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City of Oxford Silver Band
The City of Oxford Silver Band has been known by a number of names since bandmaster, AJ Taylor and his sons John, Dan and Fred first came together in 1887 with eight of their friends to meet and play regularly as Headington Brass Band. A few years later, it became the Headington Subscription band but by 1900 it was called the Headington Temperance Band. Later names were the Headington Silver Band, reflecting the purchase of silver plated instruments in 1914 and Headington Silver Prize Band, to capitalise on having won the first Oxford and District Brass Band Association contest at Kirtlington Park in 1923. In 1952, Cyril Challis, of whom there will be more below, suggested changing to the present name.
There are four strands of activity to follow in tracing the later history of the band, which can be regarded as subdivisions of its core function, playing music. They are: training, competing, touring, and playing at public events, whether for a fee or to support a charitable cause. Training as a regular activity seems to have begun after the First World War.
Competing began in 1922. Since that time there have been some great successes notably in the championship section of the National Brass Band Association in 1987, its centenary year, and, still in the first section, in 1994. 1997 was another peak, when the band under Steven Henderson scooped eight trophies in five months and became London Southern Counties Champions in March. In 1995 the training band came sixth in the regional qualifying contest of the National Brass Band Championship. Since the millennium, they have regularly entered the annual brass festival of the Oxford and District Brass Band Association as quartets, winning merits for their playing in 2003 and 2004.
Touring overseas began with a visit to Holland in 1957 when COSB marched to the Airborne Cemetery at Arnhem. The band went on a tour of France and West Germany in 1973. It was on this tour that Heinrich Walter, band leader of Nordlingen's brass band composed 'The City of Oxford Silver Band March' for the visitors from Oxford. This piece is always in the band's repertoire. In 1976, they ventured as far as USA and Canada. Later trips were to Bonn in 1987 and Wilitz, Luxembourg in 1988.
Playing in public has always been the core activity of the band. The Rules of the Headington Silver Prize Band of 10th March 1937 define its aims as 'to promote and maintain in the district a first class Amateur Band, to foster the spirit of Good Fellowship among the Members and to obtain for all Members all possible advantages consequent upon organised combination.' From the point of view of the band's motto, 'Friendship through music' or 'Amicitia per musicam' if you like it in Latin, probably the most important rule was 'All are asked to refrain from commenting on the efforts of any other Member.'
Until 1966, the band had no permanent home. In the 75th anniversary year, rehearsals were taking place in a barn in Cowley. When Alderman Parker became Lord Mayor of Oxford in 1963, he chose the homeless musicians as his good cause for the year. The result was that in January 1966 he laid the foundation stone of the present band hall.
Two individuals stand out for the contribution that they made to COSB's corporate life in the twentieth century. They are Jim Alder and Nobby (Cyril) Challis, who was the man who breathed new life into the reassembled band in 1951, having been appointed when poor health forced Jim Alder to resign. It was he who thought up the idea of changing the band's name in 1952, realising that the name 'Oxford' has more magic and prestige than 'Headington'. Nobby Challis was especially interested in getting young people involved in musical training.
Village feasts, playing for dances and the temperance connection are strands of the band's life that have now vanished. On the other hand, women and girls are now playing members. In the photograph which accompanied the programme of the 75th anniversary celebrations in 1962, all the members were men and youths. By 1975, when the Youth Band broke the record for continuous playing by keeping going for 28 hours 45 minutes under Nobby Challis's baton, girls were among those who took part. Over the years of its existence, COSB has amassed a large library of music, running to at least 44 filing cabinet drawers, and a collection of brass instruments for members to use. It offers young people the chance to try to play an instrument their parents would never buy them on a whim, like the tuba or a bass trombone. Above all, it offers members the chance to play cheerful music regularly with other people, for other people.