Wind ensembles and symphonic bands are two instrumental groups that play similar literature but have different numbers of instruments. A symphonic band is a much larger group with more diverse instruments, while the wind ensemble's small numbers make it better for small concert halls and more complex pieces. The more musicians in an ensemble, the harder it is to control the ensemble and play virtuosic music.
Some pieces of music are written specifically for wind ensembles and don't sound correct when played in a symphonic band. For various reasons, the music for a wind ensemble must be more carefully constructed. In a symphonic band, it is possible to allow individual players to rest within a composition, while it becomes very obvious when a player drops out in a wind ensemble. The advantages of a symphonic band includes the ability to play longer pieces and provide greater textural diversity. The symphonic band has more instruments, but also retains the capability to reduce to one player per part for more intimate sections of the literature.
The wind ensemble typically includes the best musicians from an area or school. These ensembles are seen as elite groups in which each player must perform with precision and accuracy. Each player in the wind ensemble must retain good tone quality on their instrument, as well. Since each individual player can be heard more easily in a wind ensemble, any mistake during an ensemble performance stands out.
In a symphonic band, a greater number of flutes, clarinets, bassoons, euphoniums, trombones, tubas and trumpets significantly increases the sound of the ensemble. The typical symphonic band has between 90 and 100 musicians, including a percussion section, brass and keyboards in addition to woodwinds. It is less crucial for members of a symphonic band to have high tone production on their instruments, as individual instruments are masked more effectively in the larger group. These instrumentalists still must avoid playing incorrect notes and rhythms.
The wind ensemble has the ability to create a more distinct sound where each of the individual instrument colors come through. Think of a crowded room; the more people you have, the less you can distinguish between individual voices. With the symphonic band, the music of each instrument blends into a single homogeneous sound. Conductors have long argued over which ensemble provides the better sound for wind music.
- "The Study of Orchestration"; Samuel Adler; 2002
- Lipscomb: A History of the Wind Band
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