an affectively true experience, the more successful or authentic the performance.

When the US Civil War Centennial Commission promoted reconciliationist commemorations that celebrated military heroism at the expense of emancipationist histories to avoid fueling regional and racial tensions during the civil rights movement, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Cold War, the arts were elevated as a strategic means of celebrating the war while deflecting analysis of its unresolved social problems. As David Blight maintains, where the memory of the Civil War was concerned, Americans “preferred its music and pathos to its enduring challenges” (Blight 2001, 4; Cook 2007, 34–41). The social insecurity that coincided with the centennial may have signaled a promising future for minorities, but it seemed to the dominant class to signify a world spinning out of control. Rapid cultural change continued in the latter half of the 1960s and into the following decade as the second wave of feminism, the counterculture movement, and antiwar protests threatened patriarchal governance. This correlates with Michael Kammen’s assessment that nostalgia becomes more prominent when a community is experiencing cultural anxiety, transition, and a sense of discontinuity with its past, and that “all three of those tendencies became apparent in the sixties and then were manifest during the seventies” (1991, 618).31

Reenactments continued after the zenith of the centennial, and as government funding for these activities waned, the privatization of events greatly influenced the development of regional differences in how Civil War reenactments were organized, received, and performed. A large number of participants became extremely devoted to the hobby for various reasons relating to individual and group identity, nationalism, escapism, nostalgia, and profit. For many working- and middle-class white suburban men, the Civil War offered a retreat to a past era when demonstrations of patriarchal power were evident in nearly all forms of public life and could even be heard in the music of brass bands. A burst of collecting, performing, and recording this music during the 1960s laid the groundwork for the movement to restore Civil War sonic heritage in the following decades.32

A period of heightened heritage discourse developed during the 1970s and 1980s, while racial, ethnic, and religious diasporic groups developed strategies to defend their distinctive cultural identities in public. Demands for civil rights and refusals to assimilate into the dominant culture by black, Native American, and Chicano nationalists deconstructed the myth of a cohesive American identity and ushered in an era of multiculturalism (Kammen 1991, 620). In recognition of the era’s great innovations in social history, museums adopted heritage enactment as a strategy to resist unproblematized representations of linear social progress that focused almost exclusively on narratives constructed around the accomplishments of powerful white men. American heritage and living history museums featuring costumed enactment to supplement or replace more traditional exhibits and collections boomed during the 1970s and 1980s. These museum activities bore similarities to reenactment hobbies in that both presumed it was possible to resurrect the past through performance (Magelssen 2007, xxi). Museum curators and social historians alike strove to balance status quo narratives with ones that replaced white men with minorities, women, children, and people from lower socioeconomic classes, and which would engage tourists with themes of social conflict and social cycles (Magelssen 2007, 21). This and other movements to reinsert the lived experiences of women and minorities into the retelling of American history coincided with an increase in minority museums, archives, and heritage groups. Demands for community recognition, self-definition, and equal opportunities led to the repatriation of land, material objects, and public displays of minority arts.33

These efforts were interpreted by many white Americans as threatening the existing social order, and legislative resistance and the development of reactive political strategies were two responses the dominant culture used to counteract minority power movements. There was a return to traditionalist expressions of patriotism in the rhetoric of conservative politicians, and minority nationalist efforts were confronted by lobbyists and legislators whose fears of white power erosion influenced new monolinguistic and anti-immigrant legislation (Kammen 1991, 638). As some white Americans appropriated the rhetoric and display of “heritage” as a tool to reaffirm their racial and patriarchal dominance, white heritage organizations exhibited newfound confidence about publicly celebrating their lineage (Kammen 1991, 644). By framing themselves as an endangered community under threat by women and minorities, many white men began to reclaim their historically bestowed power by reconstructing American nationalist narratives in their image. Not coincidentally, a renewed interest in Civil War history during this time allowed many people to channel anxieties about cataclysmic social upheaval into reclaiming and reshaping historical legacies. This past became a source of agency for contemporary Americans because the manipulation of historical memory seemed to offer a way to silence minority voices. The 1980s saw renewed interest in reenacting among middle-class, suburban white men, and this fed into the establishment of a significant share of America’s Civil War revival bands. This renewal continued through the 1990s and intensified into the twenty-first century, as eBay and other forms of digital commerce greatly aided revivalist passions to collect, restore, and trade artifacts, recruit re-enactor-musicians, and disseminate information about Civil War brass music.

