In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Wind Bands

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Reference Works
  • Journals and Other Periodical Literature
  • Nineteenth-Century Published Primary Sources
  • Pre-Nineteenth-Century Wind Bands
  • Military Bands
  • Brass Bands of the British Model
  • Colonial and Postcolonial Bands
  • Concert Bands (Symphonic Wind Bands)
  • Pipe Bands

Music Wind Bands
Trevor Herbert
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0318


“Band” was used liberally in the English language in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to mean an orchestra of the type that accompanied oratorio and opera. This changed by the opening decades of the nineteenth century when “band,” “orchestra,” and “ensemble” acquired separate, if not entirely precise and consistent, meanings. The delineations were prompted by both cultural and pragmatic factors. “Orchestra” became reserved for large instrumental forces in which instruments, often from different families, were deployed to perform “orchestral” music: by this time the modern form of the symphony orchestra was taking a standard shape. “Ensemble” loosely inferred smaller groupings that played art music repertoires. So, for example, a string quartet and a wind octet might both be described as types of ensemble, but “ensemble” would not be used without irony to describe a group of busking street musicians—it would be called a band. It follows that the residual meaning of “band” is difficult to summarize because bands exist in so many forms: some have precise formations with dedicated repertoires and distinctive idioms, others have less uniformity and are formed expediently. So “band” has also developed into a catchall phrase for any group of instrumentalists for which a different descriptor is inappropriate. This leads to the need for descriptive adjectives: military band, brass band, jazz band, pipe band, and so on. To complicate matters further, modern retrospective labelling is often applied to historical groups, such as the Alta band, and modern pop groups are ubiquitously referred to as “bands.” A pragmatic approach is taken in this article. While literature about earlier groupings is cited, the emphasis is on bands that emerged from the early nineteenth century, most having their origin, directly or indirectly, in military bands. It was the rise of the military band in its modern form that probably created the need for the new semantic distinction between “band” and “orchestra.” As well as being primarily formed of wind instruments, these bands often had, and continue to have, a public role, sometimes in outdoor settings. While these points explain the scope of this article its limitations are determined by the organization of Oxford Bibliographies. Put simply, while there is some overlap with other parts of Oxford Bibliographies, this article is primarily devoted to bands that are not the subject of detailed attention elsewhere. So, for example, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Music entries on Street Music and Jazz and other entries devoted to individual bands such as Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington.

General Overviews and Reference Works

No specialist general reference works cover the full scope inferred by “bands,” but The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (Polk, et al. 2001) and its sister publication The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments (Libin 2014) provide overview essays under “Band” as well as more detailed information on individual types of band and the instruments they typically contain. Schliefer 1992 deals with US bands; Suppan and Suppan 1994 covers continental Europe. Specific entries on brass instruments and their role in various types of formation is provided in Herbert, et al. 2019.

  • Herbert, Trevor, Arnold Myers, and John Wallace, eds. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Brass Instruments. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

    The first extensive encyclopedia on brass instruments, their history, and uses. Contains specific entries on bands in which brass instruments are prominent, but also deals with the organology of the instruments and their use throughout the world.

  • Libin, Laurence, ed. The Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    For the entry on “Band,” see Vol. 1, pp 192–214. Almost identical to the entry in Polk, et al. 2001, but slightly updated.

  • Polk, Keith, Janet K. Page, Stephen J. Weston, et al. “Band.” In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Vol. 2, Aristoxenus to Bax. 2d ed. Edited by Stanley Sadie, 622–651. London: Macmillan, 2001.

    A multi-authored overview and bibliography is included under “Band,” one of the first major articles to addresses “band” as a genre.

  • Schliefer, Martha Furman, ed. Three Centuries of American Music: A Collection of American Sacred and Secular Music. Vol. 12, American Wind and Percussion Music. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1992.

    This is one of a cumulative series of volumes on American music and is devoted to American wind and percussion music. It deals, in a broadly historical sequence, with various types of bands and their functions in military or other contexts. It has drawn deserved critical praise.

  • Suppan Wolfgang, and Armin Suppan. Das neue Lexikon des Blasmusikwesens. Freiberg, Germany: Schulz, 1994.

    A revised and extended version of Wolfgang Suppan’s earlier encyclopedia of wind instruments.

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