Sunday, February 14, 2010

Historical Perspective: Joan A. Lamb’s Contribution as a World War II Musician and Educator

 History is only as accurate as it is portrayed.  What historical knowledge scholars, educators, and the general public acquire is essentially based on a reservoir of facts and interpretations that have been arranged in chronological order by past historians.  Unfortunately, this string of events that we call “history” has some major gaps that have not been filled until recently.  Specifically, these gaps relate to women’s roles in music history and music education.  To fill these gaps is an arduous task, but to allow them to remain present is an inaccurate representation of history itself.  In efforts to bridge the gaps in musical history, a closer look will be given to Joan A. Lamb and her contributions to women’s military bands, which developed as the United States became more deeply involved in World War II.

After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the United States declared war on Japan; likewise, Hitler declared was on the United States.  With President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s issuance of a military draft in 1942 men left their homes and jobs to fight.  The draft sparked the change in women’s roles in society, for six million women entered the work force during WWII.  In 1943, President Roosevelt signed legislation that established a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), which was later changed to Women’s Army Corps.  Soon after, other military branches established similar women’s branches such as the Navy WAVES, Coast Guard SPARS, and the Marines MCWR.  By the end of the war, nearly 400,000 women had enlisted.  After completing boot camp, these women would choose from a variety of different jobs available to them; one of these jobs was to play in an all-female-military-band. 

One such female military musician was Joan A. Lamb.  Born in 1918 to musical parents in Ohio, Lamb began her musical training early.  She first played the trumpet and later took on the cello and oboe.  Lamb attended Baldwin Wallace College in Berea, Ohio where she majored in music education as an instrumentalist.  In 1940, Lamb began teaching music in a rural school in Cooperdale, Ohio.  She held two other teaching positions, but found them disappointing due to the lack of instruments.  After her fiancĂ©e was drafted into the war, Lamb decided to research military opportunities for women.  In 1942, Lamb joined the WAAC (later called the WAC) as a band member.  The role of the WAC band was to boost the morale of the troops and to perform martial duties.  In 1943, Lamb was ordered to attend the Army Music School in Fort Myer, Virginia where she would be trained to lead a band.  In 1943, Lamb was ordered to Fort Des Moines in Iowa to direct the 400th WAC all-women’s band.  She also took on the assignment to start an all-women’s African American band—the first of its kind.

Lamb’s band went on a tour through the U.S. and Canada to raise money to support the war.  This was exciting for Lamb and her band, for they often collaborated with famous musicians, movie stars, civic leaders, sports figures, and war heroes.  They performed largely at bond rallies, which encouraged people to buy bonds.  Lamb’s band also performed at hospitals for wounded soldiers.  Lamb recalls in her interviews with Jill Sullivan:

    When it was time for the concert to begin, they started bringing in people not only in wheel chairs, but also on litters….It was a grisly sight and of course all of uswere terribly shocked.  And some of the girls didn’t react well, so first thing you know, here were a bunch of girls crying.  I managed to get them all together to play our concert.  When we finished a number there was practically no applause.They were all bandaged, but the nurses and doctors applauded.  We managed to do a fairly decent concert. (Lamb interview, 2003)

Other band members recollect playing on the Seattle Port of Embarkation pier all evening as the troops departed on their ship.  Lamb’s band was serenaded by a few thousand male voices singing “Goodnight Ladies” as they left.  When Lamb’s position with the 400th WAC band ended, she was one of two women who joined the Armed Forces Radio Orchestra in Hollywood, California.  The AFRO performed with stars such as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.  These performances, which occurred twice a week, were recorded and sent abroad for the troops to enjoy.

After the war, Lamb was recruited to join the Hormel Girls, which was a band for women who had played in WWII bands.  In 1948, she toured the country, performing in what would become a drum and bugle corps.  After touring with the Hormel Girls, Lamb returned to Los Angles, where she would begin a thirty-year career as a music educator and administrator.  Lamb was known for her work in including children with disabilities in her bands and orchestras; she later went back to school and wrote a thesis, which was inspired by these children.  Her work in music education would later be the driving force behind the field of music therapy.
 Joan A. Lamb’s contributions as a female musician and educator are countless.  Though her military and musical career are perhaps the most varied of any woman, she is just one of many women who made a difference in women’s roles in society.  The altered role of women in the military during WWII was part of a larger event that led to long-term changes in society for women such as military integration, passage of Title IX, and the first appointment of a woman as conductor of the U.S. Marine Band. 


