The Music Complex

Home Page

About Us



CD Music












By John R. Davis

Copyright 1991



The modern band has become a instrument of musical expression that is quite unique and unheralded in this century. Its impact on the music world is steady being felt. More new serious music is being written and performed for this medium than any other. The compositional techniques and instrument technology has become very evident in the new style of the modern band.

The history of this medium is long and varied. However, I will start with the "father" of the band, John Phillip Sousa. It is not my intention to give a full discourse on the developement of the modern band. There are many innovative musicians that will not be discussed, i.e. Patrick Gilmore.


John Phillip Sousa (Brief Bio)

American bandmaster and composer. His father was Portugese and his mother Bavarian. He studied the violin in 1864-1867. After this introductory study of music, father Sousa, primarily to dissuade his son from running away with a circus, enlisted John Phillip in the Marines as an apprentice on June 9, 1868, at the age of thirteen. He spent his time engaged in menial chores of sorting music, moving music racks and running errands. Sousa remained in the Marine Corps for seven years.

According to Sousa himself, he played the trombone and learned to "read, write, and cypher as far as the single rule of three." One dollar was deducted from his meager monthly pay for this scholastic training, and another two dollars per month for his musical studies. It must be remembered that playing in the Marine Band in those days was really only a part - time job, rather than the full-time work it is today with a symphonic band. Practically all of the band members sought work playing with private organizations to supplement their small service pay.

This military training had lasting effects on Sousa. he was known throughout his life for his erect carriage, poise, and neat attire, and he used military discipline and other military ideas in handling his musicians and bands.

Sousa, after a special release from the Marines in 1875, spent the next few years performing and conducting orchestras. He played violin in one theatre orchestra conducted by Jacques Offenbach, the popular French composer of the day, who was touring America and was appearing at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. For Offenbach, Sousa wrote the "International Congress " July 4,1876.

On October 1, 1880, Sousa was appointed 17th director of the United States Marine Band, and during the twelve years he held that position he served under five presidents- Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison. A quarter of a century later, he was guest-director on several engagements for President Herbert Hoover. As director of the band, Sousa held the rank of sergeant-major, with the title of Principal Musician.

He was appointed leader of the U.S Marine Corps band in 1880 and retained that post until 1892 when he formed his own band with which he gave his first concert at Plainfield N.J.,on 26 Sept. The band became very popular,and he visited Europe with it in 1900,1901,1903 and 1905. In 1910-1911 he went on a world tour.

Sousa's fame rested mainly on his marches, among the universally popular of which were the Star and Stripes for Ever, Hands Across the Sea, He also wrote numerous operettas, some of which were very successful, one, The Charlatan, (1897), being giving in London in 1898. Another great march was El Capitan, (1896) . The Washington Post was written for the paper of the name in Washington. The HIgh School Cadets was written for a high school in Washington. King Cotton was written for the Louisiana Exposition. Semper Fidelis (always Faithful), now some times known as The March Of The Devil Dogs, was written for The United States Marines; and the March Of The Welch Fusiliers , was written for the great regiment of that name which joined The United States Marines in the protection of Tientsien, during the Boxer Rebellion.


Sousa's Philosophy

John Phillip Sousa in 1917. suspended the operations of his famous professional civilian band and entered the Navy for active wartime duty. Immediately, he took charge of the large and rather unwieldy band . Actually, the band was a training school. It was designed to prepare young recruits, with musican's rating, to furnish shipboard music. The friendly but determined bandmaster, from the very start, rehearsed the band almost relentlessly. It was the only way he could maintain anything approaching a professional level with a large band made up of an ever-changing group of members. Within a short period, Sousa and this new Naval band began to make appearances in support of various wartime activities. In the following 17 or 18 months,he took this band to most of the large cities in the United States. Playing in one of Sousa's three large bands provided a headly experience for a young man just out of high school. Rehearsals, concerts, parades, and other ceremonies were filled with incidents a storyteller yearns for. After many rehearsals.Sousa shared this special moment with members of the band.