Return: What Was Lost?

Here I circle back to examine the types of meaning that can be generated by the return of Civil War brass music. If heritage is not a product but a meaningful process, then I argue that this brass revival attempts to reclaim two particular heritage traits: race and gender. Evidence that the American brass band functions as a signifier of white male heritage is reflected in the visual and audible performance of this music by revivalists. One way this community reconstitutes its sonic heritage is through returning individual instruments with traceable histories to other collected instruments from the same regiment. Reuniting and reusing these instruments in revival bands, according to participants, salvages their sonic possibilities. Civil War brass enthusiasts are drawn to a blend of technical proficiency, military order, and expressive sentimentality that conjures a sensitive soldier-musician archetype with which they may empathize or identify. Preservation and performance of sonic artifacts and, by extension, a soldier-musician archetype by brass band revivalists, thus becomes a form of collective remembering. One member of the Cornet Conspiracy described this process as follows, “You know, I heard this story on NPR about a descendant of those who were in the Holocaust, who plays music on their instruments, and I guess it’s kind of similar to that. It gives you empathy for the owner. It’s the closest I will get to time traveling. It establishes for me almost a spiritual connection with those who played 200 years ago. That’s really why I continue to play.”34

Significantly, however, this type of memory facilitates deep and powerful ownership of the past while bypassing less desirable aspects of nineteenth-century life such as slavery and war violence. Their efforts are in earnest. The ideologies perpetuated by this form of political activism are too deeply embedded in the heritage production process for most practitioners to recognize.35 But it is precisely this absence of reflection about the causes and enduring consequences of the Civil War conflict that makes the continuation of this hobby a highly political practice.

What has been “stolen” from the brass band revivalists is not a set of historical instruments but a form of imagined manhood, referred to briefly earlier in the chapter, that may be described as the “citizen-soldier,” or what Michael Kimmel terms the “heroic artisan,” which is mythologized by the “cult of the fallen soldier.”36 This mythical man is rational, honorable, and exists in a world of other men who judge each other on the basis of bravery, honor, and skill. According to Kimmel, “he is free in a free country, embodying republican virtue and autonomy. And he is white” (1996, 151). This form of masculinity encapsulates a memory of the mid-nineteenth century that disentangles historical actors from the causes and consequences of the war. Furthermore, it reconciles northern and southern military histories by focusing on the shared aspects of white American manhood.37

Brass bands that function within this discursive framework are exclusive music fraternities that facilitate male bonding and reinforce social privilege by providing space for white men to reaffirm the masculinity of one another and their ancestors.38 This space hearkens back to the nineteenth-century gendered separation of public and private spheres, by excluding the full participation of women.

Ultimately, Civil War brass music revivals work as a strategy to retrieve lost identities and diminished social entitlements. When during my fieldwork I found myself surrounded by uniformed collector-musicians at a coffee shop in downtown Frankfurt, Kentucky, I asked a bandsman why he dons a wool suit and carries a dented horn. He turned to me softly, brushed the hairs of a thick gray mustache away from his lips, and explained in so many words that because schools no longer teach the war as they did, we are losing his past.39 Our coffee shop chat burned in my mind as one of the fleeting moments when a bandsman deviated from his instrument fact script and engaged deeper questions about the stakes of brass collecting. In other instances Civil War re-enactors explained their craft to me as a response to social phenomena including the safety, isolation, and commercialization of ever-expanding American suburbia; the loss of power at home and in the workplace; the perceived threat of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-English-speaking immigrants to Christian family values; the disregard of our nation’s founding fathers by the nation’s youth; and what they identify in a variety of ways as the feminization of American culture. What has been lost to these men is not necessarily a musical heritage, but their sense of masculinity, a racialized form of gender that they can see and hear in Civil War brass music. Collecting and performing Civil War music creates a site of negotiation across racial and gender social axes to audibly remasculinize themselves, what Kimmel has described in other similar cases as the impulse to “return to the scene of defeat and retrieve lost manhood” (1996, 311). Even Richard Crawford’s descriptions of the Civil War brass musician point to this extramusical value: “Indeed, the image of musicians in paramilitary garb signals that artistry is not the only impulse they serve, perhaps not even the primary one” (2001, 272). We may, therefore, consider the celebration of male privilege as part of the aesthetic achievement and appeal of this music tradition.

