Since the appearance of bands in Northern Labrador in the nineteenth century, they have been documented by Moravian missionaries. Many of those missionary accounts appear in publications like Periodical Accounts, Moravian Missions, Nachrichten aus der Brüdergemeine. Imagery of the bands can be found in many archives, such as the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, the Unity Archives in Herrnhut and Them Days Archive in Goose Bay.
One of our goals with this project is to educate about the history of this unique tradition. As part of that, we would like to hear more stories and recollections about the bands from the people of Northern Labrador. If you would like to share anything, including imagery, you can email us or post to our Facebook page.
These short histories were written by Mark David Turner. Earlier versions of these histories were included in an article published in the Historic Brass Society Journal titled “A Short History of the Moravian Brass Bands of Northern Labrador” (vol 30, 2018, pp 37-62).
Hebron was established in 1830. The first reference to bands in Hebron in the Moravian record was by missionary Ferdiand Kruth in 1839 when he observed missionary Jonathan Mentzel teaching three Inuit trombone.1 For European Moravians, the trombone choir, or posaunenchor, was an important ensemble as these were reported to to be the first instruments publicly played in Herrnhut.2 Posaunenchor provides the root of the Inuttitut word posaunik. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Hebron band performed on festival days and for arriving ships like the Harmony. As a result of the devastating effects of the Spanish Flu in Labrador, the instruments in Hebron were destroyed in 1918 or 1919 and the band remained dormant until 1930.3 In 1937, the Hebron band gave a performance on the deck of the Hudson’s Bay Company ship Nascopie which was also broadcast on the Canadian Broadcasting Company radio service. That same year the band may have also given a broadcast performance for US-based audiences on the deck of Commander Donald MacMillan’s ship, Bowdoin.4 Hebron was forcibly resettled in 1959. The final performances of the band were given as people left the community. The hymn of choice was “God Be With You Till We Meet Again”.5 Relocated band members integrated into the bands in Nain and Hopedale. In Makkovik, relocated band members from Hebron and Nutak would form their own band.
1 Ferdinand Kruth, “Extracts of Private Correspondence,” Periodical Accounts, 15 (1839): 116.
2 Stewart Carter, “Trombone Ensembles of the Moravian Brethren in America: New Avenues for Research,” in Brass Scholarship in Review: Proceedings of the Historic Brass Society Conference, ed. Stewart Carter (Pendragon, 2006): 83.
3 Christiane Johanna and Siegmund Waldmann, “Report from Hebron From July 1st, 1929 to June 30th, 1930,” Periodical Accounts, 139 (1931): 72.
4 F.W. Peacock, “Music of Nain Inuit,” Inuttituut (Winter 1977): 56.
5 Carol Brice Bennett, Dispossessed: The Eviction of Inuit from Hebron, Labrador, (Imaginaire | Nord, 2017): 103-4.
Okak was established in 1786. Clarinets were used in the community as early as 1837.1 The earliest reference to the Okak band we have found comes from the journal Moravian Missions in 1915, which records that the Harmony was greeted with the firing of guns, singing of hymns, and the band performing on a hill.2 The Okak Brass Band was vividly documented by missionary S. K. Hutton in articles such as “A Memory of Springtime,” which appeared in Moravian Missions. The image in that article is actually of the Nain band, which was first published in 1905 J.W. Davey’s The Fall of Torngak. Hutton’s biography of Walter Perrrett, A Shepherd in the Snow, also describes the Okak band performing on Easter morning. Okak was closed in 1919 after being decimated by the Spanish Flu.
1 J.W. Davey, The Fall of Torngak: or, The Moravian Mission on the Coast of Labrador (Partridge, 1905): 230-1.
2 Nurse Walmsley, “A Warm Welcome in a Cold Land,” Moravian Missions 13, no. 3 (March 1915): 37.
Nain was stablished in 1771. French horns were first played in the community on Easter Sunday 1776, most likely by Moravian missionaries.1 In 1821 the first instrumental ensembles which included violins and French horns were observed by the missionary Benjamin Gottlieb Kohlmeister.2 On Easter Sunday, 1850 an ensemble of violins, flutes, and clarinets performed at the Nain cemetery.3 In April 1908 the band performed God Save the King on the wharf during a visit by the Governor of Newfoundland, Sir William MacGregor.4 Photographs and slides from the early twentieth century suggest the band had one clarinet as late as 1905 and possibly 1908 (see image bottom right). On 19 October 1910 the band performed for the dedication of the new church (see image top right). During Easter 1930, members of the Nain band performed for services held in Hebron and gave instruction to the Hebron band who had been without instruments since 1909.5 The Nain band is one of the best-documented ensembles in Labrador. In 2016, the revived Nain Brass Band | Nainip Tittulautingit released its first, self-titled album and in 2021 they received a Lifetime Achievement Award from MusicNL.
