No strings attached …
A wind symphony provides all voices from a traditional orchestra using only wind and percussion instruments. That is, there are no string sections: violins, violas, and cellos. This is done by adding many more brass and woodwind players and percussionists playing both pitched and rhythm instruments. A wind symphony may employ the harp or string bass and soloists on any instrument.
The sound of a wind symphony is unique. Some feel it has the characteristic sound of a large and powerful pipe organ. Yet the music is an artistically combined sound. Individual musicians intone their own separate “pipes” and percussionists create sounds striking a wide variety of instruments. This carefully blended interpretation breathes life into the composer’s work, which in turn communicates in a way that only fine music can.
The following on-line article discusses the evolution of the Wind Symphony.
Strike up the Band…once again!
A New Look at the Music of the Wind Bands
by Adrian Tan
Actually we’ve already seen these ensembles in different forms, from the serenade wind bands of Mozart to the English brass bands, to Sousa’s marching band, Glen Miller’s big band, to the military bands in every country plus the many wind orchestras and symphonic bands which exist in the world
I have heard renditions of the Russian and Ludmilla Overture with the daunting running passages executed with accuracy and finesse, as well as performances of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, Debussy’s La Mer and even Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C-minor without the slightest hint of ineptness or fault. No doubt the wind band is different sounds different from an orchestra but its unique sonority is perhaps the best reason why we should pay attention to these new ensembles. They can generate beautiful phrases and strains never heard before by musicians who have challenged the limitations of the wind band, and sweet music literally with the air in their lungs – each delicate phrase a sigh and each note in the grandest fanfare a test of stamina and strength.
Many people have this impression that the orchestra is a superior ensemble as compared to the wind symphony. I would like to stress that they are both distinct and unique ensembles, each with a vast and diverse repertoire which are not meant to be compared. Even when the wind band takes on orchestral repertoire, one must understand that it is individual performance and interpretation, not the wind band trying to imitate an orchestra.
In recent years, many composers have also looked with favour at the potential of the wind band, creating a potent repertoire for this medium. It began with the marches from the pen of the March King, John Philip Sousa, who was a master of counterpoint and melody. ——-Paul Hindemith, Ralph VaughanWilliams and Gustav Holst wrote now what we consider standard repertory for the wind band. ——-
In recent years, talented young composers have accepted the pen from these masters and have produced much more music for this beautiful medium. Dutch composer Johan De Meij (b.1953) composed The Lord of the Rings, a symphony for wind band which has received numerous nominations and awards. [Performed by CCWS on May 30, 2003]
Composers aside, distinguished conductors have guided their ensembles to international acclaim. The most famous of which is Frederick Fennell, who released a definitive collection of the wind band repertoire with Mercury Records and who is now conductor of the world-famous Eastman Wind Ensemble and the Japanese Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra. Another great musician is Eugene Corporon, who now leads the prolific North Texas Wind Symphony (University of North Texas College of Music) which in 1989 initiated the Klavier Wind Recording Project which to date have yielded 15 recordings. These feature over 100 compositions by more than 80 composers amongst which are Shostakovich and avant garde musician John Adams. [Resident of Piedmont, California.]
I would also like to point out that locally and overseas, the wind bands serve as an excellent venue for young musicians to learn their instrument and to be exposed to music. Being financially and practically more viable to set up than orchestras in schools, many who have had the courage to further their musical education had their roots in the band movement.
Perhaps what we should address is the education of these young musicians in school bands and the type of exposure they get from band music. There are many, many poor compositions out there which seem to have only commercial appeal but not aesthetic value. These should only be used at best to whet the musical appetites of young musicians and not to be hailed as masterworks by their teachers in front of these impressionable youths. Properly developed, this channel will definitely be a major contributor to the few serious musicians we have locally and internationally.
Here is another medium for music which all serious musicians should consider again. Give it a chance and you’ll be duly rewarded.
As for those of us who have had our heads stuck in band music all this while, it’s about time we looked beyond the musical horizon and realize what we have missed. We recognize music by its sound, meaning and emotion, and not merely by its instrumental make-up. We all have our preferences … but first lend an ear to the wind bands. You’ll be surprised.
(published on-line January 21, 1998,
Wind ensembles and symphonic bands are two instrumental groups that play similar literature but have different numbers of instruments. A symphonic band is a much larger group with more diverse instruments, while the wind ensemble’s small numbers make it better for small concert halls and more complex pieces. The more musicians in an ensemble, the harder it is to control the ensemble and play virtuosic music.
Some pieces of music are written specifically for wind ensembles and don’t sound correct when played in a symphonic band. For various reasons, the music for a wind ensemble must be more carefully constructed. In a symphonic band, it is possible to allow individual players to rest within a composition, while it becomes very obvious when a player drops out in a wind ensemble. The advantages of a symphonic band includes the ability to play longer pieces and provide greater textural diversity. The symphonic band has more instruments, but also retains the capability to reduce to one player per part for more intimate sections of the literature.
The wind ensemble typically includes the best musicians from an area or school. These ensembles are seen as elite groups in which each player must perform with precision and accuracy. Each player in the wind ensemble must retain good tone quality on their instrument, as well. Since each individual player can be heard more easily in a wind ensemble, any mistake during an ensemble performance stands out.
In a symphonic band, a greater number of flutes, clarinets, bassoons, euphoniums, trombones, tubas and trumpets significantly increases the sound of the ensemble. The typical symphonic band has between 90 and 100 musicians, including a percussion section, brass and keyboards in addition to woodwinds. It is less crucial for members of a symphonic band to have high tone production on their instruments, as individual instruments are masked more effectively in the larger group. These instrumentalists still must avoid playing incorrect notes and rhythms.
The wind ensemble has the ability to create a more distinct sound where each of the individual instrument colors come through. Think of a crowded room; the more people you have, the less you can distinguish between individual voices. With the symphonic band, the music of each instrument blends into a single homogeneous sound. Conductors have long argued over which ensemble provides the better sound for wind music.