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Orchestration for Band: a companion course - Intro


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#1
Flint

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This lesson is intended as a companion course for QcCowboy’s Orchestration Masterclass. This class should be considered an extension of that course, as all of the basic concepts are applicable to the Orchestra and the Band equally. This course will explore the differences between the two ensembles to those basic concepts, as well as illuminate the possibilities present for writing for the ensemble.

INTRODUCTION

What’s in a name?

Before we begin, we must deal with the issue of what to call a "band". The titles "Concert Band", "Symphonic Band", "Wind Symphony", "Wind Band", and "Wind Ensemble" are all common variations on the same concept, each with a slightly different implication. All of these titles attempt to convey that the ensemble is primarily made up of woodwinds, brass, and percussion instruments. The difference between them can be mere semantics, but also can be a very important indicator of the size, scope, and capabilities of the ensemble.

The foremost concept that is necessary to impart regarding orchestrating for the band is that, unlike the orchestra, there is no "standard" instrumentation for the Band. While the Orchestra has had hundreds of years to settle into a more-or-less defined ensemble, the Band has existed for a fraction of that time. The "professional" wind ensemble has existed for a mere 60 years; prior to that time, the Band was typically a volunteer or scholastic organization. Indeed, even to this day the volunteer/scholastic Band is the norm, and the professional wind ensemble is the exception.

So what is the difference between the aforementioned 'band' names? Typically a "Concert Band" or "Wind Band" is a large ensemble consisting of many woodwinds, brass, and percussion. A "Symphonic Band" or "Wind Symphony" could be considered a larger or more technically skilled ensemble, with additional instruments, more players, and with a repertoire more difficult, expansive, and varied than the typical "Concert Band". The name "Wind Ensemble" usually refers to an ensemble where every part (except the clarinets) is played by one person; it is, in effect, a chamber ensemble.

Unfortunately, all these names are often used interchangeably, sometimes even when referring to the same ensembles. When writing for a specific ensemble (as for a commission), it is best to ask specifically which instruments to write for and how many players on each instrument, or else the composer risks having the part played by another instrument altogether, or worse, not at all.
Woodwind specialist


"Music is like wine, the less you know about it, the sweeter you like it." - Robertson Davies

#2
Flint

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Different Instruments, Different Concept of Ensemble

One of the major differences been the Orchestra and the Band is of course the instrumentation. Beyond the obvious difference of not having a string section, there is a completely different mentality regarding the use of instruments. In the Orchestra, if the composer writes for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings, the piece will almost invariably be played by that exact combination of instruments. In the Band, however, each band has its own peculiar instrumentation; a particular ensemble may have only 1 oboe, no bassoons, 5 flutes, 12 clarinets, etc. Frequent cross-cueing is sometimes necessary to ensure that parts are covered.

Due to this, many Band conductors have a rather cavalier attitude regarding the composer’s specified instrumentation. If an Orchestra has 3 flutes, but a work they are programming is written for 2 flutes, 1 of the flutists (the third chair) would normally remain tacet for that piece. In the Band, however, it is the norm for all the musicians to play, regardless of how many are specified… which can cause major balance and intonation issues. Those two flute parts you have written may be played by 2 flutists – or 30!

As a composer for Band, you must be aware of balance at all times due to this over-doubling of parts, and adjust your orchestration appropriately. If the part is to be played by one person, it must be marked solo. If you have written a duet for 2 flutes, the part must be marked two players (or 2 only). When a solo, duet, or other specified portion of a section has ended and the remaining players are to return to playing, you must mark the part with a2 or all. While this may be a deviation from Orchestral practice, it is the expected, normal, and appropriate instruction for the Band.

One drawback to the uncertainty regarding the Band’s instrumentation is that many composers (particularly of educational works) score their compositions with unnecessarily thick orchestration (the "safety in numbers" effect), resulting in a washed-out, overly heavy sound. Unfortunately, for many people, this is considered the "band" sound. Just as using the Orchestral tutti quickly tires the ear, the same effect happens with the Band. Discerning composers are finally realizing this and being more individual and adventuresome with the way they write for the Band, but even so, cross-cueing and doubling is still somewhat endemic to the ensemble.
Woodwind specialist


"Music is like wine, the less you know about it, the sweeter you like it." - Robertson Davies

#3
Flint

Flint

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The "Standard" Instrumentation

Due to the immense variety of Bands of all levels of skill, I will summarize three types of ensembles one is most likely to encounter: the Professional wind ensemble, the Collegiate/Scholastic band, and the Community band. Please note that each of the examples below is in proper score order (though some composers prefer to place the bassoons above the clarinets to keep the double reed instruments together).