It may seem as though this revival is no different from men’s lodges or wilderness retreats, but what differentiates these revivals is that the repatriation of sonic heritage is a public statement made by a group to promote their vision of the past and to influence the production of a national consciousness. Thus, sonic heritage becomes a resource to support a type of exclusionary citizenship. As David Glassberg notes, certain elements of the past must be remembered while others are forgotten in order to create group cohesion, and therefore all communities are formed at the expense of other groups (Glassberg 1996, 13). Practitioners of brass band heritage celebrate the sounds of the white American Civil War experience while insisting that their rituals have nothing to do with women or people of color. The logic here is that if the rituals in question do not explicitly engage with these issues, then the tradition must only be about music. Thus, the enactment of a perceived sonic heritage becomes cloaked in the politics of its ideology, rendering participants unlikely to interpret their actions as having any political motivation or consequence.

That the “heroic artisan” is imagined to be a white man is important because it reaffirms his primacy in American history narratives. The militant yet unarmed brass musician in military garb becomes emblematic of the “everyman,” and his imagined white identity is crucial because if the actors, achievements, and sacrifices associated with this war are remembered as white, then the universal white male emerges as the founding father of the modern nation that is understood to be born from this conflict. Implicit to this heritage crafting is a racial discourse in which whiteness in the United States is affirmed as homogeneous and stable.

Civil War hobbyists facilitate male bonding and legitimize benchmarks for American citizenship entitlements by relying on a contemporary Caucasian framework. Bonding among bandsmen depends on an unspoken understanding of whiteness as biologically visible and indicative of European descent. Despite a rhetoric of authenticity that permeates their sport, Civil War re-enactors do not observe the nineteenth-century “variegated” racial hierarchy that regulated unprecedented numbers of immigrants from European nations (including Ireland, Scotland, and Italy) by marking them in stark contrast to Anglo-Saxon Protestants.40 What during the US Civil War were perceived to be distinctly lesser nonwhite races in the Anglo-Saxon model of whiteness became twentieth-century white ethnicities under the Caucasian paradigm. Americanizing Europeans into a single race during the twentieth-century operated as a citizenship project that historian Matthew Frye Jacobson (1999) describes as a realignment of privilege along the black/white color line during Jim Crow.

The Caucasian model affords white people the privilege to selectively and temporarily position themselves as ethnically exceptional (with-heritage), while retaining the privileges of whiteness that distance them from those who are overdetermined by their (nonwhite) ethnic identity. Caucasian-ism was, and remains, a powerful rhetorical device to build coalitions and claim entitlements through whiteness. This locates the criteria for full American citizenship within a framework of lineage that selectively includes massive migrations of European peoples who are today easily interpreted within the United States as part of the white racial category, yet excludes African, Latino, Asian, and other immigrant groups. The application of such a model to US Civil War memory almost entirely erases the memory of Indigenous American and African American peoples who did not have as much primacy in the war as citizen-soldiers. Paul Shackel contends that patriotic and heritage commemorations are a method to control the past by returning the ideals of cultural leaders and authorities to develop social unity and maintain social inequalities in society (Shackel 2003, 659). When viewed according to Shackel’s model, the repatriation of Civil War sonic heritage is really about mediating contemporary relationships between racial, ethnic, and gender groups in the United States.

These actions raise questions about the relationship between sonic heritage and social empowerment. If social power can be harnessed by sounding authority, then music collecting is not only competition for material goods but competition for social prominence. David Lowenthal writes:

The past is everywhere a battleground of rival attachments. In discovering, correcting, elaborating, inventing, and celebrating their histories, competing groups struggle to validate present goals by appealing to continuity with, or inheritance from, ancestral and other precursors. The politics of the past is no trivial academic game; it is an integral part of every people’s earnest search of a heritage essential to autonomy and identity.

(Lowenthal 1994, 302)

In contemporary performances of Civil War music, we can hear a competition to control the official national narrative, to police the boundaries of national citizenship, to privilege limited interpretations of the past.

