The History of the Light Music Society

What We Do


Many will have heard of Light Music in general terms, but a specific Light Music genre is hard to define. The seaside and spa orchestras that abounded in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as the smaller palm court ensembles that played for tea dances in large hotels, were a significant factor in the demand for short, approachable pieces. This music gained popularity in the late 1920s when BBC radio broadcasting was introduced and increased mass appeal with the launch of the BBC Light Programme in 1945. Light orchestral ensembles broadcast daily, in programmes with titles like Music While You Work, Melody Hour and Friday Night is Music Night and the demand for Light Music for the media grew rapidly.

In the 1950s, the heyday of Light Music, the Light Music Society was founded with the composer Eric Coates as the first President. The aim of the society was to champion such music throughout the world. For more than twenty years there were regular meetings and concerts in London, competitions, magazines and social events. Composer Ernest Tomlinson became Chairman in 1966 and he and other members of the society helped to keep this music on the air during this time.

As the broadcasters changed their programming in favour of popular music, there were fewer opportunities for broadcasts of the lighter orchestral repertoire. The new delineation of the radio channels into Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4 during the 1960s was a significant factor in this decline. Although Radio 2 was originally named as the channel for Light Music it was soon considered too highbrow for the targeted audience, just as it was thought to be too lowbrow for Radio 3. Many light orchestras were disbanded. Ernest Tomlinson was horrified to discover that music, much of it written by living composers, was being discarded as if it were of no value. He began to collect and save whatever he could and stored it in the barn adjoining his Lancashire home. This eventually became the Library of Light Orchestral Music.

Our Mission

The Light Music Society is the custodian of the Library of Light Orchestral Music and now has approximately 40,000 sets of orchestral and dance band music. The recent move to premises in the village of Long Preston in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales has created a turning point for the Society and they are starting to realise the potential of this vast library and archive.

The Library includes most works by the “core” light orchestral composers including Eric Coates, Ernest Tomlinson, Leroy Anderson, Robert Farnon, Haydn Wood, Edward German, Albert Ketèlbey, Roger Quilter, Trevor Duncan, Peter Hope and others. The Library has an extensive range of classical orchestral sets covering most of the major composers. These also include arrangements which could suit youth or small ensembles who might not always have the full orchestral instrumentation.

The library has popular overtures, waltzes, marches and polkas, as well as famous works in operetta and ballet forms from European composers as well as an extensive selection of show music, TV and film themes and music from the Dance Band era. Nearly 70% of the music is catalogued and its online database lists over 25,000 titles. If you are after a specific piece but not sure if the Library has it, we would be happy to investigate. You’ll be surprised what we have!

With the help of inspirational conductors like John Wilson and Gavin Sutherland, the interest in Light Music is growing and many leisure time arts organisations and professional ensembles are rediscovering the glory that is Light Music.

Find out more from the Light Music society and the library by emailing


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