Of the three types, the Professional wind ensemble will be most recognizable to composers accustomed to writing for Orchestra. The Professional wind ensemble will be a chamber ensemble with one person per part, excepting the Bb clarinets, who will have 2 or 3 players per part. The ensemble is usually of a fixed size, with no "extra" instruments, and will be quite capable of playing anything that one would write for the modern virtuoso Orchestra. The following list shows the typical Professional wind ensemble:

1 Piccolo (Flute III)
1 Flute I
1 Flute II (may double Alto Flute)
1 Oboe I
1 Oboe II (may double English Horn)
1 English Horn
0-1 Eb Clarinet (may also play Bb Clarinet I)
2-3 1st Bb Clarinets (one player may double on Eb Clarinet)
2-3 2nd Bb Clarinets
2-3 3rd Bb Clarinets
0-1 Eb Alto Clarinet
1 Bb Bass Clarinet
0-1 Eb Contra-alto Clarinet
0-1 Bb Contrabass Clarinet
1 Bassoon I
1 Bassoon II
0-1 Contrabassoon
1 1st Eb Alto Saxophone (may double Bb Soprano Saxophone)
1 2nd Eb Alto Saxophone
1 Bb Tenor Saxophone
1 Eb Baritone Saxophone
4-5 Bb Trumpets/Cornet (divided, see this article for details)
1 1st Horn in F
1 2nd Horn in F
1 3rd Horn in F
1 4th Horn in F
1 Trombone I
1 Trombone II
1 Trombone III (Bass Trombone)
1-2 Euphoniums
2-3 Tubas
0-1 String Bass
1 Timpani (4 to 5 drums)
3-5 Percussion



The typical Collegiate/Scholastic band is attached to an institute of higher learning. It tends to have more players, since many of the players are music majors or minors and are required to play in specific ensembles for course credit. This Band may be as accomplished as any Professional Band, or it may be only as advanced as a high school ensemble; the level of quality and musicianship may vary greatly. The following list shows the typical Collegiate/Scholastic band:

1-2 Piccolo (may double Flute)
1-6 Flute I
1-6 Flute II
1-6 Flute III
1-2 Oboe I
0-2 Oboe II (may double English Horn)
0-1 English Horn
0-1 Eb Clarinet (may also play Bb Clarinet I)
2-6 1st Bb Clarinets
2-6 2nd Bb Clarinets
2-6 3rd Bb Clarinets
0-2 Eb Alto Clarinets
1-4 Bb Bass Clarinets
0-2 Eb Contra-alto Clarinet
0-2 Bb Contrabass Clarinet
0-1 Bassoon I
0-1 Bassoon II
0-1 Contrabassoon
1-4 1st Eb Alto Saxophone (may double Bb Soprano Saxophone)
1-4 2nd Eb Alto Saxophone
1-4 Bb Tenor Saxophone
1-2 Eb Baritone Saxophone
6-12 Bb Trumpets/Cornet (divided, see this article for details)
1-2 1st Horn in F
1-2 2nd Horn in F
0-2 3rd Horn in F
0-2 4th Horn in F
1-3 Trombone I
1-3 Trombone II
1-3 Trombone III (Bass Trombone)
2-4 Euphoniums
2-4 Tubas
0-1 String Bass
1 Timpani (3 to 5 drums)
4-7 Percussion



Finally, the Community band is a mixed bag; it may be as skilled as a Professional band, or it may contain quite mediocre musicians. It may have a full complement of musicians (like a Professional band) to cover each part, or it may be missing key instruments. The composer never knows what he will encounter in a Community band. The following list shows an example of a possible Community band (on the smaller side… such a band could also be identical to the Collegiate/Scholastic band above):

0-1 Piccolo (may double Flute)
1-6 Flute I
1-6 Flute II
0-2 Oboe I
0-2 Oboe II (may double English Horn)
0-1 Eb Clarinet (may also play Bb Clarinet I)
2-6 1st Bb Clarinets
2-6 2nd Bb Clarinets
0-6 3rd Bb Clarinets
0-2 Eb Alto Clarinets
0-2 Bb Bass Clarinets
0-1 Eb Contra-alto Clarinet
0-1 Bb Contrabass Clarinet
0-1 Bassoon I
0-1 Bassoon II
1-2 1st Eb Alto Saxophone (may double Bb Soprano Saxophone)
1-2 2nd Eb Alto Saxophone
1-2 Bb Tenor Saxophone
0-1 Eb Baritone Saxophone
3-9 Bb Trumpets/Cornet (divided, see this article for details)
0-1 1st Horn in F
0-1 2nd Horn in F
0-1 3rd Horn in F
0-1 4th Horn in F
1-2 Trombone I
0-2 Trombone II
0-3 Trombone III (Bass Trombone)
1-3 Euphoniums
0-3 Tubas
0-1 Timpani (2 to 4 drums)
1-3 Percussion

Woodwind specialist


"Music is like wine, the less you know about it, the sweeter you like it." - Robertson Davies

#4
Flint

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In further articles in this course, I will address the individual instruments of the Band and discuss issues related to their abilities, uses, and practical limitations. Exercises may be assigned as appropriate.
Woodwind specialist


"Music is like wine, the less you know about it, the sweeter you like it." - Robertson Davies




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