Repatriation: New Application

In this chapter, I have argued that musical repatriation can be understood not only as a return of dispossessed objects to subjugated communities but also as a discursive strategy to control representations of past and present identities. Although I recognize the possible danger of applying the term “repatriation” too broadly, I also see the value in using the concept of repatriation as a model for critically examining the complexities of heritage construction. I wish to allow for the possibility that repatriation models can be appropriated by powerful social groups. In this case, Civil War–era brass instruments are treated as fragments of the past to be gathered and strung together by revivalists to restore what they interpret to be an endangered historical truth. The displacement and subsequent return of heritage described in this chapter are not of one nation-state taking from another, but instead, the tracing of a white American musical lineage that testifies for the existence of a unique “Civil War” sonic heritage. Invoking past sounds through music relics is significant because it implies ownership of the past, which in this instance involves the privilege of constructing a sonic nationhood, and the entitlement to control social inclusion or exclusion from that representation. As is often the case with musical heritage, here the dominant social group constructs a hegemonic vision of nationhood that legitimizes the continued prosperity of people who occupy privileged social positions. To own implies mastery over something, which is evident in every stage of their music research, purchase, restoration, practice, critique, and public presentation. I argue that the repatriation of Civil War brass band music provides fertile ground for examining the cultural politics of sonic heritage. Trafficking in the return of musical objects and sounds associated with discrete historical events and eras exerts physical and intellectual ownership over the musical past. By studying the resulting representations and justifications for selectively preserving tangible and intangible sonic heritage, we can better understand the values that individuals and communities assign to history, a process robust enough to determine which pasts are remembered or forgotten.


Anderson, Jay. 1984. Time Machines: The World of Living History. Nashville, TN: American Association for State and Local History.Find this resource:

Averill, Gage. 2010. Four Parts, No Waiting: A Social History of American Barbershop Quartet. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Blight, David. 2001. Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Find this resource:

Borowicz, Jon T. 1990. “The Mid-Nineteenth Century Brass Band—A Rebirth.” Historic Brass Journal 2: 123–131.Find this resource:

Cook, Robert. 2007. Troubled Commemoration: The American Civil War Centennial, 1961–1965. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.Find this resource:

Crawford, Richard. 2001. America’s Musical Life: A History. New York: Norton.Find this resource:

Cullen, Jim. 1995. The Civil War in Popular Culture: A Reusable Past. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.Find this resource:

DeCarlis, N. n.d. “Pocket Cornets and Me.” Pocket Cornets: The World’s Largest Virtual Museum of the Smallest Cornets and Trumpets Ever Made! (accessed December 12, 2013).Find this resource:

Dudgeon, Ralph. 1993. The Keyed Bugle. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.Find this resource:

Druesedow, John. 2003. “Music of the Civil War Era: A Discography.” Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association 60: 240–254.Find this resource:

eBay inc. 2005. “Moving Stories about the Power of All of Us.” The Chatter: The eBay Community Newsletter. January 2005. (accessed December 16, 2013).Find this resource:

Elrod, Mark, and Robert Garofalo. 1985. A Pictorial History of Civil War Era Musical Instruments and Military Bands. Charleston, WV: Pictorial Histories Publications.Find this resource:

Faust, William Hull. n.d. The Musical Instrument Collection of William Hull Faust. (accessed December 16, 2013).

Fennell, Frederick, and Martin Gabel. 1961. The Civil War: Its Music and Its Sounds. Mercury. LP.Find this resource:

Glassberg, David. 1996. Sense of History: The Place of the Past in American Life. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.Find this resource:

Hamburger, Susan. 1996. “Musical and Narrative Recordings.” In The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research, edited by Steven Woodworth, 620–658. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.Find this resource:

Herbert, Trevor, and John Wallace. 1997. The Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

Historic Brass Society. 2009. “Fred Benkovic (1924–2009).” Obituary. (accessed November 24, 2013).

