Concert band

From Academic Kids

A wind band, also called concert band, symphonic band, or wind ensemble, is a performing ensemble consisting of woodwind, brass, percussion instruments, and often string bass. 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 to the mix, and this was 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.

School band movement

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 standardized instrumentation from which players could be selected to create the desired sonorities. The wind ensemble, like the wind section of an orchestra, is one player per part. This is distanced as far as possible from the marching band concept, where parts are doubled for as massive a sound as possible at the expense of the flexibility and expressive power of the chamber ensemble.

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.

This implied putdown of the legitimacy and worth of the standard symphonic band sparked discord in the wind band community throughout the 1970s and 1980s; however, the furor now seems to have died down, with bands and wind ensembles settling into their particular niches.

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 maily in the Washington, D.C area. They include:

Other U.S. Military Bands

Professional bands

Professional concert bands not connected to a University or the military are few and far between. One of the few ensembles in category that exist today is the Dallas Wind Symphony led by Jerry Junkin. [1] (

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. Many contemporary wind band recordings are made by collegiate ensembles, who often play at a professional or near-professional standard.

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 time per year.

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.


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 are doubled, and others will have one player per part.

Contemporary compositions often call on players to use unusual instruments or effects. For example, several pieces call on the use of a siren -- not a standard percussion instrument! -- while others will ask players to play recorders, sing, or use tuned water glasses. 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 recent years, 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.

Some significant works in the concert band and wind ensemble repertoire are listed below.


Original Works

Band associations


External links

als:Blasmusik fr:Orchestre d'harmonie


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