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Concert band

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Concert band

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A wind band, also called concert band, symphonic band, symphonic winds, wind orchestra, wind symphony, or wind ensemble, is a performing ensemble consisting of several members of the woodwind instrument family, brass instrument family and percussion instrument family. Its various repertoire include original wind compositions, arranged classical items, light music, and popular tunes. Though the instrumentation is similar, it is distinguished from the marching band in that its primary function is as a concert ensemble. The repertoire for a concert band may, however, contain marches.



The group known generically as a mixed wind band can go by a variety of names: wind band, wind symphony, wind ensemble, chamber winds, symphonic band, symphonic winds, wind orchestra, concert band.

There is little standardization in the usage of these names, save that wind ensembles and chamber winds nearly always refer to an ensemble with one player per part (around 45 players), while a symphonic band or wind symphony will often be on the larger end of the spectrum.


The earliest days of the mixed wind band date back to the 13th century, with ensembles of shawms, trumpets, and drums forming in Europe; a century or two later the trombone was added, making it the ensemble of choice for dances and festive occasions.

With the development of string instruments in the 16th century, the ensemble began to fall out of favor, being replaced by what would become the modern orchestra. However, stringed instruments were unsuitable for outdoor use, and so the wind band was kept alive by its use as a military ensemble. Military bands were largely responsible for adopting new instruments as they were developed and augmenting or replacing the previous instrumentations; these new instruments and practices would spread through international contact.

Royal army bands by the 18th century would consist of varying collections of winds: four each of oboes, clarinets, horns, and bassoons in Switzerland, while Frederick the Great declared that Prussian bands should have only two of each. The English sound would be dominated by trumpet and kettledrums, though they soon imported the oboe and horn as well.

Contact with the music of the Turkish Janissaries would further spur the expansion of the Western wind band. The splendor and dramatic effect of their percussion would give rise to the adoption of bass drum, cymbals, and triangle, as well as piccolo to cut through the noise of the percussion. But this increase in percussion needed an increase in winds to go along with it: more clarinets were added, more brass developed. By 1810 the wind band had reached its current size, though the instrumentation differed.

In the 18th century, these 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. Most of these groups dissolved by the end of the century.

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 was no susbstantial precedent for composers to write concert music for winds. The first notable and influential 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, and Australian composers wrote for the medium, including notably Percy Grainger and Ralph Vaughan-Williams.

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

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 is generally modeled on the wind section of a "Wagner" orchestra. 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 symphony bands of the time, particularly the 100 member band of the University of Michigan, conducted by William Revelli.

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.

The driving force behind the improved quality of the repertoire was the quest for artistic legitimacy desired by college band directors. This quest continues today, stronger than ever. For more information on the quest for validation, visit

Performing groups

While the wind band is not yet as established a performing group as the symphony orchestra, there are many ensembles currently performing.

Military bands

There is a long history of the Military band in the United States and other countries. Some of the most highly-regarded Military bands performing today are the principal U.S. Service bands that are headquartered mainly in the Washington, D.C area. They include:

The premier U.S. Marine Band, which is the oldest of the Service bands, known as "The President's Own" (founded in 1798, Marine Barracks 8th & I, Washington, D.C.)
The United States Army Band (founded in 1922, Fort Myer, VA)
The United States Navy Band (founded in 1925, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.)
The Coast Guard Band (founded in 1925, New London, Connecticut)
The United States Air Force Band (founded in 1941, Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C.)

Other U.S. Military Bands

The United States Army Field Band (founded in 1946, Fort Meade, MD)
USAF Heritage of America Band (founded in 1941 as the Army Air Corps Band, Langley Air Force Base, VA)
U.S. Military Academy Band (founded 1817, West Point, NY)
Naval Academy Band (founded in 1845, Annapolis, MD)
Air Force Academy Band (inception in 1942 as the "Flying Yanks", reactivated for the United States Air Force Academy in 1955, Colorado Springs, CO)

Collegiate bands

Nearly every college or university with a music program has a performing wind band; most give concerts that are open to the general public as well as the university community, and often tour other locations as well as perform at conferences. Some of the foremost collegiate band directors in the United States today include:

Eugene Corporon (University of North Texas)
Gary Green (University of Miami)
Michael Haithcock (University of Michigan)
Gary Hill (Arizona State University)
Jerry Junkin (University of Texas-Austin), also conducts the Dallas Wind Symphony
James F. Keene (University of Illinois)
Craig Kirchoff (University of Minnesota)
Timothy Mahr (St. Olaf College)
Anthony Maiello (George Mason University)
Allan McMurray (University of Colorado)
Mark Scatterday (Eastman School of Music)
Jack Stamp (Indiana University of Pennsylvania)
Mallory Thompson (Northwestern University)
John Whitwell (Michigan State University)
Frank B. Wickes (Louisiana State University)
Michael Votta, Jr. (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
John Randal Guptill, Jr. (Duke University)

