The Contemporary Wind Band Concept

Jeffrey Renshaw


The Windband approach adheres to the philosophy that all ensembles under the "umbrella" have the same musical validity, and each individually possesses positive and negative aspects. No one ensemble should be used to the exclusion of another, and mixed use of several instrumentation’s within a concert program will provide a repertoire and musical variety not found on programs of a single ensemble approach.


The primary consideration should be the musical validity of the individual composition. Other criteria for selection should be based on instrumentation, personnel distribution, performance standards, repertoire development and programming techniques and styles.


As mentioned earlier, each of the present systems have both positive and negative consequences. The wind ensemble has come to be regarded as exclusionary and select. The repertoire of the true "chamber winds" approach excludes a large portion of the historical repertoire. The symphonic band in turn excludes the classical chamber music and much of the contemporary orchestral wind works that are in the forefront of composition today. The majority of the repertoire for this ensemble comes from the tradition of transcriptions and arrangements with a select group of notable exceptions.


The "ideal" concept would combine the positive aspects of each system while attempting to eliminate their combined negatives. To restate the opening goal - the ultimate education that we can offer our students is a well rounded experience that would strive to prepare them for as many situations as possible by providing exposure to a wide variety of repertoire and responsibilities.


Definition of Ensemble Genres:

Wind Ensemble

The Wind Ensemble is based on a “pool” of players ranging from as small as a trio to as large as the available resources. The programming is “Composer Based” utilizing the player pool to accurately represent the timbres, balances and instrumental weights that the composer specified for each composition. A typical concert will “rotate” players within the pool as the programming demands.


Symphonic Band (Concert Band)

The Symphonic Band and Concert Band, in concept, are based on a fixed instrumentation. Repertoire includes original works for windband and transcriptions of keyboard and orchestral repertoire that are usually instrumented for a large ensemble. Player rotation and Wind Ensemble repertoire is programmed on a more limited basis. The personnel are selected from the same player pool as other groups. There is more opportunity to refine basicensemble skills.


 Wind Orchestra

The Wind Orchestra is a specific genre based on the “Double Orchestral Wind Section.” The typical instrumentation is four each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets, horns, trombones, and one tuba with percussion, keyboard and harp available. The Wind Orchestra uses no saxophones as a regular orchestrational requirement. Although many composers write specifically for the Wind Orchestra as an ensemble, the Wind Ensemble repertoire is generally interchangeable with this instrumentation.


Chamber Winds

Chamber Winds designates music for two to twelve players in either a conducted or un-conducted performance. The typical ensemble pool is a double quintet (woodwind and brass). At Castleton this ensemble is incorporated into the Wind Ensembles and Chamber Music programs.


What do all of these ensemble names mean?


What’s in a name?

Names give identity to people, places or objects and often give clues to the background, purpose or use of the entity they identify. An individuals given name can imply gender, surnames often identify nationality or heritage. In the realm of windbands there are bands, symphonic bands, concert bands, symphony bands, marching bands, pep bands, dance bands, jazz bands, town bands, community bands, wind ensembles, symphonic wind ensembles and wind orchestras. There are also professional, military, university, college, high school, middle school, junior high and elementary bands and don’t forget that in Britain the band is the name used for the orchestra, the military band is the term for a concert band rather than the more numerous brass band and in many European countries the wind ensemble identifies a small chamber group.


A rose by any other name....

The modern Symphony Orchestra, also described as a Philharmonic Orchestra, employs a fewer number of players for a Symphony by Mozart than it does for a much larger work by Mahler. The size of the ensemble is artistically “pre-decided” by the composer. A Symphony Orchestra which performs mostly smaller works is usually described as a Chamber Orchestra, also with a flexible instrumentation prescribed by the composer.


In the world of windbands, the Concert Band - also described as a Symphonic Band or Symphony Band -generally performs repertoire that the composer has scored for a large instrumentation as well as transcriptions of works arranged for a similar number of players. The Wind Orchestra is generally the classical wind section of the orchestra doubled in size, again performing literature specifically written for this combination of instruments.


Of all the windbands, the Wind Ensemble is the most diverse in instrumentation and varies dramatically in size by the repertoire that it performs. It may encompass all of the repertoire of the Concert Band and Wind Orchestra as well as wind chamber music performances, percussion ensemble works and the enormous variety of the 20th century Contemporary Music Ensemble.


Whether an ensemble is titled Concert- Symphonic - Symphony Band, Wind Orchestra, Symphonic Wind Ensemble or simply Wind Ensemble, the nomenclature is representative of the composer/arrangers requirement of instrumentation proportions in the music and not of the performance quality or artistic worth.


Why the confusion?

The label of Wind Ensemble consists of the most numerous variations of wind, percussion and keyboard instruments (as well as single part strings) and as a result contributes to the confusion of its own identity. A more precise and descriptive nomenclature might be to name the ensemble with the identity of each composer it performs. Thus a concert by Wind Ensembles would be performed by a Mozart wind ensemble, a Holst wind ensemble and a Stravinsky wind ensemble.