Holyfield, Lori, and Clifford Beacham. 2011. “Memory Brokers, Shameful Pasts and Civil War Commemoration.” Journal of Black Studies 42 (3): 436–456.Find this resource:

Horwitz, Tony. 1998. Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War. New York: Pantheon Books.Find this resource:

Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Kammen, Michael. 1991. Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture. New York: Knopf.Find this resource:

Kimmel, Michael. 1996. Manhood in America: A Cultural History. New York: Free Press.Find this resource:

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. 1998. Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage. Berkeley: University of California Press.Find this resource:

Lewis, Joseph. 2015. “The Development of Civil War Brass Band Instruments into Modern-Day Brass Band Instruments with a Related Teaching Unit for a High School General Music Course.” Masters thesis, Bowling Green State University.Find this resource:

Livingston, Tamara. 1999. “Music Revivals: Towards a General Theory” Ethnomusicology 43 (1): 66–85.Find this resource:

Lowenthal, David. 1994. “Conclusion: Archaeologists and Others” in The Politics of the Past, edited by Peter Gathercole and David Lowenthal, 302–314. New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Magelssen, Scott. 2007. Living History Museums: Undoing History through Performance. Toronto: Scarecrow Press.Find this resource:

McWhirter, Christian. 2012. Battle Hymns: The Power and Popularity of Music in the Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.Find this resource:

National Music Museum. n.d. “The Arne B. Larson Collection.” (accessed October 12, 2013).

Nussbaum, Jeff. 2009. “Pocket Cornets by Nick DeCarlis.” Review. Historic Brass Society. (accessed December 12, 2013).Find this resource:

Rojek, Chris, and John Urry. 1997. Touring Cultures: Transformations of Travel and Theory. New York: Routledge.Find this resource:

Savage, Kirk. 1997. Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Find this resource:

Shackel, Paul. 2003. Memory in Black and White: Race, Commemoration, and the Post-Bellum Landscape. Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira Press.Find this resource:

Smith, Laurajane. 2006. Uses of Heritage. London: Routledge.Find this resource:

Taylor, Diana. 2003. The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Durham: Duke University Press.Find this resource:

Turino, Thomas. 2008. Music as Social Life: The Politics of Participation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Find this resource:

Turner, Rory. 1990. “Bloodless Battles: The Civil War Reenacted.” TDR 34 (4): 123–136.Find this resource:


(1) Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (1998, 149); Livingston (1999, 68). Kirshenblatt-Gimblett writes: “despite a discourse of conservation, preservation, restoration, reclamation, recovery, re-creation, recuperation, revitalization, and regeneration, heritage produces something new in the present that has recourse to the past.”

(2) Although contextual identifiers resulting from the localities of my data collection remain, to reduce the risk of deductive disclosure, my key informants are identified in this chapter by pseudonyms. Prominent leaders (past and present) of music revivals may be identified by name.

(3) They use the term “conspiracy band,” to describe a loose community of rival music collectors. While this term may describe numerous bands of collectors, the particular group of collectors uses the term “Cornet Conspiracy” to distinguish themselves from similar clubs. eBay inc (2005); Nussbaum (2009); Faust (n.d.).

(5) Josh, interview with author, April 19, 2012, Athens, Georgia.

(6) Cornet Conspiracy Brass Band, group interview with author, April 20, 2012, Athens, Georgia.

(7) Don, interview with the author, April 20, 2012, Athens, Georgia. There is a symbiotic relationship and money flow within the ensemble among bidders, buyers, and repairmen. Don explained,

They all collect instruments but specialize in different things. Several members make a living restoring and repairing instruments. That one [man] created the group. They didn’t like each other at first until he brought them together. They’re from all over the country. That one is an attorney. Some are professional musicians. They really play. Not just this stuff, they play other music too. That one is a jazz player. That one went to Eastman. Several guys in the group make a living repairing these things, because they don’t look like that when they first buy them.

(8) Josh, interview with author, April 19, 2012.

(9) During our group interview, the most pressing concern from members of the conspiracy band was to learn how many instruments each man owned. At one point during our interview, one of the collectors interrupted my questions to start a tally. “I want to know, down the line, how many horns each of us own…. There are more instruments between us than any museum has, that I know of. There must be 2,000 some instruments between us.” Collector 1: 200, Collector 2: 30, Collector 3: 90, Collector 4: 100, Collector 5: 200, Collector 6: 850, Collector 7: 160, Collector 8: 50–60, Collector 9: 275, Collector 10: 120, Collector 11: 20–30. Cornet Conspiracy Brass Band, group interview with author.

