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Discussion Starter #1
I am interested in learning what music is being played in successful community bands. What music is drawing people to listen to these bands? Do any community bands have guitars? Singers? Basically tell us about the community band you are in.
 

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I play in a high-level amateur concert band, which I suppose makes us a successful community band. (We have won the Sudler Silver Scroll Award from the John Philip Sousa Foundation, have played a couple of times at the national convention of the Association of Concert Bands and have hosted the convention once ourselves, and will be playing in Ireland next month.) The first thing to note is that I don't believe particular repertoire "draws" people to band concerts, except in the most general sense. At our outdoor concerts in the summer, we play lighter fare. On the 4th of July, we play a lot of patriotic music and Americana. At our holiday concert in December, we naturally play Christmas/holiday music. And we play more challenging compositions at our "serious" concerts in the fall and spring. The audiences probably know what genres to expect, but I don't believe they base attendance decisions on which particular works are on the programs (which they seldom have access to in advance anyway), the way audience members might do when deciding which concert by a symphony orchestra to attend.

The music we perform falls into several broad categories:
  • Original works for concert band. These range from the classics by Holst, Vaughn Williams, and Grainger to contemporary pieces by composers such as John Mackey, David Maslanka, and Samuel Hazo. Some of these are quite difficult. This material is a large and vital subgenre of classical music, but many classical listeners are unaware of it because they ignore concert bands. We have commissioned a couple of pieces in this category.
  • Transcriptions of orchestral works. Shostakovich, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Rossini, Sibelius, Copland, Bernstein -- you name it. Typically, these are overtures and the like rather than symphonies.
  • Marches for wind band. Sousa, Fillmore, etc.
  • Film/Broadway/TV/rock-pop medleys and other arrangements. We have performed a huge number of movie and musical scores over the years.
Guitars? No. Nothing is impossible, but there is no guitar chair in a concert band, and I can't recall seeing a concert band performance that included a guitar in the last 20 years. It might happen if a popular work that includes a guitar were arranged for concert band. Keyboard parts, on the other hand, are not uncommon in concert band works, although they are not the norm.

Singers? Very rarely. Sometimes a band will feature a vocalist when it wants to spice up a performance of a jazz or theater favorite. We've done this a handful of times in a couple of decades.

Btw, you won't find many concert band saxophonists in SOTW, so I wouldn't expect a great number of responses to your query.
 

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I, too play in what I would call an upper level community band. In fact we just performed at the Association of Concert Bands national convention last week. I echo Lostconn’s comments completely. We do a lot of the same repertoire that many college bands are doing. We’ve also performed in Lincoln Center in NYC. Being in the group for the last 19 years has made me a better musician in all ways. Having an incredible conductor like we have is a major factor. We were just named a finalist for the American Prize for community bands.
If you like concert band music, join one. The music available these days is limitless and great to play.
 

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How large an audience do you have to draw to be considered successful?
I play in a few different community concert bands, the largest crowd I see is for the Furman Summer Lakeside nearly 4th of July concert, which draws somewhere between 500 to 1000, and has become something of a summer staple in the SC Upstate with a relatively large following for the summer concert season.

My "regular" community bands (shoutout to the Greenville and Easley Community Bands) get maybe 100 people show up to listen (many with family ties to the band members) and we play pretty much the kind of repertoire LostConn outlined above. The band directors are both college band directors so I dont suppose its a surprise the music is common with college bands.

No Guitars. One of the bands never seems to performs with a singer, although we have done pieces with a narrator (johann de meijs wind in the willows), the other performs one or two jazz or musical standards with a singer a couple of times a year which usually go down very well. 20180628_191945.jpg

I dont think anyone playing in community band is doing it for the external recognition, sure its nice when a lot of people show up to enjoy your performance, but I get most of my pleasure from hanging out with other like minded people and enjoying playing together as a group. If people show up thats great, and helps cover the costs, but I think many of us would show up and play anyway regardless just cos its a lot of fun.

Anyway, in the name of shameless self promotion we have organised a festival featuring 4 of the areas local community bands for the memorial day weekend, and it will be very interesting to see how many people come out for this band music "extravaganza'
https://www.greenvilleconcertband.org/bandfest/
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Thank you for the responses. I do appreciate them and your time. What I am wondering is if it is possible to take a "community band" in a different direction getting away from concert music and more towards modern music. I have not researched anything but it seems that it could be done but of course would have many problems. We have a new music venue opening and I think our community band could fill in as the opening act for some of the headliners, if we were playing the appropriate music. For instance, soon "Peppa Pig" will be here (that's a pre-school kids show, kinda Disney-like) had we been ready we could have opened for that. What are your thoughts?
 

