Concert Band: Are we in the Golden Age of Concert Bands?

Progress means change. With all the changes and progress around concert bands, are we living in its golden age? Here are my initial thoughts.

When you look through the history of about any thing on the planet, delineations are made based on the period of time. The 1990’s and early 2000’s in baseball are often referred to as the “steroid era.” We label generations based on certain factors. The Baby Boomers. Generation X. The Millennials.

Music history is no different. There are the various eras: Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Twentieth Century. And, of course, there are ways to break these down further. Yet, one term is often used to describe the height of any specific genre.

The “golden age.”

We have the Golden Age of Classical Music, often (not always) classified as the time from Bach to Beethoven. Many say that Duke Ellington and Count Basie were part of the Golden Age of Jazz. Then, discussions occur over if the Golden Age of Hip Hop was the 1980’s or 1990’s.

What about concert band music? The music for woodwinds, brass and percussion performed on stage in a concert setting? Could we be in the Golden Age of Concert Band?

Time will tell…

Concert bands are becoming a widely popular medium for performance. Sure, there were days when small towns across America enjoyed the sounds of community bands performing in the park on a Sunday afternoon. Yet today, most concert band programs are contained within educational institutions. Students around the United States are offered the opportunity to learn and perform within a concert band setting.

And, these ensembles come in all shapes and sizes with varying names. Yet, whether it is a Wind Ensemble or Wind Orchestra,  Symphonic Band or Chamber Winds, the consistent idea is the instrument-types that make up the ensemble.

From a historical standpoint, the strongest time period of the concert band may well be the 1950’s. Composers like Paul Hindemith and Vincent Persichetti construct significant works for the wind ensemble. In 1952, conductor Frederick Fennell instituted the Eastman Wind Ensemble as a serious performance medium.

Through the decades, significant works for winds have been composed by important composers. Aaron Copland. Leslie Bassett. Karel Husa. Percy Grainger. Joseph Schwantner. Darius Milhaud. Many of the works by these composers were part of Acton Eric Ostling, Jr.’s dissertation entitled An Evaluation of Compositions for Wind Band According to Specific Criteria of Serious Artistic Merit in 1978.

Texts, such as The Winds of Change by Frank Battisti, use Ostling’s survey as a foundation for finding works for serious merit. But, since that book’s publishing in 2002, things have changed, and a second volume was added in 2012.

Now more than ever…

The standards set by the Eastman Wind Ensemble – variety of music, commissioning composers, interaction with significant artists – has expanded exponentially due to technology. Now more than ever, the collaboration of composer and performer is available.

And encouraged.

What use to be communication through mail, shipping a taped recording of a rehearsal to a composer is now an instant interaction via email or file-sharing services. Composer websites allow for review of their works, a view of their schedule, and recordings.

Classes are able to Skype of FaceTime with artist for master classes or to discuss their practice routines. YouTube allows the sharing of new music through live-streaming of concerts.

Yet, it is more than technology. Collaboration is everywhere.

Conducting workshops bring life-long students together to work with the top teachers in the field. Music festivals are focusing more on education than simple scoring of performance. Composers are often brought into honor band festivals to discuss the music being performed.

And, there is the music.

Symphony No. 4 by David Maslanka. Jonathan Newman’s Symphony No. 1: My Hands are a City. Ecstatic Waters and Concerto for Wind Ensemble by Steven Bryant.

John Mackey has several works that may well stand-up to Ostling’s standards. Wine-Dark Seas. The Frozen Cathedral. Maybe even Aurora Awakes. 

Frank Tichelli. Scott McAllister. Julie Giroux. Alex Shapiro. The list can go one for a while. All with significant works for wind ensembles.

Fantastic conductors, both male and female, cover the educational systems in the United States.

So, in just reflecting and spewing out my thoughts, we could very well be in the Golden Era of Concert Bands

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