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A wind band, also called concert band, symphonic band, or wind ensemble, is a performing ensemble consisting of woodwind, brass, and percussion instruments, and 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, wind symphony.
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
The modern wind ensemble was established by Frederick Fennell at Eastman School of Music 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.
While the wind band is not yet as established a performing group as the symphony orchestra, there are many ensembles currently performing.
Some of the most highly-regarded bands performing today belong to the military. The U.S. Marine Band is known as "The President's Own ".
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.
Most adult bands outside of colleges and military institutions are community bands, formed of volunteer members of various degrees of proficiency.
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.
- Flutes 1,2,3
- (Alto Flute, Bass Flute)
- Oboes 1,2
- Bassoons 1,2
- Clarinets 1,2,3 in B flat
- E flat Clarinet, Alto Clarinet, Bass Clarinet
- (Contra-Alto Clarinet, Contrabass Clarinet)
- Saxophone: Altos 1,2, Tenor, Baritone
- Soprano Saxophone
- Trumpets/Cornets 1,2,3
- Horns 1,2,3,4
- Trombones 1,2,3
- Bass Trombone
- Percussion: various combinations of snare drum, bass drum, tambourine, cymbals, triangle, chimes, marimba, gong, wood block, vibraphone, glockenspiel, et cetera
- String Bass
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.
- J. S. Bach: Fantasia in G Major
- Leonard Bernstein: Candide overture
- Aaron Copland: Lincoln Portrait
- Edward Elgar: Enigma Variations
- Girolamo Frescobaldi: Toccata
- Gustav Holst: The Planets
- Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Procession of the Nobles from Mlada
- Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
- Ottorino Respighi: The Pines of Rome
- Gioacchino Rossini: Italian in Algiers overture
- Dmitri Shostakovich: Festive Overture
- Richard Strauss: Death and Transfiguration
- Richard Wagner: Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral
- Malcolm Arnold: Four Scottish Dances
- Robert Russell Bennett: Suite of Old American Dances
- John Barnes Chance: Variations on a Korean Folk Song
- David Ian Clerget : "Final Sunset" A Suite For Band
- Ingolf Dahl : Sinfonietta
- Norman Dello Joio: Scenes from the Louvre
- Ryan Fraley : Symphony No. 1 "Genome"
- Donald Grantham : Southern Harmony
- Percy Grainger: Children's March
- Percy Grainger: Irish Tune from County Derry
- Percy Grainger: Lincolnshire Posy
- Percy Grainger: Shephard's Hey
- Howard Hanson: Chorale and Alleluia
- Paul Hindemith: Symphony in B-flat
- Gustav Holst: First Suite in E-flat for Military Band
- Gustav Holst: Second Suite in F for Military Band
- Gustav Holst: Hammersmith
- Karel Husa: Music for Prague 1968
- Darius Milhaud: Suite Francaise
- Vincent Persichetti: Masquerade
- Vincent Persichetti: Pageant
- Vincent Persichetti: Symphony for Band
- Alfred Reed: Russian Christmas Music
- H. Owen Reed : La Fiesta Mexicana
- Rolf Rudin : Lied Ohne Worte
- Arnold Schoenberg: Theme and Variations
- William Schuman: Chester Overture
- Joseph Schwantner : ...And the Mountains Rising Nowhere
- Eric Whitacre: "October"
- Ralph Vaughan Williams: English Folk Song Suite
- Ralph Vaughan Williams: Flourish for Wind Band
- Haydn Wood : Mannin Veen
- American Bandmasters Association 
- Association of Concert Bands : "the international voice of adult bands"
- British Association of Symphonic Bands and Wind Ensembles 
- College Band Directors National Association 
- National Band Association 
- World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles 
- "Band", Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy Grove Music Online: subscription only
- Berz, William, "What's in a Name?," Tempo, 52 no. 1 (November 1997): 28-29. 
- Florida Bandmasters' Association list of concert music
- Winds: The International Magazine for the Wind Band Enthusiast
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