Concert band

Concert band
A concert band
The Eau Claire Municipal Band's outdoor concert series is a multi-dimensional event.

A concert band, also called wind band, symphonic band, symphonic winds, wind orchestra, wind symphony, wind ensemble, or symphonic wind ensemble, is a performing ensemble consisting of several members of the woodwind instrument family, brass instrument family, and percussion instrument family.

A concert band's repertoire includes original wind compositions, arranged classical music compositons, light music, and popular tunes. Though the instrumentation is similar, a concert band is distinguished from the marching band in that its primary function is as a concert ensemble. The standard repertoire for the concert band does, however, contain concert marches.



In the 18th century, military ensembles were doing double duty as entertainment at the royal courts, either alone or combined with orchestral strings. Composers such as Mozart were writing chamber music for these groups, called Harmonie bands, which evolved to a standard instrumentation of two oboes, two clarinets, two horns, and two bassoons. In addition to original compositions, these groups also played transcriptions of opera music.

Contact with the music of the Turkish Janissaries contributed to the expansion of the Western European wind band. The splendor and dramatic effect of their percussion prompted the adoption of bass drum, cymbals, and triangle, as well as piccolo to balance the increased weight of the percussion section; see Turkish music (style). More clarinets were gradually added and brass instruments were further developed. By 1810 the wind band had reached its current size, though the instrumentation differed in various countries.

During the 19th century large ensembles of wind and percussion instruments in the English and American traditions existed mainly in the form of the Military band for ceremonial and festive occasions, and the works performed consisted mostly of marches. The only time wind bands were used in a concert setting comparable to that of a symphony orchestra was when transcriptions of orchestral or operatic pieces were arranged and performed, as there were comparatively few original concert works for a large wind ensemble. The first notable and influential original symphonic work for band was Gustav Holst's First Suite in E-Flat, written in 1909. To this day the piece is considered the classic work of symphonic band, and beginning with Holst a variety of British, American, Canadian and Australian composers wrote for the medium, including notably Percy Grainger, James Swearingen and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The works of the British band masters, in conjunction with the aspirations of college band directors, led to the belief that the wind band could complement the symphony orchestra as a vehicle of artistic expression at the highest level. This led to the formation of the University and College Band Conductors Conference in 1941--renamed the College Band Directors' National Association in 1947--and spawned the commissioning of works from a wide variety of composers.

Since the 1950s, military bands have been the primary force behind the concert band genre.

Development of the wind ensemble

The modern wind ensemble was established by Frederick Fennell at Eastman School of Music as the Eastman Wind Ensemble in 1952 after the model of the orchestra: a pool of players from which a composer can select in order to create different sonorities. The wind ensemble could be said to be modeled on the wind section of a "Wagner" orchestra, an important difference being the addition of saxophones and baritone/euphonium. (The American Wind Symphony Orchestra, which uses neither of these, thus adheres more strictly to the "expanded orchestral wind section" model.) While many people consider the wind ensemble to be one player on a part, this is only practical in true chamber music. Full band pieces usually require doubling or tripling of the clarinet parts, and six trumpeters is typical in a wind ensemble. According to Fennell, the wind ensemble was not revolutionary, but developed naturally out of the music that led him to the concept. However, the concept was in stark contrast to the large collegiate symphony bands of the time, particularly the 100-member band of the University of Michigan, conducted by William D. Revelli and even larger University of Illinois Concert Band as configured by A. Austin Harding and Mark Hindsley.

H. Robert Reynolds and others of his school of thought extended the Eastman model for wind ensembles, declaring that the wind ensemble should play only original wind ensemble works — no transcriptions, and no band pieces such as the Sousa marches or concert music intended for larger symphonic winds. This music should be of a serious and worthwhile nature, or the highest quality. Time and practicality have moderated this position, and today even Reynolds has produced quality arrangements for the modern wind band.

Contemporary composers found that wind bands offered a welcome opportunity to perform new music, in contrast to the conservative stance maintained by many symphony orchestras.

