Our early professional bands blew it. While orchestras in major cities were building concert halls, establishing foundations and creating concert series, the bands were traveling by train from town to town giving concerts. Yes, those concerts were wildly popular and many of the bands were staffed by the best players available. Crowds for the band concerts would often number in the tens of thousands. In some of the best bands, the instrumentalists were paid more than they would have been if they had been in an orchestra. As time progressed, the radio and record player changed the availabillity of music for the middle class household. No longer was it necessary for people from smaller cities and towns to travel to a location where a concert was being given by a traveling concert band. Sousa predicted that electronic music would cause the demiss of the professional concert band. Since the bands had not established home bases–their own concert halls–along with foundations and concert series, they ceased to exist one by one until the last traveling concert band was gone in the 1950’s.
Those were not the only problems that lead to the disappearance of the full-time professional wind band. There was the issue of repertoire. The band was the perfect medium for little gems of music known as marches. Well, not all of them were gems, but the best of them are pretty significant in the world of art music. Besides marches, the bands would play transcriptions of orchestra pieces, potpourris, popular style music and works for band and soloist. What was missing was a large body of compositions for wind band that had artistic value. Yes, there were some composed in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries but not even to fill one full season of performances. And, because of the band’s association with lower quality music and outdoor performance, they were dismissed by critics as being unworthy of their attention. Because of the work of Edwin Franko Goldmen and by several composers who valued the many possible colors of the concert band, the artistic repertoire began to expand. Each decade would see more and more serious works being written for the band. At present, almost every serious composer of art music is writing for the wind band medium. This new, exciting condition is the result of several causes. First, the professional band organizatioins (ABA, CBDNA, NBA and WASBE) initiated either yearly awards for the most highly regarded composition of the year or they contacted specific composers to write music for band paid for by a consortium of universities and colleges. There is currently so much wind band music being produced each year that nobody in the field can keep abreast of the most artistic works.
The next step in the development of the wind band in America is the all-civilian, fully professional ensemble that has for itself not only a home but also a concert season that is valued by a public that enjoys art music. The big trick in making this happen is finding the money to support such a bold endeavor.