Band or Orchestra?
The question music students have been debating for ages. Which one is better? Ask any band student, and he will say that band is better. Ask any orchestra student, and he will say that orchestra is better. Some might say that orchestra members are more serious about their music, but band members are more fun.
Guess what? There is no right answer! There are great orchestras. There are great bands. But because they are different, you can’t really say one is “better” than the other. Just different.
So how are they different?
Do you know the difference between a band and an orchestra? If not, read on. To be as simple as possible, an orchestra has string instruments. A band does not.
A chamber orchestra has only string instruments – violins, violas, cellos, basses. Chamber orchestras typically have 40-50 members.
A full orchestra, or a symphonic orchestra, is usually a much larger group of musicians. A full orchestra has all the string instruments, but also includes a representation of all the band instruments, including percussion. A symphony orchestra can have as many as 100 members, with probably 25 or so belonging to the woodwind, brass, and percussion sections.
A concert band is a group of woodwind, brass, and percussion players with several musicians playing each part. It might have 6 or 7 first flutes, 6 or 7 second flutes, 6 or 7 first clarinets, and so on.
A smaller group, but similar to a concert band, is the wind ensemble. This group has the same instruments represented as the concert band, but on a smaller scale. A wind ensemble usually has only 1 or 2 players on each part.
A marching band is a band that plays while marching. This could be at the halftime show of a football game or at a parade. I recently watched the Rose Bowl Parade, and many of the marching bands there had between 150-200 members!
Jazz bands are another member of the band family. Instrumentation for jazz bands varies a lot – depending on the venue, the music, the style. Most have much smaller ensembles than the other bands mentioned, but usually include percussion, a couple different saxophones, possibly a clarinet or a trumpet, a bass, and trombone.
And which one came first?
Good question. And no easy answer! It depends on your definition of band and orchestra. Flutes are the earliest instruments archaeologists have discovered, dating back many thousands of years. Trumpet-like instruments have been around since at least 1500 B.C. (Score for band.) And the Bible speaks of King David being skilled with a harp. He lived around 1000 B.C. (Score for orchestra.) Also, if you believe the Bible, Genesis 4:21 speaks of a man named Jubal who was the “father of all such that handle to harp and organ.” (Score for both.)
In Medieval and early Renaissance times, an orchestra referred to any group of musicians playing together. “Modern” string orchestras started to form in the mid-1500’s. These had instruments similar to our current violins, violas, cellos, and basses. In the early 1600’s composers began to specify which instruments they wanted to play which parts. By the mid-1600’s orchestras used strings with some wind or percussion instruments.
Modern string instruments were developed earlier than the modern woodwind and brass instruments. As our modern wind and brass instruments were developed, they were added to the orchestra. By the middle of the 1800’s orchestras often had the same instrumentation that orchestras have today.
So, which came first? Bands or orchestras? Which is better? Band or orchestra? Your answer may be based on definition. And it may be based on personal preference! Which one do you like better? Which one do you think is better? I would love to hear your thoughts! Leave your ideas in the comments.