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A Brief History of the Wind Band in the 20th Century

A Brief History of the Wind Band in the 20th Century

Author: Vincent Du Beau

This tutorial is still a work in progress!

As musicians, we have an obligation to understand where our music comes from and for what purpose it exists. Through this tutorial, you will have an opportunity to discover who the major composers/players were in the development of the Wind Band in the twentieth century, and how their work laid the foundation for our school band programs today.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the wind band, usually referred to as a concert band, was experiencing growth at an exponential rate. By the 1920's, nearly every major city had several bands, and many suburbs also established local bands to satisfy the growing number of commuter families moving out of the cities. The immense popularity of the orchestra dictated that bands keep to a fairly regular repertoire of transcriptions of the orchestral repertoire, in addition to hosts of military marches and occasional original works. Just after the turn of the century, some of the world's leading composers began writing works for military bands, the only truly professional bands in existence. These works were so well-received, that they [composers] continued to be commissioned for their works, laying the foundation for a body of repertoire that has continued to grow exponentially over the past 100 years.

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How to Use the Timeline & History

Use the Timeline and Short History to explore that development of the ensemble concept throughout the centuries. Given your knowledge of today's wind/concert band, try to map where you think each century will go with its development of instruments and instrumentation. For example, if you recall when orchestras began using trumpets, you can begin to map other ensembles and works/composers around such changes.

Once you arrive at the 20th century (which has changed little by today's musical/ensemble standards) consider the following question: Was the 20th century completely "in with the new" or was it more of "old wine in new bottles?"

Source: Vincent S. Du Beau, 2013.

Programming & Repertoire

In your study of the wind band, it is important to understand who the "key players" have been as the repertoire has grown. This document goes into my own philosophy on programming repertoire, but more importantly, it contains a list of works for the wind band by some of the more prolific and/or sought-after composers for the genre.

If there are any works or composers you can identify, or if there are works about which you a curious, take to YouTube, and give a listen. Based on your growing knowledge of the wind band's history over the past 100 years, and it's repertory growth from transcriptions to stand-alone works, how might you describe the evolution of the repertoire from the early 1900s to the early 2000s?


Source: "Programming & Repertoire Selection," from "And Now for Something Completely Different." Vincent S. Du Beau, NJMEA Conference, 2008.

Wind Band Timeline (through early 20th Century) - Part I


Wind Band Timeline (through early 20th Century) - Part II


Wind Band Timeline (through early 20th Century) - Part III


Wind Band Timeline (through early 20th Century) - Part IV


A Short History of Wind Bands

A brief history of the ensemble development that led to the transformation concert and wind bands throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.


Source: Schmidt-Jones, Catherine. "A Short History of Wind Bands." Connexions. June 4, 2007.