Concert Band and Wind Ensemble

Over the past five centuries, a complex and evolving array of predominantly wind instrument ensembles has existed in Europe and, in later centuries, in America and elsewhere in the world. Developed primarily for and within the military domain of European life, up to the early 19th century bands consisted largely of woodwind instruments and a percussion section comprised of drums and cymbals. With the invention of valves in the first quarter of the 19th century, fully chromatic brass instruments became a reality and these were immediately added to military bands. By the middle of the 19th century the makeup of military bands was such that, even though they included some instruments that are now obsolete, they would be recognizable to us as military bands today. European and American empire building during the last half of the 19th century began introducing this ensemble template, with its military associations, around the world, which is why today practically every nation’s military force in the world supports military bands. It was during this same period that the military band model took root in civilian life, spawning many municipal concert bands, brass bands, and wind ensembles, and eventually being introduced into public school education. Wherever it has taken root, the core value of military discipline and the military band’s use as a signifier of power has followed it. Just think of marching band performances at high school football games and how they resonate the character of the military band from which they descend.

In addition to the instruments familiar to us at the present time, most 19th century ensembles included in their instrumentations instruments that are not represented in the Grinnell College collection and that have largely fallen out of common use--e.g. A-flat clarinet, alto clarinet, bass saxophone, E-flat cornet, E-flat flugelhorn, bass trumpet, E-flat horn, and contrabass trombone. What we will focus on here is the inventory of instruments one might expect to encounter in a performance by an American concert band at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The repertoire performed by such ensembles is vast and consists of works that are by-in-large flexible in their instrumentation demands; parts for some of the above-mentioned antiquated instruments might be included with a piece's score, but parts for other more commonplace instruments will also be included that double the same musical material. The pictorial summary that follows of concert band instruments is what one might expect to encounter in a concert by the Grinnell College Symphonic Concert Band or any one of the thousands of similar musical organizations found in colleges and high schools throughout the U.S.A. 


Baines, Anthony, Trevor Herbert, Janet K. Page, Keith Polk, Armin Suppan, and Stephen J. Weston. “Band (i) I-IV,” in Grove Music Online. Accessed December 3 2014:

Camus, Raoul F. “Band,” in Grove Music Online. Accessed December 3 2014:

(by Roger Vetter)


concert flute


clarinet - in E-flat


clarinet - bass

clarinet - contrabass

saxophone - alto

saxophone - tenor

saxophone - baritone






bass trombone




drum - snare

drum - bass

cymbals - crash

suspended cymbal






double bass

Title: Holst/Handel/Bach—Second Suite in F Op. 28 No. 2, by Gustav Holst; The Cleveland Winds, Frederick Fennell, conductor.  Label: Telarc. Format: CD. Catalog#: CD-80038. Track: 4.