"We are going to play my newest piece," he announced. It is a march. Since I do not use a piano or any other musical instrument when I am producing my music, no one has ever heard a note of it."Then, holding the sheets of music high, he said,"Today we will read from handwritten manuscript. Remember, your ears will be the first to hear the strains of this new composition. Take a few minutes to study the music. Until we actually play it, however, do not make a single sound on any band instrument." Assistants quickly handed the music to the various section heads.

In about five minutes, Sousa resumed his place on the podium. His friendly and easy going manner had changed. He became almost a martinet as he said, "You are to give me your best effort."It was a command. "Under no circumstances", he continued, "will we stop before the piece is complete. I must hear it in its entirely."

The conductor/composer brought his new composition to a resounding close. Breathless, the young musicians waited for his reaction. It came in seconds. His face broke into a big grin as he said, "Exactly the way I wanted it to sound."

His remake broke the tension. Each player quickly stood and cheered, stopping only after the bandmaster indicated he wished to speak. "Thank you, thank you, " Sousa said with a bow. Then added, "You have done an excellent job of sight reading from manuscript. I am proud of you. The piece will be published exactly as you have played it for me. The public will hear it for the first time month after next at the Hippodrome in New York City when we assist in a big Liberty Loan Drive."

Month after month, Sousa directed the large band until the war ended. Sousa and his Recruit Band, as he called it, appeared for concert parades and other ceremonials in Kansas City, Milwaukee, Cleveland , Columbus, Cincinnati, and Pittsburg. He took the band to Detroit, Windsor, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City, and other principal cities. At least one spectacular concert was performed in Carnegie Hall.

The student bands in our publics schools are reaching an amazing status.There is far more interest in this activity in the West and Middle West than in the East.The normal boy always finds a joy in playing in a band.He seems to incline far more naturally to the band than to the orchestra. It is about as difficult to coax the average boy to play in a band as is to coax an Airedale to eat beefsteak.He soon finds that however delightful it may be to listen to music,it is ten times as much fun to play the music himself. He forgets the routine of practice in his intensified interest. Once you start a boy studying music in the right way ,and get him past that critical point where he has acquired sufficient technique to make playing easy, and you have a boy who will be in music for life. No matter if he rises to the highest office in the land, he is enormously expanded by music.

To my mind ,the introduction of student bands in public school work is a godsend to America. Take my word for it, these organizations will galvanize thousands of lackadaisical and undisciplined youngsters in a way which would not be possible in any other manner. Authorities in prisons have found that the introduction of bands has a wonderful influence upon discipline and character. The trouble is that they are brought in too late. The boys that are playing on musical instruments behind bars might never have gotten there if they had learned to play them before they got in. A boy with a cornet or a saxophone, learning to play Massener's Elegy or Bizet's Toreador Song has very little time to lay plans for becoming a gunman. Playing in a band gives a boy pride; he throws his shoulders back; he is somebody. He must live his life in accord with his new position

Brass Bands

In the past two decades the brass band's repertoire has increased and improved immeasurably as a result of gifted composers and arrangers who realize this medium can be a gratifying outlet for their creative abilities. Much of the repertoire is still made up of short pieces, selections from Broadway shows, and works from orchestral literature, which are now being scored more closely to the originals than before. It is encouraging to see an every-increasing amount of first-rate original music. Though most of it is still British, now American, Canadian, European, Scandinavian, and Australian composers are making their presence felt. This inter- nationalization of brass band literature can only expand the growth of brass bands outside the U.K. even faster.

One frustration new brass band conductors experience is that British brass band publishers have in the past rarely graded their music, although this is changing. This means that unless a director has recordings on hand or is familiar with the literature, he may have to purchase music without knowing its level of difficulty.

Music, even in its most primitive forms, seems to have an influence upon some portion of man kind. The Salvation Army, for instance, has depended upon banjos, accordions, guitars, tambourines, anything that was musical, to spread its gospel. From this has grown many fine bands, here and abroad.