Some famous recently retired band directors include:

Frank Battisti (New England Conservatory)
Frederick Fennell (deceased) (Eastman School of Music and the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra)
Donald Hunsberger (Eastman School of Music)
H. Robert Reynolds (University of Michigan)
Ray Cramer (Indiana University)
Joseph Scagnoli (Ball State University)

These collegiate ensembles often play at a professional or near-professional standard, and the availability of these highly skilled groups and their openness to new music is attractive to composers. Over the last forty years, many of today's leading composers have written major new works for wind ensemble, including Samuel Adler, Leslie Bassett, William Bolcom, Michael Colgrass, John Corigliano, David del Tredici, Karel Husa, Gunther Schuller, Joseph Schwantner, and Frank Zappa, to name but a few. The Klavier Wind Recording Project, begun by Eugene Corporon in 1989 while he was director of bands at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, has been invaluable in providing extremely high-quality recordings of many of the most important pieces in the wind band literature, as well as the most contemporary.

Professional bands

Professional concert bands not associated with the military are few and far between. Among the few ensembles in this category that exist today are the Dallas Wind Symphony [1], led by Jerry Junkin, and the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra [2], led for many years by Frederick Fennell. Others include the Keystone Winds, conducted by Dr. Jack Stamp, the Tara Winds, conducted by Dr. David Gregory and the Knoxville Wind Symphony, conducted by Dr. Marshall Forrester. [3]

Community bands

Most adult bands outside of colleges and military institutions are community bands. A community band is a concert band ensemble, generally sponsored by the town or city in which it is located and consisting of amateur performers. A community band is a community-based ensemble of wind and percussion players, comprised primarily of adults who do not receive the majority of their livelihood from participation in the ensemble, which regularly holds rehearsals and performs at least one to three times per year.

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 miscellanous band piece, often one in the pop music genre. The director may also slightly bypass the curriculum, choosing the music of whatever he 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.

Almost every public school district has a band, and some schools have a school orchestra as well. Some private and public schools have both, especially if the district is very large.

Modern instrumentation

Instrumentation for the wind band is not standardized; composers will frequently add and/or omit parts. Indented entries are frequently-used doublings for each instrument family; instruments in parentheses are less common but still often used.


¹Trumpet and cornet parts are sometimes interchangeable and sometimes separated into 3 or 4 cornet parts and two trumpet parts, but usually only on older or transcribed works.

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 contrabassoons, 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. The wind ensemble will have very little doubling, if any; commonly, clarinets and/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.

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.


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, as the list of names below shows.

Original works

The following works are some of the most universally respected and established cornerstones of the band repertoire. All have "stood the test of time" through decades of regular performance, and many, either through an innovative use of the medium or by the fame of their composer, helped establish the wind band as a legitimate, serious performing ensemble.

Samuel Barber: Commando March (1943)
Robert Russell Bennett: Suite of Old American Dances (1947)
John Barnes Chance: Incantation and Dance (1962) and Variations on a Korean Folk Song (1966)
Aaron Copland: Emblems (1964)
Paul Creston: Celebration Overture (1954/5)
Ingolf Dahl: Sinfonietta (1961)
Percy Grainger: Children's March (Over the Hills and Far Away) (1919), Irish Tune from County Derry (1918), Lincolnshire Posy (1937), Molly on the Shore (1921) and Shepherd's Hey (1918)
Paul Hindemith: Symphony in B-flat (1951)
Gustav Holst: First Suite in E-flat (1909), Second Suite in F (1911) and Hammersmith: Prelude and Scherzo (1930)
Karel Husa: Music for Prague 1968 (1968)
Gordon Jacob: An Original Suite (1928)
Peter Mennin: Canzona (1951)
Darius Milhaud: Suite Francaise (1944)
Ron Nelson: Rocky Point Holiday (1969)
Vincent Persichetti: Divertimento (1950), Masquerade (1965) and Symphony no. 6 (1956)
Walter Piston: Tunbridge Fair (1950)
Alfred Reed: Armenian Dances (Part I) (1972) and Russian Christmas Music (1944)
H. Owen Reed: La Fiesta Mexicana (1949)
Florent Schmitt: Dionysiaques (1913)
Arnold Schoenberg: Theme and Variations, Op. 43a (1943)
William Schumann: George Washington Bridge (1950) and the New England Tryptich (1956)
Igor Stravinsky: Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (1924) and Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1920/rev. 1947)
Ralph Vaughan Williams: English Folk Song Suite (1923), Flourish for Wind Band (1939) and Toccata Marziale (1924)

These pieces may not necessarily be quite as universally acknowledged as the above list, but occupy an extremely important place in the repertoire nonetheless. Like the previous works, they have proven themselves through many performances, most over a span of decades.