Lamb, Joan A.  Interview with Jill M. Sullivan, 19 August 2003, Pahrump, Nevada.  Tape     recording and transcript. Gilbert, Arizona.

Sullivan, Jill M. “A History of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve Band.” Journal of     Band Research 42 (Fall 2006): 1-45.

_____________.  “One Ohio Music Educator’s Contribution to World War Ii: Joan A. Lamb.” Contributions to Music Education 33/2 (2006): 27-51.

_____________.  “Women’s Military Bands in a Segregated Army: The 400th and 404th     WAC Bands.” Journal of Band Research 41 (Spring 2006): 1-35.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Gladys Kirksmith, rediscovered

There is a certain sense of hopefulness that I bring with me every time I check my mailbox.  Maybe it's because I'm far from home and living by myself that I hope for that connection.  I find myself wondering, "Will that care package my mom mentioned arrive today? What's next on my Netflix list? Will my sister send me the pictures she promised?" Needless to say, I get pretty excited about mail (excluding the monthly electricity bill).  I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when the January issue of the ITA Journal, which was paired with a bank statement and credit card application, was waiting for me in the mail.  I must say that I was instantly intrigued by the cover.


One of the feature articles in January's issue was "Discovering Miss Gladys" by Marta Jean Hofacre.  Former trombonist, Hofacre currently works at the Virginia Historical Society (VHS). She haphazardly discovered this glass plate image, who she later learned was a Miss Gladys Kirksmith (c. 1895-1979).  With further research, Hofacre discovered that Gladys had many musical sisters.



Known as the "Dainty Half Dozen", these sisters played in a family orchestra. The parents of these women were origianlly from Ohio, but later moved the family to Iowa.  The musical family later became active in vaudeville and circuit chatauqua.  

Circuit chatauqua stemmed from 19th century lyceum series (started in NY), which strove to provide educational and cultural outreach services for adults, usually in remote Midwestern towns where such opportunities were rare.  According to John Tapia, who has done research on circuit chatauquas, the Kirksmith sisters created "...masterful music rendered without the aid of a man." 

I won't spoil the article for those of you who want to check it out for yourselves, but I really enjoyed discovering this Miss Gladys and her musical sisters.  The photographs of these ladies are quite stunning.  The particular photos I posted are courtesy of the VHS and were taken by Walter Washington Foster in 1915.  The fact that a woman had a professional career as a trombonist in 1915 is quite remarkable to me.  I would definitely like to delve further into this topic in the future!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Listening to Brass

I am going to take a quick break from focusing on the ladies in brass to provide an outline for today's listening class.  Visit the links for more information.  Enjoy!

1. Osteoblast, Derek Bourgeois

•    For 8 trombones
•    From New Trombone Collective’s CD New
•    Commissioned by New Trombone Collective
•    NTC website

2.  Brass Quintet No. 3 in D-flat Major, Viktor Ewald

            I. Allegro Moderato
            II. Intermezzo
            III. Andante
            IV. Vivo

•    From Center City Brass Quintet’s CD Romantic Music for Brass
•    Members of CCBQ: Anthony DiLorenzo, Geoffrey Hardcastle, Richard King, Steve Witser (recently deceased), and Craig Knox
•    CCBQ website
•    Ewald was born in St. Petersburg in 1860 (died in Leningrad in 1935)
•    Ewald was thought to be the first person to have written for brass quintet, but later research shows that that is not true.
•    Ewald’s compositions stress virtuosity, which was made possible by the progress made in brass instrument construction.

