Sunday, December 14, 2014

Building the Concert Band Audience

John Philip Sousa conducted the
Marine Band (1880–1892) and
the Sousa Band (1892–1931).
The Concord Band has multiple objectives, and we continue to make progress on most of them. For example, we continue to be one of the leading forces among community concert bands, world-wide, in the commissioning of new music for this ensemble.

The Concord Band, probably more than ever before, continues to present the very best in concert band music to the public in our area at reasonable cost. Why more than before? We now tackle great pieces of music for symphonic wind ensemble that would have been considered beyond our capability just a few years ago. For example, Aerial Fantasy, by Michael A. Mogensen, presented on our Winter, 2014, Concert program, was commissioned by the Washington, DC-based Air Force Band. Since its members are all professional musicians, they, according to Mogensen, “could play anything” he wrote—and he admits that this is a difficult piece to play.

One significant area where the Concord Band has not achieved its objective is in building our audience. And we are not alone among concert bands in this respect. Probably the best symphonic wind ensemble in New England, now that the Air Force Band of Liberty no longer exists, is the Metropolitan Wind Symphony—like the Concord Band, a community band with no paid members. However, many of its members were either trained as music performers or as music teachers. They are a wonderful group, but they have as much trouble building an audience as does the Concord Band.
Just as there is an audience for what community orchestras deliver at their formal concerts, one would like to believe that there is an audience for what serious community symphonic wind ensembles deliver at ours. Why do better community bands have a hard time building their audiences? We suggest that there are four principal reasons.

First, there are very few professional wind ensembles in the United States. Aside from military bands, the number of which has been in decline in recent years, there are essentially none. On the other hand, cities of almost any size have had their own professional orchestras for many decades. Such orchestras educate the public about composers and their music and create demand for community orchestra concerts.
Second, as suggested by Roger Cichy, who writes prolifically for both band and orchestra, the latter is more interesting to watch. Except for our trombonists, percussionists, one string bass player and an occasional harpist, all of our musicians play their instruments only with the mouth and fingers, not providing much of visual interest to the audience. At the same time, the orchestra provides a greater variety of sound types than does the concert band.
Third, the instrumentation of the orchestra, as it is constituted today, has been fundamentally unchanged for the past 300 years, or so. This also means that its repertoire has been that long in development. On the other hand, the age of the concert band and its repertoire is less than 150 years. Like orchestras, concert bands present symphonies, tone poems, marches, suites, concerti, concerti grossi, as well as vocal and choral works. While the public has a strong sense of their favorite orchestral composers and works, they know almost nothing about the composers of music for symphonic wind ensemble or their compositions. For example, how many people know that the Mogensen piece mentioned earlier was nominated for a Pulitzer prize in 2007? Roger Cichy, an outstanding composer who has written 74 pieces for band, including an excellent commission to honor the Concord Band’s 50th anniversary, is virtually unknown outside of musical circles.

Concord Band audience at
Fruitlands Museum Summer Concert Series
Finally, we feel that the concert band suffers from its image. How does the public view the concert band? Most recognize that a concert band does not march. The Concord Band gives three kinds of concerts: formal concerts, pops concerts and outdoor concerts during the summer. Attendance is greatest at our summer concerts, less at our pops concerts and least at our formal concerts—where we play the best music available for concert band. At our pops and summer concerts we play a mix of marches, seasonal music, show music and novelties. Here’s a photo of part of a typical Concord Band summer concert audience at Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, MA. When the weather is just right, our Fruitlands audience can reach 1,000 or more.

For many, to whom the “concert” in concert band is of little importance, what they are expecting from a band is very likely what occurs outdoors on a warm summer evening when the Concord Band is in concert at Fruitlands Museum. When reading or hearing the name, “John Philip Sousa” (1854–1932), most people immediately think of bands, parades, and/or marches. He became popularly known as “The March King” for his having written 136 marches for band, mostly of the American military and patriotic variety. By contrast, Joseph Haydn, one of the most prolific composers of works for orchestra still played today, wrote 106 symphonies for that ensemble.

Daniel S Diamond
Dan Diamond is a mainstay of the Concord Band, having served for decades and wearing many hats, including Trustee, percussionist, editor, fundraiser, publisher, and producer.

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