Warren Benson: The Leaves Are Falling (1963), The Passing Bell (1974) and The Solitary Dancer (1966)
Michael Colgrass: Winds of Nagual (1985)
Norman Dello Joio: Scenes from the Louvre (1966) and Fantasies on a Theme by Haydn (1968)
Morton Gould: Jericho, Symphony no. 4 (West Point)
Percy Grainger: Colonial Song (1928), Country Gardens (1928) and The "Gumsuckers" March (1928)
Howard Hanson: Chorale and Alleluia (1954)
Karel Husa: Apotheosis of this Earth (1971)
Robert Jager: Diamond Variations (1967) and Esprit De Corps
Joseph Wilcox Jenkins: American Overture for Band (1956)
Boris Kozhevnikov: Symphony no. 3: Slavyanskaya
Ronald Lo Presti: Elegy for a Young American (1964)
David Maslanka: A Child's Garden of Dreams (1981)
Vaclav Nelhybel: Antiphonale (1972) and Trittico (1965)
Roger Nixon: Fiesta del Pacifico (1960/66)
Vincent Persichetti: Pageant (1953), Psalm (1952)
Sergei Prokofiev: March, Op. 99 (1943/44)
Joseph Schwantner: ...and the mountains rising nowhere (1977) and From a Dark Millennium (1981)
Claude T. Smith: Flight, Incidental Suite (1966)
Fisher Tull: Sketches on a Tudor Psalm (1971)
Clifton Williams: Festival, Dedicatory Overture (1964) and Symphonic Dance no. 3: Fiesta (1967)
Haydn Wood: Mannin Veen (1938)
Guy Woolfenden: Illyrian Dances (1986)

Finally, here are some more recent works that are rapidly gaining acceptance as standard repertoire. Note that most of these pieces are still ten to twenty years old; it takes a while before a piece can be said to have entered the accepted repertoire, as many new works quickly become extremely popular but then fade from performance.

Mark Camphouse: A Movement for Rosa (1992)
Michael Colgrass: Urban Requiem (1996)
Michael Daugherty: Niagara Falls (1997)
Johan de Meij: Symphony no. 1: Lord of the Rings (1987)
David Gillingham: Heroes Lost and Fallen (1990), Apocalyptic Dreams (1997), and Galactic Empires (1998)
Adam Gorb: Awayday (1996/rev. 1999)
Donald Grantham: Southern Harmony (1998) and J'ai ete au bal
Edward Gregson: Festivo (1985)
Martin Mailman: for precious friends hid in death's dateless night (1988)
David Maslanka: Symphony no. 2 (1986) and Symphony no. 4 (1994)
Ron Nelson: Passacaglia on BACH (1993) and Aspen Jubilee (1988)
Philip Sparke: Dance Movements (1997)
Jack Stamp: Gavorkna Fanfare (1990/1)
Frank Ticheli: Amazing Grace (1994), Blue Shades (1996) and Vesuvius (1997)
Eric Whitacre: October (2000)
Jan van der Roost: Puszta (1987) and Suite Provençale
Dan Welcher: Zion (1996)
Charles Rochester Young: Tempered Steel (1997)
Gregory Youtz: Fireworks (1988)


There are thousands of transcriptions of pieces from other media (mostly orchestra) available for the concert band; however, some transcriptions are performed so often that they can be said to have achieved a place of the own in the concert band repertoire. Here are some of the most commonly performed:

(NB there are a few pieces, such as the Schuman New England Tryptich, that the composer himself transcribed for band. This list deals only with transcriptions made by others.)

Malcolm Arnold: Four Scottish Dances and Prelude, Siciliano, and Rondo
J. S. Bach: Fantasia in G Major and Toccata and Fugue in D Minor
Samuel Barber: "First Symphony"
Leonard Bernstein: Overture to Candide, Symphonic Dances from West Side Story
Aaron Copland: Lincoln Portrait
Edward Elgar: Enigma Variations
Girolamo Frescobaldi: Toccata
Paul Hindemith: Symphonic Metamorphoses on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber
Gustav Holst: "Mars" and "Jupiter" from The Planets
Charles Ives: Old Home Days, Country Band March and Variations on "America"
Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, Night on Bald Mountain
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Procession of the Nobles from Mlada
Ottorino Respighi: The Pines of Rome
Gioacchino Rossini: Italian in Algiers overture
Dmitri Shostakovich: Festive Overture
Jean Sibelius: Finlandia
Franz von Suppe: Overture to Light Cavalry
Richard Wagner: Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral

Band associations

American Bandmasters Association [4]
Association of Concert Bands [5]: "the international voice of adult bands"
British Association of Symphonic Bands and Wind Ensembles [6]
College Band Directors National Association [7]
National Band Association [8]
Norwegian Band Federation
World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles [9]


External links

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This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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