The Salvation Army's first medium of appeal is music. Once in Pittsburgh , I asked Gen. Ballington Booth how he got such a firm hold on the down and out man and helps him back . His reply was , "First we give them soap then the soup , then the salvation , and plenty of it". We have gotten to depend upon ourselves and our machinery so much that we are in danger of forgetting that there is a God. Nothing brings us closer to God than beautiful music. If you want to know one of the very good reasons why the world needs bands, just ask one of the Salvation Army warriors who for years have searched carrying the Cross through the back alleys of life. Let him tell of the armies of men whom has been turned toward a better life by first hearing the sound of a Salvation Army band. The first time you hear a Salvation Army band, no matter how humble, take off your hat.


Contributions to Brass Band Repertoire

  • Arthur Bliss - Kenilworth, Belmont Variations.
  • Harrison Birtwistle - Grimethorpe Aria.
  • Edwards Elgar - Severn Suite.
  • Hans Werner Henze - Ragtime, Habaneras.
  • Gustav Holst - A Moorside Suite.
  • John Ireland - Comedy Overture, A Downland Suite.
  • John McCabe - Images.
  • Toru Takemitsu - Garden Rain.
  • Michael Tippett - Festival Brass With Blues.
  • Ralph Vaughan Williams - Variations for Brass Band, Prelude on Three Welsh Hymn tunes.

Evolution of the Modern Band

The Sousa Band varied in size. 75 players was evidently the size he preferred, but often, for financial reasons, the band numbered 50 or less. The first Sousa Band numbered 49, a Carnegie Hall Concert in 1896 saw a band or 55, he took 61 members with him to Europe in 1900, at the St Louis World's Fair in 1904 he had 64, and on the world tour of 1910-11 he took 68. In San Francisco in 1915 he again had 64, and for a concert at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1922 he had the largest band of his professional career, 100 members. In 1924, the size of the band was 75 ( often cited as his typical band ), and the Cleveland Exposition in 1926 saw a Sousa Band of 72. In 1928, he used 84 men, and in 1929, his band for an NBC radio concert series sponsored by General Motors numbered 52. The following columns show the instrumentation of the band in two typical years.


1 piccolo

3 flutes

2 oboes

2 E-flat clarinets

16 clarinets

2 alto clarinets

2 bass clarinets

3 bassoons

2 alto saxophones

2 tenor saxophones

1 baritone sax

4 cornets

2 trumpets

2 Fluegelhorns

4 French horns

4 trombones

1 baritone

1 euphonium

4 sousaphones

3 percussion

6 flutes ( doubling piccolo )

2 oboes

1 English horn

26 clarinets

1 alto clarinet

2 bass clarinets

2 bassoons

4 alto saxophones

2 tenor saxophones

1 baritone sax

1 bass sax

6 cornets

2 trumpets

4 French horns

4 trombones

2 euphoniums

6 sousaphones

3 percussion



61 Musicians

75 Musicians

The Sousa Bands ( actually he had not one but many different bands), are often cited in band-instrumentation arguments. Little criticism of his band make-up is levelled with the exception of two points: many regard his use of only one or two alto clarinets as insufficient for the size band he had-others say that any alto clarinets at all are too many. Secondly, he is occasionally criticized for having many more clarinets and cornets on the first part than on the second and third parts. His argument against the string bass in the concert band has now become classic:

If a string bass, why not a cello? And once granted the cello, why not the viola and divided violins? In fact, why not become a symphony orchestra at once?" Sousa had a distaste for the E-flat clarinet also- "I never had an E-flat clarinet that didn't foul up in certain keys, so I decided that from now on I would limit the use of an E-flat clarinet to just four measures, once every leap year!"

The band has suffered throughout its existence from an unstable instrumentation. The fluegal horn, saxhorn, valve trombone (often written in treble clef), C melody saxophone, E flat alto (peck) horn, B flat soprano saxophone, E flat soprano clarinet, E flat cornet, bass saxophone, all have come and gone. But the significant change has been in the concept of what the band is, which in turn has affected greatly the nature of musical arrangements for bands.

