Concert band

A full concert band—Indiana Wind Symphony in concert, 2014

A concert band, also called wind ensemble, symphonic band, wind symphony, wind orchestra, wind band, symphonic winds, symphony band, or symphonic wind ensemble, is a performing ensemble consisting of members of the woodwind, brass, and percussion families of instruments, along with the double bass.

A concert band's repertoire includes original wind compositions, transcriptions/arrangements of orchestral compositions, 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. The wind band eventually 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. One notable and influential original symphonic work for band was Gustav Holst's First Suite in E-Flat, written in 1909, considered to this day the classic work of symphonic band. Following Holst, a variety of British, American, Canadian and Australian composers wrote for the medium, including Percy Grainger, James Swearingen and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

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.

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, 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

A military band—The United States Army Band, 2012

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 rare, and most do not offer full-time positions. Examples of professional non-military concert bands include:

Community bands

Main article: Community band

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:


United Kingdom



New Zealand




School bands

Main article: School band

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.

In the U.S., some schools have a school orchestra and choir as well. Some private and public schools have bands, orchestras, and choirs, 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.

  1. In Bavarian wind music no piccolo is called for, as the E♭ clarinet substitutes for it.
  2. If called for, sometimes doubled by flute 2 or 3.
  3. If called for, sometimes doubled by oboe 2.
  4. If called for, sometimes doubled by bassoon 2.
  5. The contrabass clarinet part is usually provided in both B♭ and E♭ (contra-alto).
  6. In most cases, if a soprano saxophone is called for, it will replace the fist alto saxophone part.
  7. In 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.
  8. Trumpet and cornet parts have often been 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. Trumpets are almost always in B though Trumpets in E and C were used commonly in the heyday of professional concert bands.
  9. In older works, there was often a middle brass part that could be played on either alto (tenor) horn in E♭, French horn in F, or mellophone in F or E♭. There were usually copies of the parts in both F and E♭, for players to read off of based on the key of their instrument. Some modern publishers still include E♭ horn parts, which are the same as the F horn parts, except transposed to E♭. Alto (tenor) horns are especially common in Britain.
  10. Trombone 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. Scores will typically notate which one is preferred.
  11. The baritone/euphonium part is usually provided in both bass clef (concert pitch) and treble clef (in B, sounding a major 9th below written).
  12. Baritones and euphoniums are often used interchangeably, though some works have distinct parts for the two instruments. Most of the time when a composer writes for "baritone", they are actually thinking of the larger-bore euphonium.
  13. Many 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.
  14. Percussion ensembles in concert bands can range from 2 to over 14 players.
  15. Timpani will always be included in percussion parts. It will have its own staff.
  16. String bass parts are typically included in more advanced band pieces and larger ensemble instrumentation. Some high school and most college and professional bands will have a string bass player in the ensemble.
A high school concert band—BHS Band in performance, 2013

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. This is especially true in Japan, where an enormous market can be found for wind band compositions, which is largely due to commissions by the All-Japan Band Association and leading professional ensembles such as the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra and Osaka Municipal Symphonic Band, as well as the Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma Commissioning Program, the longest-running commissioning series for wind band in the United States.

Prominent composers for concert band

Early to 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

Band associations

Some notable band associations include:

See also


    External links

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