Circus Music: The eye of the ear

Kim Baston



Circus is a global entertainment form, which, as it is not reliant on the spoken word, has easily incorporated performers of different nationalities. Yet its institutional roots are within a dominant Euro-American form and as a spectacle it is heavily reliant on music. This article discusses the historical role of music within the dominant Euro-American circus tradition and argues that this role has remained remarkably constant. Historically, circus music has been both reflective of what is popular and also, through the use of the wind band, constitutive of the popular. Its characteristic musical structures and instrumentation shape the nature of the circus spectacle. Circus music performs both emotional and cultural reassurance, and, it is argued, has an important role in the construction of a cultural ‘Other’, through its musical assimilation of Chinese and Japanese acrobats. Kim Baston lectures in circus history and culture at The National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) in Melbourne, Australia , where she also leads the clown band. She is a member of Windjammers, an American organisation dedicated to the performance of traditional circus music and works professionally within circus, theatre and film as director, musical director, and composer.


Full Text:


Popular Entertainment Studies ISSN 1837-9303