5-Minute Read: Program Chamber and Elastic Works in Your Concert

Happy Spring, everyone! Hopefully, you have successfully completed your band’s concert festival adjudication for this academic year and are now turning to, among other concerns, your Spring Concert.

Each year, our Spring concerts provide a wonderful programming opportunity.  Unlike an adjudicated performance, Spring concerts allow us to take more chances, to stretch our performers’ abilities and repertoire. But sometimes it can be daunting to fill a concert with enough music that can be rehearsed in time, especially if your adjudicated festival is late in the year.  But if we think beyond traditional the concert band repertoire and model, there can be wonderful musical opportunities for your student performers.  I’m speaking of chamber music and elastic wind instrumentation!

Chamber Ensembles

Chamber ensembles are one of the best ways to further your performers’ musicianship. Every performer’s part is active, vital, and exposed, and students have to work to communicate with one another to blend, keep time, and match style and dynamic shaping.  These ensembles are also a great opportunity to showcase the very best performers in your ensembles. Best of all, they can rehearse on their own, in short, separate practice sessions that don’t use your valuable rehearsal time.  Simply pop in to coach them in their efforts and make sure that their progress is on track for the performance.

Chamber ensembles are an incredibly versatile tool because they are so flexible.  There is a vast compendium of music for every level of difficulty and for a spectrum of instrumentation configurations. Woodwind quintets, brass quintets and quartets, clarinet choirs, saxophone quartets, percussion ensembles, and duets and trios that can be played by any number of instruments with some simple transposition you help provide. If your area has a solo and ensemble festival, your students may have already prepared these sorts of works that you can fold into your Spring concert program!

Elastic Instrumentation

While much of the strength of the concert band has been in the 20th century efforts to standardize its instrumentation, there is no doubt that it can also be constraining.  Maybe you don’t have a great oboe player.  Maybe your woodwinds are far stronger than your brass, and they’re bored as a result of the literature this shortcoming forces you to select. You have a wonderful lyrical work you want to program, but your 16 talented and energetic percussionists are left with nothing to do while the winds tackle that composition. Elastic ensembles can allow you to avoid these pitfalls.

There are works written just for large woodwind choirs (visit this section of the J.W. Pepper Catalog). There are compositions for brass ensembles.  There is, of course, a wonderful concert percussion repertoire. Just because they aren’t a concert band doesn’t mean they don’t belong on your concert band’s program.  The wonderful and noble history of wind and percussion performance existed long before the modern wind band, and that heritage can be preserved when your students and audiences experience it first-hand!

Soloists

Finally, if you have an advanced musician that you’d like to feature, don’t hesitate to spotlight them as a soloist.  This is most easily accomplished if you have a soloist who has already prepared a piece with a piano accompanist, either for a festival or a college audition. This is a great way to reward a talented and dedicated performer, and it has no impact on your band’s rehearsal time.

So get creative in your Spring concert programming this year! Careful planning can show your community the depth of sounds possible from the concert band’s constituent sections, and can provide your student performers with new opportunities to explore repertoire. Happy programming!

Author: Dr. Ward Miller

Ward Miller hails from Loachapoka, a small farming community near the city of Auburn, Alabama. He earned his bachelors of music education from Auburn University in 2001, where he served as webmaster, arranger, and an undergraduate teaching assistant with the Auburn University Marching Band. He graduated from Arizona State University in 2003 with a masters in Trombone Performance. While in the Phoenix area, he served as a part time assistant and clinician with the Paradise Valley High School bands, the Mesa Community College Wind Ensemble, and the Phoenix Symphony Guild Youth Orchestra. He taught public school in Alabama for three years, serving as Director of Bands at Andalusia High School and at Pleasant Grove High School. In 2006 he accepted a graduate teaching assistantship at The University of Iowa, where he studied with Dr. Myron Welch in Band Conducting. While at Iowa, he also worked as a teaching assistant with the Hawkeye Marching Band, where he wrote, taught, and conducted multiple arrangements and halftime drills. He also conducted the Iowa University Concert Band, and earned the 2008 outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant award for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Dr. Miller graduated in 2011 from the University of Iowa with his D.M.A. in Band Conducting. Since 2014, Dr. Miller has been the Brass Caption Head for the Blue Stars Drum and Bugle Corps of La Crosse, WI. He currently resides in Minneapolis, MN where he spends his time arranging and composing, and working as a music education consultant.