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March-April 1952 The Concert Band, By Mark H. Hindsley

The concert band began to move indoors many years ago, but it probably has retained too many of the characteristics of the outdoor band.
   Our standards of performance have risen considerably during this period, and the instrumentation has changed to quite a degree to reach those standards, but I believe there is further need for refinement. I believe that we need to reconsider and re-evaluate the instrumentation of the concert band and our method of scoring for it.
   It is probable, too, that bands as a whole have grown too large and that there has been considerable carelessness in maintaining numerical balance of the instruments. As a result, the band tone has become too thick, heavy, and elephantine, thus breeding carelessness in execution and other lack of finesse.
   It is possible to have a good concert band of 90 to 120 players though a completely instrumentated and balanced group can be had within the range of 50 to 70 players. In fact, it is desirable to keep the band within the lower range unless the proficiency of the membership is unusual, for good players are required if a large group is to play as a cohesive unit.
   I should like to see flutes given more prominence in the concert band. They should replace the clarinets in much of the high register work. Ordinarily, flute parts should be written in two parts with provision for further divisi work. One piccolo is usually sufficient within the flute section, but occasionally more piccolos will be needed for unison or divisi work. I should like to see at least six flutes in a smaller band, and I would like to try up to eighteen or so in the largest band.
   I believe that one oboe on a part is adequate for any size band. The difficulties of intonation and blend make doubling on this instrument a hazard. A complete section should include two oboes and one English horn, the latter to be used as the occasion demands. With an English horn available, much melodic and ensemble work could profitably be assigned to it.
   In general, the same comments may be made with regard to the saxophone section. A quartet of saxophones, with two altos, one tenor, and one baritone, is quite adequate for any size band. There is not quite so much hazard in doubling the alto and tenor saxophones as in doubling the oboes; yet I feel that four are sufficient. The bass saxophone is a good instrument if played well; yet it is less valuable than other bass woodwinds and would serve only to duplicate them, I would consider the bass saxophone an optional instrument, and, furthermore. I can see no reason for having a higher saxophone tone than the alto.

More Bassoons
   In contrast to oboes and saxophones, it is my belief that it is profitable to double the bassoons. While they have unusual intonation problems, they are more flexible in intonation and will blend with each other and with other instruments better than the other two instruments named. They are extremely versatile in technique and range, and in a large band the reinforcement of their tone by doubling is often very desirable. Two bassoons are adequate in a small band, but I Would Use a half dozen in a large group. The contrabassoon may be used as a doubling instrument by one of the regular bassoon players.
   The clarinets, of course, are the basic woodwind family. With the abundance of flutes indicated earlier as being desirable, I see no reason for using the E flat soprano clarinet except for special occasions.
   The number of B flat soprano clarinets may vary from twelve in the small group to twenty-five or thirty in the extremely large organization. The bottom of the clarinet tone may be taken care of by two to six bass clarinets and one to three contra-bass clarinets.

Alto Clarinet
   There is no real objection to the alto clarinet between the soprano and the bass clarinets, but this is one instrument that I believe we can eliminate without serious handicap. The register is well taken care of otherwise, and, although the alto clarinet tone is distinctive, it does not seem to be essential. It is perhaps because of these factors that arrangers in general have not assigned independent parts to the alto clarinet. For the present, at least, I believe that it is better economy to use players regularly on the soprano and bass instruments.
   A valuable supplement to the bass woodwinds is the string bass. String basses and contrabass clarinets work very well together. From one to four string basses may be used, depending on the number of contrabass clarinets and brass basses.
   The brass section is, perhaps, more standardized than the woodwinds. I should use from four to nine cornets, two to four trumpets, five to nine French horns, three to eight trombones, two to four baritones, and three to six tubas. The flugelhorn I would use only as a doubling instrument when that texture of tone is desired for a solo or ensemble passage.
   A percussion section of from four to six players would complete the normal band instrumentation, exclusive of such instruments as harp, celeste, marimba, etc., for which other players might have to be called when these instruments are essential to the score.
   It is obvious that if we are to make fullest use of an instrumentation such as that outlined above, the scoring must be in keeping with the character of the instrumentation. Much of the recent scoring is basically good for this combination, but the standard arrangements of several years ago will need rearranging or re-editing to fit the new conception of the concert band.

Re-Edit Music

   For example, as mentioned earlier, extremely high clarinets should be avoided except when power is necessary, with the flutes and piccolos taking over in the top register. Much doubling on other parts, such as those for horns and bassoons, should be avoided. There should be liberal markings of one player to a stand or one player to a part to achieve correct balance and color. With sufficient bass reeds and string basses, the tubas may be used more sparingly in delicate work. Percussion parts should be edited to make sure that they are essential and not written just to make sure that the players are kept busy.

Artistic Medium

   It is my belief that we have at our disposal a marvelous group of instruments with which to work, instruments that can contribute to an aesthetic concert band ensemble. Many of them are still quite imperfect, particularly from the standpoint of intonation, but I believe many corrections can be made as we demand finer performance.    We also have at our disposal a great body of fine music although it still is our own responsibility to arrange and edit this music for its most effective performance. The concert band is becoming more and more recognized as a high artistic medium of expression, and we can well hope for further significant contributions to the original music for higher study and performance.