Military bands

The majority of full-time professional ensembles are military bands and, outside the United States, also police bands. One example is the Air Force Academy Band (inception in 1942 as the "Flying Yanks", reactivated for the United States Air Force Academy in 1955, Colorado Springs, CO). This band has often been cited as, "The Thunderbirds of the Air Force Band Program".

Professional bands

Professional concert bands not associated with the military are few and far between, and most do not offer "full-time" positions. The few ensembles in this category that exist today include the following:

Community bands

Most adult bands outside of colleges and military institutions are community bands. A community band is a community-based ensemble of wind and percussion players, generally sponsored by the town or city in which it is located. Although some of the participants may have degrees in music and/or music education, the majority tend to be amateurs. It will typically hold regular rehearsals and perform at least one to three times per year. Notable community bands currently include:


  • The American Band, Providence, RI, conducted by Dr. Gene Pollart and Dr. Brian Cardany
  • Eau Claire Municipal Band, Eau Claire, WI, conducted by Brad Stoughton
  • Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps, New York, NY, conducted by Brian Worsdale
  • Municipal Band of Charlottesville, Inc., Charlottesville, VA, conducted by Stephen Layman
  • Salt Lake Symphonic Winds, UT, conducted by Dr. Thomas P. Rohrer

United Kingdom


  • Pacific Symphonic Wind Ensemble, Vancouver, Marc Crompton music director


  • North West Wind Ensemble, Sydney, James Brice music director
  • Sydney Wind Symphony, Sydney, John Buckley, Musical Director

New Zealand


  • Dragefjellets Musikkorps (Bergen Symphonic Band)
  • Sandvikens Ungdomskorps, Bergen, conducted by Tormod Flaten and Bjørn Breistein

School bands

School bands vary in size and instrumentation, depending on the number of students that are in the band, and the versatility and virtuosity of the players. Some school bands follow a set educational program which dictates particular styles of pieces that are standard to the music curriculum. Such curricula usually include a concert overture, a march, and a miscellaneous band piece, often one in the pop music genre. The director may also slightly bypass the curriculum, choosing music of whatever style he or she pleases, especially if the band is small.

Most school bands start at the 5th or 6th grade, and they go up to upper high school. The high school band resembles a community band in ability and repertoire, with considerations for the increased rehearsal time available to high school students.

In the U.S., almost every public and private school district has a band,[citation needed] and some schools have a school orchestra and choir as well. Some private and public schools have both, especially if the district is very large.


Throughout much of their history, wind bands have been promoted through regional and national music competitions and festivals. Currently, the largest among these is the annual All-Japan Band Association national contest, which in recent years has included around 14,000 bands. Other large competitions include the World Music Competition, held in the Netherlands; and the Southeast Asia Concert Band Festival, held in Hong Kong.


Instrumentation for the wind band is not standardized; composers will frequently add or omit parts. Instruments and parts in parentheses are less common but still often used; due to the fact that some bands are missing these instruments, important lines for these instruments are often cued into other parts.

Piccolos 1 (, 2)1
Flutes 1, 2 (, 3)
(Alto Flute)2
Oboes 1 (, 2)
(English horn)3
Bassoons 1 (, 2)
(Clarinet in E-flat)
Clarinets in B-flat 1, 2, 3 (, 4)
(Alto Clarinet)
Bass Clarinet
(Contra-alto Clarinet/Contrabass Clarinet)5
(Soprano Saxophone)
Alto Saxophones 1, 26
Tenor Saxophones 1 (, 2)
Baritone Saxophone
(Bass Saxophone)
Trumpets/Cornets in B-flat 1, 2, 3 (, 4, 5, 6)7
(Flugelhorns in B-flat 1 (, 2))
Horns in F 1, 2, 3, 4 (, 5, 6)
Tenor Trombones 1, 2 (, 3)8
Bass Trombone
Euphoniums 1 (, 2)9

Non-pitched (possibilities):

Snare Drum
Bass Drum
Wood Blocks/Temple Blocks
Drum kit

Pitched (possibilities):

