Is Band Really Better? David Maslanka

Is Band Really Better? David Maslanka

David Maslanka
Photo by Stephen Maslanka

Wind bands have become a major force in new music. The quality and flexibility of these ensembles has risen to the point where they can play literally anything with integrity and insight. New music is the core of wind band culture. Conductors are eager for new work and to work with composers. They are able to offer the rehearsal time to prepare meticulous performances of large works. This is central to composers learning the craft of writing for winds and learning their craft in general. Composers who are shy or leery of writing for wind bands needs to think of these ensembles as they do of any other large ensemble: they are collections of instruments whose individual qualities and blends must be deeply understood. You can write anything you want for wind ensembles, and the size and makeup of the ensemble can be whatever you ask for.

Listen to Song Book for Flute and Wind Ensemble

Bands have been sniffed at because they are “educational” and not “professional” ensembles. However, an “educational” setting means that if your music has merit, it will be taken seriously and taken in deeply, by competent conductors and fine young musicians. The many thousands of young people who have had life-changing experiences in wind bands become the next generations of performers, conductors, and users of new music. And they have your music at the core of their experience. This means that serious and significant new music can find a real place in people’s lives. I have been writing for wind ensembles for 30 years. In that time I have composed nearly 30 major works in this medium, including five symphonies, nine concertos, a Mass, and a variety of concert pieces. This is somewhat less than a third of my entire output. I think composers have preferred media, and, as a wind player myself, I was drawn to writing for winds. I was very fortunate to make an early connection to the wind band world because orchestral opportunities have always been in short supply. Whereas an orchestral work may get a premiere and possibly a second performance, a comparable wind work may get many more. A number of my large works have gotten many, many performances worldwide. Working with wind performers all over the country has also given me access to many fine players outside the wind band realm.

Wind bands and orchestras are equally wonderful ensembles, just different. Exploring the wind band is a terrific adventure. I continue to write for orchestra, but bands have by far provided the richer opportunity for the development of my musical voice and an established life as a composer.

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