Staff Selections: Repertoire for Brass and Woodwind Choirs

Mike Lawson • ChoralRepertoire • June 23, 2011

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Small ensembles are a necessary part of any vibrant, successful music program. These groups provide students with unique opportunities to perform music not suited for larger groups, as well as the chance for students to perform as soloists, without the potential of being “buried” in a larger ensemble. Smaller, specialized groups can also be a real confidence builder for students.

This review is divided into three parts: Part I reviews transcriptions of works by the master composers, Part II takes a look at ensembles that are written in a contemporary styles, and Part III reviews some of the standard literature for every band program.



The following pieces have skillfully been transcribed from other sources for woodwind and brass choirs.

“The Barber of Seville” by Gioachino Rossini (Arr. by Xavier Eeckeloot, Pub. by PEL Music Publications.

This Grade Level 4 overture is scored for woodwind choir consisting of flute, oboe, two B? clarinets, and bass clarinet. First performed in Rome in 1816, this piece is among Rossini’s most-loved orchestral themes. Students will undoubtedly recognize the infectious main theme from its frequent use in many Bugs Bunny cartoons. This arrangement highlights the colors of the woodwind instruments, yet it remains close to Rossini’s original.

This transcription of a very famous opera overture will delight your students and provide them with a look at a masterpiece of opera literature. The overture (in F major) is fun to play, yet it is technically challenging due to the required articulation and rapid tonguing.

This satirical and farcical piece with its impish staccato chirpings is perfectly balanced by the contrasting legato sections. This is a “showcase” for your woodwind section.


“1778 New England Suite” by William Billings (Arr. by Jon Meyer, Pub. by PEL Music Publications)

William Billings was the first American composer of psalms and hymns and the inventor of “fuguing songs.” He was a choral composer and is widely recognized as the father of American choral music.

This is an easy suite for Grade Level 2 comprised of four movements: “Jordan,” “Richmond,” “Boston,” and “Washington.” It is arranged for a clarinet choir of four Bb clarinets and bass clarinet. Clarinets 2, 3, and 4 are comfortably written below the break, while the bass clarinet is expected to play periodically above the break.

This is a wonderful piece to teach legato and marcato phrasing to young groups, along with expressive dynamics and balance of tone. One potential concern is that two movements are scored in the clarinet key of A? major. Young players should, by the second year of playing, be able to play chromatic notes in the low register.

The rhythms are not challenging, except for a few dotted eights and sixteenth combinations that are sprinkled among the parts. The arranger has provided ample instrumental differentiation in that all of the instruments are not playing throughout, as is the case with many easier transcriptions. The use of imitative entrances provide enough contrast to keep students interested and alert.

This suite will give your band concert added variety and will help teach balance of tone in the woodwind section.


“A Mighty Fortress is Our God” by Martin Luther (Arr. by Frank H. Siekmann, Pub. by Brelmat Music

Martin Luther’s most well-known hymn, this one was written between 1527 and 1529, and the words are paraphrase Psalm 46. The first trumpet part extends to A above the staff and the horn is expected to play a written F on the fifth line. The transcription is set at quarter note = 112 and is arranged for a brass quartet consisting of 2 B? trumpets, horn in F, trombone, and tuba.

The arranger, in this Grade Level 2+ piece, cleverly employs the use of imitative entrances to provide added interest and color. The keys take us through B?, E?, and C major, and are a good piece for teaching the marcato style of playing. The clever use of theme and variations will challenge the intermediate brass players.

Information about the composer and song make be an interesting addition to both audience and players if added to program notes.


“Beautiful Savior” (Crusader’s Hymn) Selesian Melody (Arr. by Frank H. Siekmann, Pub. By Brelmat Music)

Many people say this is called the “Crusader’s Hymn” because it was sung by German Crusaders as they made their way to the Holy Land. This Grade level 3 transcription of this familiar hymn melody is written for tenor trombone, bass trombone or tuba, and piano. For the most part the piano is treated as a third soloist, in that it plays contrapuntal lines rather than full chords.

In this theme and variations treatment, both brass instruments are expected to play sixteenth notes and eighth note triplets at moderate tempos. This piece can be a good “workout” piece for trombone (or baritone horn) and bass trombone (or tuba) and would add a novel touch to a concert or recital.

Some background information about the composer and the song could be printed on the inside of the front cover and would be valuable for program notes for added interest.


Three Dances for three flutes by Ignacio Cervantes (Arr. by Byron DeFries, Pub. by PEL Music Publications)

Cervantes was a Cuban virtuoso pianist and composer who was influential in the creolization of Cuban music.

Why not show case your flute section with this Grade level 3 suite of dances written in the keys of E?, F and B? major? This piece is a good workout for the flute section of a band. This music is also available for three clarinets, three bassoons, three saxophones, three horns, and three brass.

The rhythms used throughout the three movements are reminiscent of Scott Joplin and employ the traditional “cakewalk” rhythms of the sixteenth-eighth-sixteenth pattern. This short piece works well if the dynamic contrasts are fully observed. Flutes 1 and 2 play concerted (together) for most of the suite, while a differing part is given to Flute 3. This arrangement has all three flutes playing continuously with very few empty spaces. This is a very good piece for establishing tonal balance within the flute section.


