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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Vive le Concert Band! by Steve Provizer

I've lately been touting the joys and beauties of brass bands-specifically of the New Orleans type. But there's an ilk of brass band that came to be known as a concert band that I'd like to give some love to.

Most towns in America had brass bands-some still do. Whether marching in parades or playing in gazebos, these bands vied for top spot in popular entertainment in 19th century America. In the British Isles, the tradition is still strong, as a 1996 film, Brassed Off, showed.

It was the focus of brass playing instruction in the U.S. (think "Music Man") and was a feeder to local bands that veered off into a ragtime then jazz style. Proficient players also moved into bands in the circus, vaudeville, medicine shows, the military  (most famous=Pershing's, then the Hellfighters) and the concert band (most famous=Sousa's).

Adolph Sax's patent of the saxophone on June 23, 1846 inspired me to look for good examples of sax playing in different styles. Inevitably, I found concerti for sax by the likes of Glazunov, Debussy...

As I rooted around in Youtube, the names of Gustav Holst and Edward Elgar popped up and I had a strong aural memory of playing their music in high school concert band. As I listened to the examples posted below, my ability to recall specific musical passages played so long ago astonished me and I realized how much I love this stuff.

There is a kind of potential in a large concert band that surpasses that which can be reached by a large symphony orchestra. Certainly, in terms of dynamic and timbral range, I'd put a sea of reeds and brass of all shapes and sizes up against the same in strings anytime.


My own town-Brookline-has such a brass band (aka "community band") and it seems to me a grossly underutilized resource. After this foray, my appetite to play this stuff has been whetted enough that I'm gonna go to one of their open rehearsals on Wednesday night and try to add a little brio to the trumpet section.

Lovely music (The second video is by Holst, not Tokyo Ko).





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