band, in music, a group of musicians playing principally on wind and percussion instruments, usually outdoors. Prior to the 18th cent., the term band was frequently applied in a generic sense to cover the combinations of instruments employed by kings and nobles. The term is also used for an ensemble of any one type of instrument, as brass band, wind band, marimba band. As town bands once provided music for social dancing, so do modern jazz and rock bands of numerous descriptions (see jazz, rock music).
Modern bands usually include the piccolo, flute, clarinet, oboe, English horn, bassoon, saxophone, cornet, trumpet, French horn, trombone, tuba, flügelhorn, euphonium, and various percussion instruments. Concert bands may add the cello, bass viol, and harp. The band repertory has traditionally included flourishes, marches, and music transcribed from other mediums.
Groupings of loud instruments characterized Saracen military bands participating in the Crusades. About 1300, similar groups, often including the shawm (a type of oboe), trumpet, and drum, appeared in the courts and towns of Europe. Town bands were manned by members of the watch and were integral to both the civic and social life of the community. These musicians participated in processions, dances, weddings, and feasts and provided incidental music for dramatic representations. During the 16th cent. the practice of playing instruments of the same family in consort (as in a shawm band) became popular, and new families of wind instruments added variety.
Evolution of Military and Concert Bands
As the town band began to decline at the end of the 17th cent., its official duties gradually shifted to the military band. A vestige of the extravagant, almost ritualistic affectations of the instrumentalists has survived in the routines of present-day drum majors and majorettes. For several centuries the general composition of the military band remained static, the fife and drum being associated with the infantry and the trumpet and kettledrum with the cavalry. France introduced the oboe in the latter half of the 17th cent., and a gradual merger with the full wind contingent of the town band ensued.
Important developments in instrument-making affected the composition of bands in the 19th cent. A Prussian bandmaster, Wilhelm Wieprecht (1802–72), introduced (c.1830) valve trumpets and horns into the military band. The saxhorns and saxophones of Adolphe Sax were incorporated into French military bands at midcentury. The sarrusophone was added in the 1860s, thus completing the instrumental ensemble that in most respects is known today.
Two outstanding European bands are the British Royal Artillery Band (founded 1762) and the band of the French Garde Républicaine, playing under that name since 1872. The U.S. Marine Band, founded in 1798, was the first important band in the United States and remains outstanding. The first U.S. band devoted exclusively to the presentation of public concerts was that of P. S. Gilmore, founded in 1859. His successor as America's leading bandmaster was John Philip Sousa (1854–1932). In 1911, Edwin Franko Goldman organized the Goldman Band, which continues to give outdoor concerts in New York City in the summer.
See R. F. Goldman, The Band's Music (1938) and The Concert Band (1946).