Trios for Developing Brass Players, Volume I (Arr. by Tom Wade-West, Pub. by Alfred Music Co.

This Grade Level 2 collection of arrangements for brass trio – consisting of trumpet, horn in F, and trombone – is very well written for developing brass players. The titles included are:

  • “Non Nobis Domine” (3-part canon) by Bryd (text from Psalm 115, Verse 1),
  • “I Great You” by Dulken (a pupil of Felix Mendelssohn),
  • “Lift Thine Eyes” from the oratorio “Elijah,” by Mendelssohn,
  • “Allegro Maestoso” from “Water Music,” composed by Handel for a royal barge trip on the Thames River,
  • and “V. Ave Verum,” a church motet vocal piece in Latin by Mozart.

These classic pieces are in the comfortable keys of B? and E? and the parts are easy to play. The arranger uses staggered entrances in three of the five pieces for added interest. These tastefully arranged pieces could benefit from the inclusion of breath marks in each part. Young players need direction concerning where phrases begin and end.

Trios for Developing Brass Players should be a part of every band director’s library.


Contemporary Styles

These pieces are original compositions written in contemporary styles that will challenge the musicality of your students.


Three Shanties for Wind Quintet by Malcolm Arnold, (Pub. by Paterson’s Publications, dist. by Hal Leonard,

Malcolm Arnold is an English composer who wrote the musical score for the highly successful movie “The Bridge on the River Kwai” in 1957.

In “Three Shanties,” the composer uses the familiar themes “The Drunken Sailor” and “The Girl I Left Behind Me” in various guises throughout theses three movements, which are rated for Grade 5+. The range for the horn is a written B? above the staff and the bassoon is required to play periodically in tenor clef.

This is a stunning, rhythmically crisp-sounding piece that deserves an audience.


“Partita” by Irving Fine (Pub. by Boosey & Hawkes)

Every instrumentalist will be challenged technically and musically with this superb piece of Grade 6 music.

Composer Virgil Thomson described Fine’s “unusual melodic grace,” while Aaron Copland noted the “elegance, style, finish, and convincing continuity” of Fine’s music. Fine was a member of the group of Boston composers in the mid 20th-century who were sometimes called the “Boston Six” or “Boston School.” Other members of the Boston School were Arthur Berger, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss, and Harold Shapiro.

In “Partita,” Fine has written a wonderfully satirical piece that provides a contrast in color and dynamics. It is mildly dissonant and spicy, and will challenge the ears of your best players. The changes of key combined with contrasting styles makes this piece a great addition to the woodwind repertoire. It may be performed in recital or one or two movements may be done in concert to provide variety.


Standard Repertoire

All schools should have these following collections in their files. These are great pieces for recitals, concerts, art shows, civic events, group music lessons or at any gathering where musicians can get a chance to display their talents.


Twenty-Two Masterworks for Woodwind Trio (Arr. by O.J. James, Pub. by Hal Leonard)

This Grade 3 medium-easy collection of great transcriptions includes works by Mozart, Haydn, Bach, Schumann, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert and Grieg. What an excellent way to introduce young players to music by the master composers!

This flexible collection of classics can be performed with a wide variety of instrumentation and includes the following parts in addition to a full conductor’s score.

Part I Flute, oboe or lst clarinet

Part II 2nd Clarinet

Part III B-flat bass clarinet, 3rd clarinet, bassoon

This collection should be a part of every band’s music library.


Chamber Music For Three Woodwinds Volumes I and II by H. Voxman Rubank (Hal Leonard)

Volume I is written for flute, oboe or 2nd flute, and B? clarinet. Volume II is written for flute, B? clarinet, and bassoon or bass clarinet.

The composers represented in this collection are the masters of the Baroque and Classical periods. These books have been around for many years and the transcriptions are excellent for teaching great music of the master composers to developing students.

These easy to medium selections are fun to play and work well in almost any musical setting.


Ten Popular Classics For Saxophone Quintet (Arr. by Andy Clark, C.L. Barnhouse Company)

This superb collection of Grade 3+ music is written for soprano or 1st alto saxophone, 2nd alto saxophone, two tenor saxophones, and a baritone saxophone.

The songs include: “El Relicario,” “The Entertainer,” “William Tell Overture,” “Broadway One-Step,” and six other fun songs. This collection presents a great way to feature a saxophone section in concert, recital, or at any other school or civic function.


Vince Corozine has served as director of Music for the Peekskill, New York City schools, associate professor of Music at the King’s College in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., and director of Music Industry Studies at Elizabeth City State University in Elizabeth City, N.C. He performed and arranged for the USMA Band at West Point and served as music director for the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia, Pa. for WPVI-TV (ABC-Disney) for 10 years. Vince is the author of Arranging Music for the Real World, (Mel Bay). He records professionally in New York, Toronto, Philadelphia, Hong Kong and China, and currently teaches 12 music arranging courses online.

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