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You are thinking correctly. Many community bands do not play music that young people identify with, and do not have a singer for those who like to hear a lyric. Big mistake, and the reason half the "audience" at times are friends and relatives.
 

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Thank you for the responses. I do appreciate them and your time. What I am wondering is if it is possible to take a "community band" in a different direction getting away from concert music and more towards modern music.
That's sort of a false dichotomy, given that much concert band music certainly is modern. And like all classical orchestral ensembles, a concert band can easily play "pops" concerts utilizing any music for which arrangements exist. E.g., we've recently played things like a Beatles/McCartney medley, an Eric Clapton medley, the soundtracks to Frozen and The Lion King, etc. The range of material arranged for concert bands is enormous, especially since many concert bands are composed of students, and kids like to play music that they recognize.

But if what you really want is a community band that doesn't play concert band music, then you should just go in a different direction from the outset. Form a small electric combo with all the guitarists and singers that you desire, add some horns, and you've got a pop-rock-funk band that should be able to fit easily into the performance scenarios you're envisioning.
 

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You are thinking correctly. Many community bands do not play music that young people identify with, and do not have a singer for those who like to hear a lyric.
Those who like to hear a lyric have ample alternatives. The primary objective of a community band is to play and promote instrumental concert band music. These bands exist above all else to provide amateur and semi-pro musicians with a challenging outlet for their instrumental passions, not to recreate the Top 40 for young listeners with very narrow tastes. As I note above, the range of "popular" arrangements available is actually quite broad, but in the end a band has to play what keeps its members happy. They're aren't getting paid for their services, remember.
 

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I belong to the Heritage Community band. We have a number of bands starting from beginners to advanced players. We have a jazz band and a big band. This group is for adults 50 and over. I am with the intermediate band and play quite a variety of music including the Beatles song book.
I've been playing on my own with a private teacher for the past three years. After joining the band my sight reading and timing has improved significantly. I really enjoy meeting other like minded folks.
 

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Some interesting but rather old world perspectives on what a community band's "primary objective" is (there is no one, single primary objective). And eliminating guitar throws about 2/3 of all modern American music into jeopardy. I mean, Clapton might sound OK on sousaphone to some people, but ....
 

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Some interesting but rather old world perspectives on what a community band's "primary objective" is (there is no one, single objective).
"Primary" doesn't mean "one" or "single." It means first in order of importance. That's why I wrote "primary" instead of "one," "single," or "only."

And eliminating guitar throws about 2/3 of all modern American music into jeopardy.
You might as well complain that a symphony orchestra "eliminates" the guitar. Or that a string quartet eliminates the guitar. A good concert band is like a wind equivalent of the Boston Pops Orchestra. It's not supposed to be a rock band! A saxophonist who wants to play authentic rock can easily find, or start, a rock band to do that. There's a serious apples/oranges problem here.

And American composers have written a huge amount of high-quality concert band music (sans guitars, I'm afraid). Why should that American music be ignored in favor of other music that already has plenty of exposure?
 

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These bands exist above all else to provide amateur and semi-pro musicians with a challenging outlet for their instrumental passions [...] in the end a band has to play what keeps its members happy. They're aren't getting paid for their services, remember.
+1

These bands are explicitly set up to give amateur community musicians a place to play and perform together, not to turn a profit or draw a crowd. Thus the members' enjoyment of performing the music (whether that's classical or pop or whatever) should be the primary objective.
 

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Well, we definitely differ in our opinions. Mine is that a band should always be inclusive, not exclusive; and playing to a more diverse crowd exposes them to other types of music, hopefully generating desire to hear more of it. That works for musicians, also, even the dreaded guitarists and singers.
 

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If you have the personnel and the music to accommodate guitarists and vocalists and the existing band members are happy to play along then there is no harm in exploring the options. Ive played in bigband/ showbands that had bass and rhythm guitar and vocal talent, and it was great, a lot of fun. No flutes or oboes or french horns, and not much for clarinet unless you were doubling on sax from time to time but it was a band all the same. And it paid occasionally which was a bonus for me. But it wasnt really a "community band" as such.

I guess it depends on how you want to define community band. The reality is most of these are set up as traditional wind concert bands, and so the instrumentation and much of the repertoire is going to be defined by that. The primary aim for most of these as lostconn and mmichel point out is for the members to have fun playing and enjoy performing together, thats certainly why I do it too.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Thank you all again for responding. I believe this is a worthwhile conversation and I do not believe that community band means concert band by definition. Further, I think the players would enjoy being able to play without the dots on paper for a song, though I can see the fear in their eyes when this is mentioned.
 

