Thomas Goodban (1784-1863)
Thomas Goodban (1784–1863), the long-standing conductor of the Catch Club Orchestra, was an entrepreneurial force in the club. In 1833, he advertised ‘Subscription Concerts’ – four per season, from December through to March, at a guinea for the lot (for which two tickets of admission per concert are purchased). The one in November 1834 is the most eye-catching, for it features Henry Rowley Bishop, one of the most significant musical personalities of the day – and his wife.
The programme looks very much like a Catch Club evening, each half starting with an overture with another as the finale and including songs and arias from the distinguished soloist (Mrs Bishop) and glees. Robert Nicolas-Charles Bochsa’s appearance as soloist, performing his own Grand Fantasia and Panorama Musicale should not be ignored; he would have been a big draw. It is a remarkable musical offering, and attracted ‘nearly 350 of the neighbouring and resident gentry,’ according to the local paper.1 These concerts ran as a small series each year, apparently quite successfully, until 1838, after which Charles Goodban (Thomas’ son) is credited with their organisation for a few years more. It has to be said, though, that this was a cracking start to the project.
Composers and teachers were as keen then as they are now to broadcast their productions in the most efficient manner possible. The most striking of Thomas Goodban’s published output dates from 1818: Goodban’s Game of Musical Characters is a musical game, played with a teetotum—a dice on a spindle—and counters on a most elaborate board measuring 531mm x 399mm. To modern eyes, it’s a daunting conflation of Snakes and Ladders™ and the Associated Board Theory exams, with a system of randomly awarded fines and rewards to tempt—or goad—the young musician on. Goodban’s Preface shows an awareness of musical pedagogy which arguably puts him some way ahead of his time: without compromising on the need to understand the semiotics of musical notation, he is responding to a keenly observed appreciation of its challenges:
As the difficulties of adapting a species of entertainment for such a purpose, suited to the capacities and dispositions of all classes, have been anticipated, no pains or exertions have consequently been spared in the arrangement and formation of the game, to combine an amusement with instruction, in the use and application of it; and by the assistance which it is intended to enable learners, imperceptibly, as it were, to afford to each other—to create a spirit of emulation amongst them, without injuring their morals.2
It is an attractive product: musical signs and symbols adorn the border, and a couple of merry little rhymes brighten the players’ progress down the board, such as:
If Praise you seek, take care of Time
And never from it stray;
By crotchets or by quavers count
In ev’ry Bar you play.
Some 230 subscribers are listed at the front of the booklet. Most are local, but the list includes music and booksellers as far afield as Marlborough, Stockport, Norwich, Newport, and Hull. Beyond this, it is difficult to tell how much success the venture brought him, though one contemporary periodical recommended it: the Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review devoted over four pages to a – largely complimentary – article about it.
The Game had a successor. Much later, in 1845, Goodban produced another game-based method of music instruction: a set of Music Cards. He admits in the Preface that he had made an attempt at this twenty years previously, ‘but becoming perplexed in the formation of the cards so as to make them sufficiently simple for general application, it was then abandoned and the manuscript laid by. A recent discovery of this manuscript has, however, induced [me] to make a fresh attempt.’ The package comprises 4 diagrams, and 48 cards (four sets of twelve) showing notes, rests, and rhythm values, which can be used in various ways in any of the seven games he’s devised. The game was advertised in the local press:
NOVELTY IN MUSIC Just Published a PACK of FIFTY-TWO MUSIC CARDS and BOOK containing a concise explanation of the rudiments and fundamental principles of the Science of Music, with Rules and Directions for Playing, from characters only, the following instructive and entertaining Games, viz.: … Written, invented and designed for the purpose of combining instruction with amusement by THOMAS GOODBAN Author of a complete Guide to playing the Violin, Instructions for the Pianoforte, the Rudiments of Music, with progressive Exercises to be written upon Slates, &c.3
The advertisement goes on to explain that the pack, in its box, costs 5s. and is available from various booksellers. Similar adverts are to be found in the Spectator and the Athenaeum. The only actual review found to date is a few approving words from the Kentish Gazette appearing alongside the advert: ‘exceedingly clever and altogether original […] we recommend the ‘music cards’ to every family,’4 say the editors, after which nothing more comes to light until the Musical Times mentioned the game in its obituary in 1863, along with fulsome praise for Goodban’s work in musical education:
As an author Mr. Goodban was formerly well known to the musical world by his instruction books for the violin and pianoforte, and his ‘Rudiments of Music,’ than which no other works of the kind have ever been more extensively used, for at the time they were published (some forty years since) there were none to equal them in attractiveness, clearness of explanation, and adaptability to the powers of the young. [...] We may also add that for integrity, uprightness of character, and kindliness of disposition, no man was ever held in higher estimation by his fellow citizens and all who knew him than Mr Goodban.5
There are other nineteenth-century examples of creative attempts at music education in the British Library, but Goodban’s may lay claim to be amongst the most attractive and rigorous examples of such work.
In between the Game and the Cards, as the Musical Times records, Goodban had been most industrious. The title page of the Music Cards booklet claims him to be the ‘Author of a complete guide to playing the violin; instructions for the pianoforte; the rudiments of music, with progressive exercises to be written upon slates; etc.’ This is true; copies are in the British Library. In 1840, a second edition of the Piano tutor, with an additional ‘variety of exercises for forming the hands, acquiring independence and facility of action, and contracting and changing them, &c., &c.’, met with an enthusiastic reception from the home crowd: the Kentish Gazette recommended it as tending ‘more than any perceptive book we have ever seen, to perfect the student in the rudiments of the science.’6
All these creations were published in London: the Game by Goulding, D’Almaine, Potter, & Co. of 20, Soho Square; the Cards by Simpkin, Marshall and Co., Stationers Court and J. A. Novello, Dean Street, Soho and 24, Poultry; the Violin Tutor by Preston ‘at his Wholesale Warehouses, 97, Strand’; and the Piano Tutor by Coventry and Hollier, 71, Dean Street, Soho. Such an imprimatur would have ensured a distribution well beyond the city of Canterbury.
Thomas Goodban was not the only important character in Canterbury’s musical history. Another was William Henry Longhurst (1819–1904).
Article written by: Dr Chris Price
Goodban, T. (1818). Goodban’s Game of Musical Characters. GB-Lbl; 1042.e.25.
(1863). Obituary, Thomas Goodban. The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, 11(244), 70-71. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3352133
Kentish Gazette, pp. 25 November 1834, 3. ↩
Goodban, 1818, pp. Preface, ii–iii. ↩
KG; ‘Kentish Gazette template’ Kentish Gazette, pp. 9 December 1845, 2. ↩
Obituary, Thomas Goodban. The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular (1 June 1863), 11 (244). ↩
KG; ‘Kentish Gazette template’ Kentish Gazette, pp. 6 October 1840, 3. ↩