Top New Works for Concert Band

Mike Lawson • ChoralRepertoire • July 26, 2011

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It’s time to begin planning for the next school year. The marching music might be ready and the drill actively being written, but what about the concert side of the program? After picking a few of the wonderful standards in band repertoire (which are always a good choice), directors need something new that will get everyone off to a good start. The works should be engaging for students to play and of a high enough quality to justify the expenditure of ever-shrinking funds in the budget. In addition, these pieces should also stand the test of time and be worthy of repeating at some point in the future. This article strives to avoid trendy music that will date itself soon, while highlighting first-rate selections that are enjoyable to play. Here are some new pieces that top my list for many different age groups and abilities.

“Be Still, My Soul” by Robert W. Smith (CL Barnhouse Company)

Grade: ½ 
Duration: 2:30

It is impressive how musically mature this work sounds even though it was written with such limited technical ranges! Using only 6 notes and scoring for beginning band, it is a wonderful first lyrical arrangement for your young band. The original hymn-tune is an African-American spiritual with the same melody as Sibelius’ Finlandia; there are a lot of teaching opportunities that go beyond the music with this one. I could see this as a great addition to any beginning band concert, or a good sight reader for older bands that stresses musicality rather than technique.


“Groovee” (A G-Minor Groove for Concert Band) by Richard Saucedo (Hal Leonard Corporation)

Grade: 2
Duration: 3:00

I really enjoyed the groovy, bluesy, and minimalistic ideas in this piece. It is a definite win for the students, audience, and director. “Groovee” layers lyrical, rhythmic, and bluesy sounds on top of an evolving percussion groove. Looking over the score, there is something for everyone in this piece.


“Broken Bow” by Carl Strommen (Alfred Music Publishing)

Grade: 2
Duration: 2:45

I have tried to avoid soundtracks in this article, but I could not help myself on this one. Though it is not from any specific film, the music has all the fun characteristics of a cowboy/western movie. Carl Strommen has put together a piece with a wonderful energy which your students will love to play. The scoring is rather traditional, but everyone has a chance to be featured. It is also a fun way to work on multiple sixteenth-note combinations and syncopated rhythms, which are prevalent in the work.


“Earthdance” by Michael Sweeney (Hal Leonard Corporation)

Grade: 3
Duration: 7:30

After a first listening, I immediately put this work on my “must-do” list. One month later, I programmed it for an honor band. It was the students’ favorite piece and after the concert I received many comments about the tune from parents, as well. The work has sound effects for the ensemble and an active percussion part; it is also lyrical and expressive, yet rhythmic and driving. Players find it fun, uplifting, and exciting. It has many mood changes and I found it easy to get the students to go beyond the notes and capture the styles, phrases, and musical moments in the piece.


“Play” by Carl Holmquist (C. Alan Publications)

Grade: 3
Duration: 5:30

I’m not sure why this is rated at a grade 3, because it is rhythmically difficult and highly independent (I would call it a grade 5). That being said, it is absolutely worth the effort! I have worked with two different ensembles on this tune and will come back to it again whenever I get the chance. The piece combines a light eighth-note New Orleans swing feel, a layered fugal development, and a serious and inspiring chorale into a work with a powerful message. There is a wonderful metric modulation in the work which will need attention, again the independence in counting is imperative, and it has unique instrumentation requests to navigate. The bluesy clarinet solo can have some added smears and I would encourage students to improvise if they feel comfortable.


“Elements” by Brian Balmages (FJH Music Company)

Grade: 4
Duration: 8:30

This four-movement work is subtitled a “petite symphony,” and each short movement carries a descriptive title. Orchestration is one reason why I enjoy this piece, but that may also be a limiting factor for some. Piano plays an important role in a couple of movements, there is little doubling at times so full instrumentation is needed, percussionists will be kept busy, and there are solos for oboe, horns, marimba, piano, and others. I could see a group successfully performing only a couple of movements rather than the entire piece, as there is no unifying thread that connects the movements together.

The first movement, “Air,” has a fresh minimalistic and dry character I haven’t heard in works for band before. Movement two is titled “Water” and is full of gorgeous chord progressions with beautiful sonorities for both brass and woodwinds. “Earth” is a scherzo-like third movement march with many quotes from Holst’s “Planets.” Oddly, the melodies Holst used to describe other planets are used here to depict our own, and it works well. The final movement, “Fire,” is rhythmic, full of energy and muscle, and reminds me of a Vaclav Nelhybel work.

“Rest” by Frank Ticheli (Manhattan Beach Music)

Grade: 4
Duration: 7:15

Frank Ticheli’s Rest is a work full of beauty and grace. Transcribed from his own chorale work, There Will Be Rest, the piece does not need the text to communicate a strong emotional journey. Starting from simple and searching notes in the beginning, the work ends with a triumphant and powerful statement of hope. If you liked “American Elegy,” you will find this piece as powerful and easier to put together. I am excited to perform the work myself this year.

“Xerxes” by John Mackey (Self-Published)

Grade: 5
Duration: 5:00

“Xerxes” is a dark work that has all the angst, grit, and muscle John Mackey could fit into a concert march. Your students will love the intense and volatile sounds asked of them, and yet there is plenty of opportunity to work on musical arrivals and balanced harmonic dissonance. The middle section features the woodwinds, especially the soprano saxophone and friends. It is not a “toe-taper” like King or Sousa, but students and audiences sure will remember this one!

Peter Haberman is an assistant professor of Music and serves as the director of Bands at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he conducts the Wind Symphony, teaches courses in conducting and repertoire, supervises student teachers, and coordinates the UW-Eau Claire band program. 

A native of Minnesota, he has earned degrees from Concordia College, the University of Montana, and the University of Minnesota where he completed a Doctor of Music Arts in conducting. Dr. Haberman maintains an active schedule as a guest conductor, adjudicator and clinician across the United States.

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