For many years the band was thought of in "town band" terms; that is, a small but noisy group that existed primarily to give concerts on hot summer nights in the town park, and that played a diet of music consisting of novelties, light overtures, marches, and an occasional dazzling solo. Nobody took it seriously.

Following World War I and on into the 1940's the band took on a new dimension. However, it could not shake some of its old habits, one being that it must still produce a big enough sound to be heard well outdoors. Because good original compositions for band were lacking, the repertoire became heavy with transcriptions-"Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral" from Wagner's Lohengrin. and many more. This style of band, which is probably still the dominant one in secondary schools, calls for many players, preferbly nearly a hundred. When the band is good, the effect is that of a mighty organ. Because of its strong and senuous tone, it is at its best with transcriptions of 19th century masterpieces and Bach organ music.

Since World War II another concept has appeared in bands and band music. It strongly favors original compositions, which of course are largely by contemporary composers. Since these composers live in the 20th century, they do not write for the romantic sound of yesteryear. Their music calls for few players and a less lavish use of instruments. No longer is it interested in the lush, rolling effects of the generation before; rather, it is more intellectual and detached in its approach.

"Elsa's Procession to the Cathedral" is intended for a big band, and is not as effective when done with 45 players. And the reverse is true: Persichetti's "Divertimento for Band" is not as effective when played by one hundred players. It is not a question of which style is "right," because both have musical value when properly used, but rather getting the right music with the right concept.


The following chart compares the large instrumental groups today.



25 First clarinets

10 Second clarinets

6 Third clarinets

4 Alto clarinets

4 Bass clarinets

4 Alto saxophones

2 Tenor saxophones

2 Baritone saxophones

2 Bass saxophones

10 Sousaphones and tubas

3 Bassoons

1 Contra bassoon

2 Oboes

1 English horn

6 Flutes

4 Horns

6 Cornets

2 Trumpets

4 Trombones

3 Euphoniums

1 Timpani

1 Small drum

1 Bass drum

40 First violins

30 Second violins

25 Violas

25 Cellos






12 Double basses

3 Bassoons

1 Contra bassoon

2 Oboes

1 English horn

4 Flutes

8 Horns


4 Trumpets

3 Trombones


1 Timpani

1 Small drum

1 Bass drum

Contemporary Band Composers


Mark Camphouse

I will not debate the challenges of leading a band rather an orchestra, but I do not know any serious composer who has not found composing for band to be the greatest challenge, especially during the orchestration process. It requires great care and more to achieve transparency of texture, contrast, and balance in band scoring. For example, I spent four weeks composing "Elegy ", but orchestrating the work took over fourteen weeks. Although there are many fine orchestration teachers and texts, the best teachers of orchestration are not professors or textbooks, but masterpieces written by great composers throughout history. Indeed, music libraries make it possible for any of us to study orchestration with the world's greatest composers. Band conductors and composers are responsible for the future of band composition, conducting, and aesthetic qualities our medium deserves and needs..

Elegy has been rated a 6 in difficulty (highest level). Most difficult are the exposed solo passages, trumpet and horn tessitura, and maintaining intensity of tone and expression during extended phrases at contrasting dynamic levels. Although the work's tempos are slow (mm quarter = 56-80) throughout, there are many metronomic changes and subtle fluctuations in tempo that are crucial to the pacing of the work.

The composer has suggested accurate releases throughout Elegy. The orchestration is "economized" by using one and two players per part at certain designated places. Mr Camphouse is looking for enhanced textural transparency and clarity of musical line. He strives to achieve serenity in the last eight bars of the work.

John Zdechlik

Chorale and Shaker Dance, John Zdechlik (grade 4).Born in Minneapolis in 1937, John Zdechlik holds degrees in music education as well as composition and theory from the University of Minnesota and currently teaches and compose in his native state. A student of Paul Fetler and Dominick Argento, Zdechlik has written several large orchestral works and numerous pieces for concert band, Chorale and Shaker Dance, published in 1972.

