In Defence of Wind Orchestras

In light of the strange success of “In Defence of Pop Music”, I want to make this a series of post. I want to discuss things that people in Oxford for some unknown reason don’t seem to like, or don’t want to know about.

This term marks a major moment for me in Oxford. It is the first time I am not playing with the Oxford University Wind Orchestra (OUWO). I have played with this group since my very first week here and it was quite emotional to do my final concert with them last term as well as ending on an absolutely amazing concert. I think wind orchestras everywhere get a really bad reputation for just being loud, having no good music and none by any composer’s anyone has ever heard of. But I think they offer a great opportunity to wind players to really test their ability in a much more ‘hands-on’ way than an orchestra, because you play so much more!

Ok, here is a hypothetical scenario. You are a very good clarinettist, but the orchestras near you are one-to-a-part orchestras, so there are only about three slots. What options do you have? The answer, of course, is a wind orchestra.

So, you think wind orchestras are too loud? OK, I know saxophones are loud, but loads of orchestral pieces use them (I’m looking at you. Prokofiev and Gershwin). Also, tonnes of orchestra and choral pieces can get pretty hefty on the dynamic side. So I don’t really think this complaint holds up.

So think that there is no good repertoire for a wind band? Have you heard Aurora Awakes by John Mackey or Chen Yi’s Dragon Rhyme?

How can you call that just noise? The subtle textures are so beautiful and nuanced that you don’t need added string players to boost the texture. Yes, I love orchestras but wind bands also have some great quiet moments. It is like an organ of fifty people, it can be truly magical.

Now onto the question of repertoire. Some of the most famous composers have written wind chamber pieces and others (especially in the 20th century) have written for wind/military bands. Copland’s Emblems and Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments and Concerto for Piano and Winds are two perfect examples of this. I have also played pieces by Mendelssohn and Milhaud written for wind band. These pieces are often ignored as some people seem to think that because there are no strings or singers in it, it is not worth studying. I would seriously take another listen to some wind orchestra pieces, like Martin Ellerby’s Paris Sketches, are truly magical.

So there we go, my next rant based post. But seriously, wind orchestras are great. Next time one gives a concert, go check them out. They might surprise you.

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