(10) The Cornet Conspiracy described here is but one of many Civil War music communities that perform or loan their collections to be performed. These ensembles often model the identity of their ensemble after a documented nineteenth-century ensemble, which is usually referenced by the name of the revival band and the adornment of regimental uniform costumes. There is much overlap in the rosters of these clubs, as most members of the conspiracy band described in this paper are also active members of other Civil War brass revival bands.

(11) Nineteenth-century brass instruments possessed different valve combinations, tubing lengths, mouthpiece designs, and bore sizes than standard contemporary Western brass instruments. Differences in instrument design and production are compounded with a natural softening of the metal and a history of dents and repairs that impact the timbre of each instrument.

(12) Cornet Conspiracy Brass Band, group interview with author; DeCarlis (n.d.). “Sniped” is one of many militaristic terms these collectors use when describing their hobby. “Sniping” is a colloquial term used by online auction users and researchers to describe a form of late-bidding behavior where the agent submits a bid at the last possible moment during a fixed closing time auction. Of interest to longstanding collectors of similar objects is the anonymity of snipers among other bidders. Increased frequency of sniping is attributable, in part, to companies such as Esnipe, which places last-minute bids for customers. See Axel Ockenfels and Alvin Roth, “Last-Minute Bidding and the Rules for Ending Second-Price Auctions: Evidence from eBay and Amazon Auctions on the Internet,” American Economic Review 92 (September 2002): 1093–1103.

(13) Although the William Tell Overture is a nineteenth-century opera overture by Gioachino Rossini and not purposefully composed for Civil War brass bands, wind ensembles from this era frequently performed arrangements from symphonies and operas. However, this overture’s American association with The Lone Ranger and other pop culture references may explain its popularity and frequent performance by revival bands.

(14) The University of Georgia Symposium on American Band History, open rehearsal with Cornet Conspiracy Brass Band, April 20, 2012, Athens, GA.

(15) The University of Georgia Symposium on American Band History, open rehearsal with Cornet Conspiracy Brass Band, April 20, 2012, Athens, GA.

(16) See Smith (2006, 11). She goes on to argue that heritage is the construction and performance of a hegemonic discourse that regulates cultural practices.

(17) Cornet Conspiracy Brass Band, group interview with author.

(18) Don, interview with the author.

(19) Bob, phone interview with the author, January 25, 2012.

(20) Josh specifically commented on this, stating that this music tradition “is not dead” because “there are a number of skill payers who keep it alive.” Josh, interview with the author, April 20, 2012, Athens, Georgia; Lewis (2015).

(21) Cornet Conspiracy Brass Band, group interview with author. The language that brass collectors use to describe their sound is very similar to the nostalgic rhetoric that Gage Averill (2010) found in his study of barbershop quartets.

(22) Josh, interview with the author, April 20, 2012.

(23) Holyfield and Beacham (2011) call this type of cultural authority a “memory broker.”

(24) Dudgeon (1993, 118); Historic Brass Society (2009); National Music Museum (n.d.). Benkovic founded The First Brigade Band in 1964, often cited as the first regularly performing Civil War brass revival band.

(26) For a biographical interview transcript of Elrod’s collection and career, see Lewis (2015); see also Elrod and Garofalo (1985), Borowicz (1990, 126), and Dudgeon (1993, 118). Some of the musicians whom I met have played Elrod’s instruments, and occasionally described Elrod as a role model.

(27) This certainly is not an exhaustive list. Dozens of ensembles and collections have revived interest in US brass heritage. These hobbyists commonly volunteer and perform at museums, parks, and schools. They also create and distribute sound recordings and lend their collections to archives for public display.

(28) There were extramusical benefits to these clubs. Bringing together men so similar in interest and status in individual revival bands and at reenactments and festivals has become a form of professional networking. Professional resources, such as access to archives, performance spaces, gigs, equipment, and publicity, helps popularize and legitimize the hobby and its participants. Therefore, the status one accumulates within this community of music collectors can extend well beyond the brass world.