Requiring full instrumentation and capable performers in every section, the work presents a progression of instrumental timbres and chord textures. Zdechlik constructs complex sonorities through multi-part writing but presents thematic material in phrases of single note entries; careful counting from performers and confident cueing from conductors is essential to a clean performance. Short solos for flute, clarinet, saxophone, and trumpet as well as important section entrance for horn, trombone, and tuba keeps all players alert. Zdechlik crowns the work with creative percussion writing that ranges from rudimental snare drumming to a sparkling mallet part; demanding timpani writing drives the work to its dramatic conclusion. Although meter changes and syncopation abound, the music has a logical, dramatic flow that impresses audiences and performers alike.

Most of the themation material is based on the colonial hymn tune Simple Gifts; the chorale, which opens in the woodwinds, returns as a counter melody, and later serves as a rhythmic chordal accompaniment to a snare drum solo. Finally sustained brasses play the chorale theme as the background to a fiery woodwind obbligato taken from the original Shaker hymn melody.

Commissioned by the Jefferson High School Band, Bloomington, Minnesota, Earl Benson, conductor, Chorale and Shaker Dance has become a standard in the band repertoire since its premiere at the national convention of the Music Educators National Conference in 1972. The work contains two basic ideas: the Chorale, which is simple, single phrased melody, and the Shaker song, "The Gift to be Simple." These melodies are used in alteration, combination, and with extreme rhythmic variation throughout the composition.

Francis Mcbeth

Kaddish, W. Francis McBeth (grade 3). Kaddish was commissioned by Howard Dunn and the Richardson (Texas) High School Band.

When Dunn called me about a commission,I told him that I was very despondent over the illness of James Clifton Williams (one of my college teachers) and that our telephone communication that week (I had been calling every few weeks during that last hospital stay) was such that I knew it was to be our last. I asked Dunn if he would allow me to write a work in Jim's memory.

When approaching McBeth's work, the first step is to find the scale. The scale, of course, is the basic building material of any musical work and will tell you about the basic style that is desired. To find the scale that Kaddish is built on, go to the first non-percussion note of the work in measure 3. It starts on C in the top voice and progress upward C,D flat, E flat, and F. The bottom voice starts on the same C and progresses C, B flat, A flat, G flat and F. The outer voices both start on C and end on F, but look what they form. The upper voice forms the first four notes of the Phrygian scale (ascending) on C, and the lower voice forms the first five notes of the Phrygian scale (descending) on F. In the first two measures of the work the chimes state the minor second (C-D flat),which is characteristic Phrygian interval of the motive. In measure three it starts with the original statement. It is stated three times, simultaneously ascending and descending plus harmonization. These three statements set the tone for the entire work. They cannot be played using a metronome tempo. McBeth states that the most subtle of rubato must be used in the second measure of each statement with a little more in the third. These are tempo variances that cannot be written the music because if written they would be overdone. A conductor either feels the correct rubato here or he doesn't. There is no in between. The crescendo is never done enough in the third measure of each statement. Nuance must be exaggerated in all music, but it is imperative in romantic music. You must approach this work with your best understanding of romanticism, and it should be readily seen by your physical attitude on the podium.Let the band know the intent of the work before any rehearsing is started.

This has been my approach in teaching this work to my bands in Illinois and California. My Illinois groups received superior ratings in performing this work. Remember that the volume variance are desperately important to achieve the dramatic effect that is necessary. This work is a combination of all the emotions that surround the death of a friend-cries, shouts, resignation, and sorrow-but the work should end as an alleluia, an affirmation of life. An excellent composition for band!

Jared Spears

Jared Spears is a composer with the unique ability to write music for bands on levels, from elementary to college. He is professor of music at Arkansas state University in Jonesboro, teaching composition, orchestration, theory, and history. As resident composer at the university, Spears received its outstanding Faculty Member Award in 1980.

Spears's best known works include the KIMBERLY OVERTURE, MOMENTATIONS, WIND RIVER PORTRAIT, ALLELUIAS, MEDITATION and FESTIVA, and CANTICLES. In addition to a busy composing schedule, he appears at other universities as a guest lecturer and conducts band festivals, camps, and clinics in the United States, Canada, and Norway.