(Double Bass)

1In Bavarian wind music no Piccolo is called, as the E-Flat clarinet is required instead.
2If called for, sometimes doubled by Flute 2 or 3.
3If called for, sometimes doubled by Oboe 2.
4If called for, sometimes doubled by Bassoon 2.
5The Contrabass Clarinet part is usually provided in both B-flat and E-flat (Contra-alto).
6In very rare cases, only a single Alto Saxophone will be called for (e.g., Holst Band Suites). However, this practice has generally been discontinued with two alto saxophones almost always called for.
7Trumpet and cornet parts are often considered interchangeable and are sometimes separated into 3 or 4 cornet parts and two trumpet parts; however, this practice is no longer used and is usually only seen in older (e.g. pre-1950) works and transcriptions. Trumpet are almost always in B though Trumpets in E and C were used commonly in the heyday of professional concert bands.
8Trombone parts will usually be divided into three parts with the first two parts (Trombones 1, 2) played by Tenor Trombones and the third played by a Bass Trombone. However, in rare cases where a fourth part is required, either Trombone 3 is a Tenor and Trombone 4 is a bass, or Trombones 3 and 4 are both Bass.
9The baritone/euphonium part is usually provided in both bass clef (concert pitch) and treble clef (in B, sounding a major 9th below written).
10Many tuba parts are written in octaves. In that case the higher notes are to be played by the double bass, sounding an octave lower and therefore at the same pitch as the lower part. Sometimes two separate tuba parts will exist, for example for E and lower-pitched B basses.
11Percussion ensembles in concert bands can range from 2 to over 14 players.

It should be noted that instrumentation differs depending on the type of ensemble. Middle and high school bands frequently have more limited instrumentation and fewer parts (for example, no double reeds, or only two horn parts instead of four). This is both to limit the difficulty for inexperienced players and because schools frequently do not have access to the less common instruments.

The standard concert band will have several players on each part, depending on available personnel and the preference of the conductor. A concert band can theoretically have as many as 200 members from a set of only 35 parts. The wind ensemble, on the other hand, will have very little doubling, if any; commonly, clarinets or flutes may be doubled, especially to handle any divisi passages, and others will have one player per part, as dictated by the requirements of a specific composition. Also, it is common to see two tubas playing the same part in a wind ensemble.

Complicated percussion parts are common in concert band pieces, often requiring many percussionists. Many believe this is a major difference between the orchestra — which usually lacks a large battery of percussion — and the concert band. While in older transcriptions and concert works, the timpani were treated as its own section as in the orchestra, today, in bands, the timpani are considered part of the percussion section. Consequently, the timpani player often will double on other percussion instruments.

Contemporary compositions often call on players to use unusual instruments or effects. For example, several pieces call on the use of a siren while others will ask players to play recorders, a glass harmonica, or to sing. The wind band's diverse instrumentation and large number of players makes it a very flexible ensemble, capable of producing a variety of sonic effects.


Development of a repertoire

Until early in the 20th century, there was little music written specifically for the wind band, which led to an extensive repertoire of pieces transcribed from orchestral works, or arranged from other sources. However, as the wind band moved out of the sole domain of the military marching ensemble and into the concert hall, it has gained favor with composers, and now many works are being written specifically for the concert band and the wind ensemble. While today there are composers who write exclusively for band, it is worth noting that many composers famous for their work in other genres have given their talents to composition for wind bands as well.

Prominent composers for concert band

Early/Middle 20th century

Some of the most important names in establishing literature written specifically for concert band in the early and middle 20th century were:

Late 20th century to the present

Over the last forty years, many composers have written major new works for wind ensemble. Some of these composers have risen to the forefront as being particularly important in the concert band's development. Among these include:

Important concert band literature

See article at List of concert band literature.

Band associations

Some notable band associations include:

See also

  • Category:Concert band pieces
  • Category:Musical groups
  • Category:Concert Band composers
  • Ottoman military band


External links

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