(29) Crawford (2001, 272–293); McWhirter (2012, 7–32). Music was intricately tied to the processes of representing the Civil War from its very outbreak. The mid-nineteenth-century brass band carried with it a music of European descent and presented progressive stories about speedy changes in instrument designs, amateur music collectives, masculine heroism and competition, and audible homogeneity that appealed primarily to white Americans who envisioned themselves as models of democracy during a period of rapid and uncertain social change. Similar to the reception of brass bands during the nineteenth century, the performance of American patriotic songs and western European themes on European derived instruments by contemporary musicians dressed in Western military garb suggests that the American identity is undeniably rooted in a shared western European heritage.

(30) Re-enactment is one mode of living history performance that Jay Anderson defines as the reasoned attempt to simulate life in another time. See Anderson (1984); Turner (1990, 123).

(31) Kammen describes this period in American history as the “heritage syndrome.”

(32) Druesedow (2003, 240–254); Hamburger (1996, 620–650). Many contemporary collectors cite books and recordings from the centennial as their inspiration to join this heritage movement, the most important recording being Fennell and Gabel (1961), a double album of brass music performed on period instruments with added sound effects and narration.

(33) It is important to note that these events took place during the same time that America’s post–World War II class system hardened and the country’s national economy began to shift toward a global market, and that white anxieties were complex and often displaced in reaction to minority power movements.

(34) Josh, interview with author, April 19, 2012.

(35) Identifiers that I shared with my informants (including my whiteness, class, nationality, musician-identity, and interest in Civil War historical memory) may have helped facilitate conversations with collectors, musicians, audiences, and nonmusician re-enactors. Most of the musicians I met were incredibly articulate in their descriptions of Civil War music, but even my most knowledgeable informants seemed unsettled by questions about diversity. When confronted with uncomfortable questions, bandsmen generally redirected the conversation to their instruments.

(36) For discussions of “the cult of the fallen soldier,” see Kimmel (1996, 16); Savage (1997, 167); Blight (2001, 38).

(37) It would be understandable to assume that the deep North/South regional divisions from which Civil War armies were organized would remain a hotly contested element in the Civil War commemoration and re-enactment, but this is not usually the case among white participants. David Blight (2001) identifies three camps of Civil War remembrance; the “emancipationist” vision, in which we conceptualize the war as a struggle over the future of race relations in the United States; the “reconciliationist” vision, in which collective forgetting of racial questions allowed Northern and Southern whites to mourn each other’s losses and bond through their shared sense of whiteness; and the “white supremacist” vision of confederate redemption from which Lost Cause mythology blossomed. A primary determinant of which camp one’s memory falls into is not determined by ancestral or geographic positioning, but by a conscious decision to either heal the regional divisions between the white North and South, or justice for people of color. It should be noted that the ideology articulated by the majority of collectors, bandsmen, and audiences whom I encountered aligned with Blight’s reconciliationist vision. Their glorification of a common military experience, laced with themes of courage, pain, and dedication to a cause (whatever it may be) overshadowed deeper examinations of class conflicts and race relations in the United States. Their emphasis on the common noncombative experience of bandsmen is also in keeping with reconciliationist ideology. Memory scholars frequently note that white male Civil War hobbyists tend to be attracted to the rebel character and material scarcity of the confederacy, and often alternate in their collection and performance of Northern/Southern military culture. (See Turner 1990; Horwitz 1998; Blight 2001.) The professional class of these collectors explains a slight, but not divisive, tension between the reserved presentation of Civil War brass music revivalists and some of the more rambunctious military battle re-enactors, who are more numerous and diverse in socioeconomic identity. In my experience with brass collectors, concerns about instrument makers and collection completeness take precedence over regional concerns; however, an instrument is generally interpreted to have added value if it can be attributed to a particular regiment or musician.

(38) Kimmel (1996, 291–328). According to Kimmel, these types of masculine hobbies “celebrate cultures with elaborate rituals for men, all the while protesting that such rituals have nothing to do with women. Since the rituals exclude women, they must only be ‘about’ men and manhood” (319).

(39) Ron, interview with author, September 1, 2011, Frankfurt, Kentucky.

(40) For more about nineteenth-century American racial categories and the history of how this hierarchy morphed in the public consciousness, see Jacobson 1999. Jacobson argues that three systems that determined whiteness over time in the United States are capitalism, republicanism, and citizenship. He writes, “to trace the process by which Celts of Slavs became Caucasians is to recognize race as an ideological, political deployment rather than as a neutral, biological determined element of nature” (14).