1 Nain Diary, entry for 7 April 1776, cited in J. K. Hiller, “The Foundation and the Early Years of the Moravian Mission in Labrador, 1752–1805,” (M. A. Thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 1967), 202.
2 Benjamin Gottlieb Kohlmeister.“Letter addressed to the Brethren’s Society for the Furtherance of the Gospel, by Benjamin Gottlieb Kohlmeister, on his return from Labrador.” Periodical Accounts 9, no. 106 (1821): 238.
3 “Labrador – Extract of the Diaries of 1849-1850.” Periodical Accounts vol. 20 (1851): 68.
4 W. W. Perrett, “Visit of His Excellency the Governor of Newfoundland to Nain,” Periodical Accounts, vol. 7, no. 76 (1908): 192.
5 Christiane Johanna and Siegmund Waldmann, “Report from Hebron From July 1st, 1929 to June 30th, 1930,” Periodical Accounts, vol. 139 (1931): 72.
Hopedale was established in 1782. The first reference to an instrumental ensemble in the Periodical Accounts was made by missionary A. F. Elsner in 1853 when he recorded the arrival of a gift of three trombones from Zeist, Netherlands.1 On August 4th, 1859, the band performed the hymn Now Let Us Praise the Lord for the arrival of the Harmony.2 On August 29th, 1903 the Hopedale band travelled on the mission-owned boat Sybil to perform for the consecration of a chapel at Uviluktôk (see above picture).3 On 27 February 27th, 1921 the band performed “hymn tunes, old and new” inside and outside the church during a service celebrating the sesquicentennial of Nain.4 On August 22nd and 23rd, 1934 the band performed in a launch for the Prime Minister of England, J. Ramsay MacDonald, visiting on the ship H.M.S. Scarborough (similar to the above photo).5 On July 17th, 1951, the band performed on the wharf for the Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland, Leonard Outerbridge (the Hebron band would also perform for Outerbridge during his tour).6 By 1960, Inuit displaced from Hebron had begun performing with the Hopedale band.7
1 A. F. Elsner, “Extracts of Private Correspondence,” Periodical Accounts 21, no. 226 (1853): 299.
2 F. Kruth, et al. “Letters received by the Brethren’s Society for the Furtherance of the Gospel from the Missionaries at Hopedale, Nain, Okak and Hebron, in the year 1859. Hopedale, August 15th, 1859,” Periodical Accounts, 23, (1858–61): 233.
3 “Hopedale. Opening of the Chapel at Uviluktôk, or Double Island,” Periodical Accounts 5, no. 56, (1903): 368–69.
4 S. J. Townley and A. H. E. Asboe, “Hopedale,” Periodical Accounts. 11, no. 2 (1921): 83–84.
5 W. W. Perrett, “Annual Report, July 1st, 1934–June 30th, 1935,” Periodical Accounts 144 (1936): 82.
6 Siegfried P. Hettasch, “Hopedale,” Periodical Accounts 160 (1952): 36.
7 Inge and Gerhard J. Vollprecht, “Annual Report for the Year 1960. Hopedale,” Periodical Accounts 169 (1961): 11.
Makkovik was established in 1896. While it is likely that the earliest photographs of the Makkovik band come from the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries, the band appears in the written record in 1939. Prior to the forced closure of Hebron, Schmuel Ben-Dor suggests that the band was exclusively made up of Settlers. But after 1959, relocated Inuit from Hebron and Nutak had formed their own band and by 1962, the Hebron-Nutak band had become the only active band in the community.1 That band was recorded during the 1960s. What A Friend We Have in Jesus and Jesus, Be Our Chief Delight can be found on Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Digital Archives Initiative. According to Joase Onalik, this band remained active in Makkovik until some time around 1982.2
1 Shmuel Ben-Dor, Makkovik: Eskimos and Settlers in a Labrador Community – A Contrastive Study in Adaptation (Institute of Social and Economic Research, 1966): 108.
2 Joase Onalik, “Nutamiongovunga / I am from Nutak,” trans. Bertha Kairtok Holeiter, Them Days 7, no. 3 (March 1982): 24.
It is likely that the bands described above are not the only bands to perform in the Labrador Moravian Inuit brass and wind tradition. While we do not know if they were local to the community, a “band of trombonists” performed for the dedication of Zoar, a community between Nain and Hopedale, that existed from 1873 to 1879.1 It also likely that players fluent with the tradition were active in North West River after the forced relocation of Hebron in 1959.
“Extract from the Diary of Zoar, from August 1872 to July 1873,” Periodical Accounts 29 (1873–76): 58.