The aesthetic challenge for the wind band in the future

Con­sid­er­a­tions for the wind band in the future, part 4

The most impor­tant goal for the wind band of the future is one of aes­thet­ics. Aris­to­tle, in writ­ing his book Poet­ics, a text for writ­ing Tragedy dis­cussed all the impor­tant ele­ments of that form, such as char­ac­ter, time and lan­guage, etc. But as he fin­ished he real­ized there was an impor­tant addi­tion­al aspect which he had not men­tioned — the reac­tion of the audi­ence. It was here that he for­mu­lat­ed his famous con­cept of cathar­sis to describe that fine tragedy seemed to have a deep impact on the lis­ten­er, it reached a deep lev­el with­in the lis­ten­er and left him to some degree a changed man. This, he point­ed out, is miss­ing in even the best enter­tain­ment pro­duc­tions on the stage. The observ­er of an enter­tain­ment may be ful­ly engaged with what appears on the stage, he may laugh, or cry, but the emo­tions seemed to “bounce off” him and do not remain. Every­one is famil­iar with this dis­tinc­tion in the exam­ple of film. One can attend some film and be so moved that it remains with him some­times for days. On the oth­er hand, one can attend an enter­tain­ment film and be high­ly engaged, but when the film ends one in leav­ing the the­ater is imme­di­ate­ly talk­ing with his friends about school, work, oth­er friends, etc.

Dur­ing the first half of the 19th cen­tu­ry, wind bands were play­ing con­certs before very large audi­ences which were aes­thet­ic in char­ac­ter and it was in their tran­scrip­tions that the gen­er­al pub­lic first heard the sym­phonies of Beethoven, orches­tras before mid-cen­tu­ry were still heard pri­mar­i­ly in the palace by a few invit­ed lis­ten­ers. But dur­ing the sec­ond half of the 19th cen­tu­ry, as a result of the appear­ance of the mod­ern reper­toire orches­tras, the band’s audi­ence began to decrease. Band con­duc­tors then made the unfor­tu­nate deci­sion to turn to enter­tain­ment music in an effort to main­tain the size of their audi­ence. But over a peri­od of 60 years or so, this idea failed and is sym­bol­ized by a sign seen out­side the Crys­tal Palace in Lon­don, “There is no con­cert today; the band will play.”

In recent decades we have seen some sym­pho­ny orches­tras repeat­ing the failed solu­tion of the late 19th-cen­tu­ry band direc­tors in try­ing to expand their audi­ences by low­er­ing their reper­toire to include enter­tain­ment music. In my town we have seen the Austin Sym­pho­ny devote entire con­certs to the music of Star Trek, the Bea­t­les, and even Sousa Marches.

But, does the pub­lic need more enter­tain­ment? Almost every­one today has access to hun­dreds of TV chan­nels which are most­ly enter­tain­ment in char­ac­ter. Then there are sports events beyond num­ber which are avail­able to the pub­lic. Film has become most­ly com­ic, and in some cas­es actu­al illus­trat­ed cartoons.

Should the goal of the mod­ern wind band be to sup­ply more enter­tain­ment to the pub­lic? And if that is going to be its goal, how can it com­pete with the great sums of mon­ey spent pro­mot­ing com­mer­cial entertainment?

While the town band will always have its his­toric cer­e­mo­ni­al role to per­form, it could in its con­certs, even in out­door con­certs, per­form a great pub­lic ser­vice in bring­ing aes­thet­ic reper­toire to an audi­ence which has lit­tle access to it. Instead of being one more medi­um which con­tributes to the low­er­ing of taste, the wind band could be a medi­um which enlight­ens its pub­lic and con­tributes to rais­ing the lev­el of is taste. With aes­thet­ic music the wind band could pro­vide its lis­ten­ers with what Aris­to­tle called cathar­sis, the expe­ri­ence of hav­ing music cause a deep­er and last­ing form of intro­spec­tion. Would this not be a high­er and more eth­i­cal form of pub­lic con­tri­bu­tion than mere­ly seek­ing more applause?