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though I can see the fear in their eyes when this is mentioned.
Hell yeah, playing without a safety net. Scares the crap out of me, but the only way to get more comfortable in that space is to jump in and never mind the consequences...

I'm not totally buying that that is the function of a community band though. Maybe if its a large enough group like some of the New Horizons bands with multiple ability levels there is some scope for a group of like minded adventurous types to split off and do something outside the dots, but its a big ask to take a small community group in that direction. Many members are possibly already stepping outside their comfort zone just by playing in a group with others, making them improvise could just scare them away completely. Its probably a better bet overall to just canvas among the membership and see who else is interested in trying something different and setting it up as a separate thing rather than trying to evolve the community band into some hybrid show band / review chorus/ concert band/ backing band jack of all trades?

Its definitely a conversation worth having, I bet there was resistance to C-B staples like John Williams or Disney soundtrack or Beatles anthology pieces creeping into the repertoire back in the day from people who wanted "all marches all the time", but in my experience of 4 community bands so far they have all been set up as concert bands, with concert band instrumentation and scores, and in 3 of 4 cases college/university concert band directors as directors. Playing in one of those did however lead to an invitation to sit in with a show band that had guitars and vocalists, kind of a hybrid between a big band, dance band, jazz band and the Chicago horn section...
 

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Thank you all again for responding. I believe this is a worthwhile conversation and I do not believe that community band means concert band by definition.
In terms of denotation, "community band" in U.S. English actually does mean "an amateur concert wind band composed of local residents." That's virtually universally accepted in the world of community bands. Our band has operated a "community band festival" for 15 years running, and every single participating group has been a concert band. There's really no basis for quibbling about this definition.

But from your point of view, the definition is irrelevant anyway. As I noted above in post # 7, you can start any kind of ensemble that you wish! There's no need to refer to it as a "community band," just because it's drawn from members of your community. Just call it whatever you really want it to be: amateur big band; pop-funk band; just-for-fun jazz ensemble; amateur pit orchestra; garage rock band with horns; etc. Then play whatever you want to play. This approach will make recruiting/advertising for members easier as well.
 

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Thank you for the responses. I do appreciate them and your time. What I am wondering is if it is possible to take a "community band" in a different direction getting away from concert music and more towards modern music...
Please define "modern music" in your context.

...I think the players would enjoy being able to play without the dots on paper for a song, though I can see the fear in their eyes when this is mentioned.
Then perhaps you are looking for an entirely different set of musicians. To have a large band that "plays without dots", you require a different set of skills to meet the demands. It is hard enough to coordinate a small ensemble of instruments playing individual parts, but what happens when you have multiples of each instrument? The task that you suggest seems to beg a smaller ensemble.

If you intend a group of wind instruments to sound at all "tight", without "dots", you require a greater commitment to rehearsal and practice. I'm recalling the amount of time that I used to put into groups that played covers of bands such as Chicago and Tower of Power.
 

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In terms of denotation, "community band" in U.S. English actually does mean "an amateur concert wind band composed of local residents." That's virtually universally accepted in the world of community bands. Our band has operated a "community band festival" for 15 years running, and every single participating group has been a concert band. There's really no basis for quibbling about this definition.
I think this is largely true. However, I have played in two US community bands (one of which I'm still playing with) that were structured as jazz big bands. They are community bands both in that they are large amateur bands consisting of community residents, and in that they receive financial and logistical support from the local municipality.
 

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I think this is largely true. However, I have played in two US community bands (one of which I'm still playing with) that were structured as jazz big bands. They are community bands both in that they are large amateur bands consisting of community residents, and in that they receive financial and logistical support from the local municipality.
This is a timely discussion as the seasonal community band in my hometown is gearing up for summer. This year we are creating smaller ensembles based on interest and participation to see where things go. Our first stab at a big/show band has received extremely heavy interest from our players. The community band has players ranging in age from 12-92 so we hope to develop a core group of players for the big band but allow younger or less confident musicians to 'try jazz out' with some easier charts and written solos. We have a great group of folks and so far everyone has been more than willing to share solos or switch parts when someone indicates a strong interest in a particular tune. It helps that the community band has a philosophy that more advanced players help the younger players grow and sometimes that means taking a step back to let a new star learn to shine.

Under the umbrella of the community band, the smaller ensemble will be able to perform at events and functions outside of our normal concert schedule with the intent of continuing year round. It's much easier to coordinate a smaller footprint and fewer players when we receive performance requests from other community entities. There is also discussion of having smaller breakout groups in the form of combos and a trad jazz group. We shall see, it takes a lot of logistical commitment to make these work but there has been interest for years to start something like this!
 
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