An interview with Spears:



"Fred Schmoyer, the band director at Arlington Heights High School actually got me to write my first piece for band. Later, at Northern Illinois University, Maurice Weed got me interested in the music of Debussy, Roy Harris, Stravinsky, and other 20th-century composers. Blythe Owen, my composition teacher at the Cosmopolitan School of Music in Chicago, grounded me in basic forms and developed my perspective of the craft. By the time I got to Northwestern University to work on a doctorate, I found that I had just scratched the surface of the possibilities of sound and form. I was fortunate to have two different composition teachers there. Anthony Donato made me write in the style of time--twelve-tone, free atonality, and so on -- but he always kept me thinking within practical, not outlandish limits, for which I am grateful. My other teacher was Alan Stout, who introduced me to the music of Penderecki, Ligeti, and Lutoslawski. From Stout I learned to explore the unknown and search for sounds and shapes I had never known before."


"Several years ago , Alfred Reed and I spent two weeks together working at a band camp in Saskatchewan, Canada. Being still somewhat green in the profession, I was awed by this fine composer and his astounding storehouse of experience, concepts, information, and solution. During the evenings and weekends we would wander through the hills surrounding the camp, and I would ask him questions about music and for advice on my own career. He unselfishly shared his knowledge, and I soaked up every word.

Vincent Persichetti

Persichetti was a rarity among composers of his time, writing many works for band while others wrote one or two. Conductors are indebted to him for his efforts during the struggle for professional recognition of the band.

Persichetti was born in Philadelphia in 1915 and studied theory, piano, and organ. By the age of 16 he was already a church organist in Philadelphia. He received his undergraduate training at Combs College and advanced degrees at the Philadelphia Conservatory, studying composition with Paul Nordoff and Roy Harris and conducting with Fritz Reiner. His commissions included works for the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Koussevitsky Foundation.

In an article by Rudy Shackelford for the 1982 spring issue of Perspectives of New Music Persichetti was asked how he began writing for band and replied ,

My earliest works were stimulated by the sound of winds. In 1926 my grade-school chamber group - oboe, horn, and bassoon (the Angelucci brothers), plus soprano sax, violin, and piano - performed arrangements of hotel and symphony music. Then, in 1929, came my Op.1, Serenade for Ten Winds and in 1934 the Pastoral for Woodwinds Quintet. I'd been composing in a log cabin school house in El Dorado, Kansas, during the summer of 1949, working with some lovely woodwind figures, accentuated by choirs of aggressive brasses and percussion beating. I soon realized the strings weren't going to enter, and my Divertimento began to take shape.

His attitude toward the band, a word he did not avoid using, solidified in his early years. In a 1964 article on his Symphony No.6 for Band that appeared in the Journal of Band Research he said,

"One should no longer apologize for the word (band). Band music is virtually the only kind of music in America today (outside the pop field), which can be introduced, accepted, put to immediate use, and become a staple of the literature in a short time."


Closing Thoughts

The impact of Marching Bands on our 20th century society was evident when a few weeks ago we welcomed home our troops from Irag. Football games, parades, celebrations, and in general all events with pomp and grandeur will showcase the marching band. My emphasis in this article has been to acknowledge the growth and emerging importance of concert music for this medium.

As technology continues to improve, the instruments of the band will undoubtedly change. The interperative skills of directors and conductors will have to become more refined. More new band music is constantly being exposed to enthusiastic audiences all over the world. The excitement a concert band can create is continuing to become addictive.

Futhermore, it is not wishful dreaming to foresee a pops season for professional concert bands in our cities just as the symphony patrons enjoy. Estimates show that there are between 30,000-40,000 bands in this country. If only 20% of them joined in this promotion, it would make a powerful impact.............

The Music Complex | About Us | Band | Contacts | CD Music | Jazz |

Library | Links | Midi | Orchestra | Realaudio | Resources  



The Music Complex
Copyright 1998. All Rights Reserved.