3.  Jesus Is Coming, Jacob ter Velduis

•    For trombone quartet and boombox (a.k.a. “ghettoblaster”)
•    From New Trombone Collective’s CD New
•    Jacob TV is a Dutch ‘avant pop’ composer who studied composition and electronic music at he Groningen Conservatory.
•    TV uses sound bytes from everyday life as well as other recordings in his music
•    Jesus Is Coming uses recorded bits from street evangelists in NYC
•    Jacbo TV's website

4. I’ll Fly Away, gospel hymn

•    From the Dirty Dozen Brass band’s CD  Funeral For A Friend
•    The DDB is a New Orleans, Louisiana style brass band with a hint of funk and bebop
•    Ensemble was established in 1977 by Benny Jones- they are still touring and recording today
•    Funeral for a Friend seeks to preserve the New Orleans style jazz funeral
•    The Davell Crawford Singers are featured on this track and album
•    DDB's website

5. Canzona for 8 Trombones, Walter Hartley

•    Video features Colin Williams, Bill Thomas, Mark McConnell, Bradley Palmer, Jim Cumisky, Tom Gibson, Jeff Koonce and George Curran 
•    Recorded live in Legacy Hall in Columbus, GA.
•    video link

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Abbie Conant: Behind the Screen


In 1980, Abbie Conant auditioned for the Munich Philharmonic behind a screen.  The orchestra voted for her appointment to the principal solo position, though the conductor, Celibidache, was opposed.  Celibidache ordered that she play a "probationary year", in which any complaints to her playing could be recorded. No complaints were recorded, but he did not award her any solos.

In 1982, Abbie was demoted to second trombone, which required a greater work load for less pay.  Celibidache provided no written criticism but simply stated, "You know the problem: we need a man for solo trombone." 

Abbie spent the next six years playing second trombone, but she did file a lawsuit to hopefully regain her solo position.  Her opposition stated that she did not have the necessary strength to lead the trombone section, and since the court would need actual proof of this, Abbie elected to take extensive medical, physical, and musical tests to prove her strength.

In 1984, the court ruled in her favor, but the city of Munich appealed.  The court then ordered that both sides must find a reputable source to evaluate Abbie's physical strength, endurance, and durability to play the most difficult passages according to the conductor's instructions for length, intensity, and loudness.  It took about three years to find a conductor to evaluate her (no one wanted this task for fear of being denied the opportunity to conduct the Munich Philharmonic)- Heinz Fadle.  In 1987, Fadle gave her this review:

"She is a wind player with an outstandingly well-trained embouchure, i.e., lip musculature, that enables her to produce controlled tone production in connection with a controlled breath flow, and which gives her the optimal use of her breath volume. Her breathing technique is very good and makes her playing, even in the most difficult passages, superior and easy. In this audition she showed sufficient physical strength, endurance, and breath volume, and above and beyond that, she has enormously solid nerves. This, paired with the above mentioned wind-playing qualities, puts her completely in the position to play the most difficult phrases in a top orchestra, holding them out according to the conductor's directions for adequate length and intensity, as well as strength."

Abbie was then re-awarded her solo trombone position in 1988; however, she did not receive the salary of a solo trombonist or the back pay that she was entitled to throughout the court battles.  In 1990 the Munich Philharmonic placed her is a lower salary position than all 15 of her male brass and wind colleagues.  Abbie took them to court and won in 1991, but of course, Munich appealed.  Abbie won the appeal in 1993-- thirteen years after winning the solo trombone position with the Munich Philharmonic, she was re-awarded the solo position and received the same pay as her male counterparts. 

After thirteen horrendous years with the Munich Philharmonic, Abbie left the orchestra to accept a tenured position at the State Conservatory of Music in Trossingen.  The Munich Philharmonic then hired a seventeen year old male trombonist with no orchestral experience. 

I am in complete admiration of Abbie Conant for what she endured with the Munich Philharmonic.  She could have easily given up from the start, but instead she stood up for what was right. 

My rendition does not do Abbie's story justice, so for a more detailed account, visit

Also, check out to see information on Miriam, a musical theater work composed for Abbie Conant by William Osborne. 

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ladies Brass Band with a Mission!

Boobs and Brass is an all womens brass band from Northamptonshire, England.  They formed in 2006 to help raise money for breast cancer charities. They had a great success for their first concert raising 5,000 pounds.  Since then, they have raised over 53,600 pounds for breast cancer charities!  They are hard to miss since they all sport bright pink blazers.  Many of the women in the group have experienced breast cancer or have relatives and friends who are fighting breast cancer.   Boobs and Brass has a CD for sale that features flugel hornist John Lee- all proceeds go to charity.  Another CD Boobs and Brass is promoting is Judith Hayes' arrangement for brass band of the Mongolian folk tune Durvun Tsagiin Tal (Four Seasons of the Steppe).  Check out their website, and see all the wonderful work these ladies are doing: Boobs and Brass.