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I'm arranging a game piece from Minecraft called "Alpha" (aka end credits theme). I thought the idea of merging school band and orchestra would be a cool idea, but I don't know if writing for saxophones will be a huge deal or not. Of course I have tried asking the directors of both ensembles, but I'm also asking for the general.

Can saxophones be a part of the orchestra, and be treated as a common orchestral instrument by both the composer, the conductor, and the audience, and not be forced to play or write(composers) in a "jazz" manner?

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Yes, there is a body of classical, non-jazz music for saxophone, including works for orchestra. Although not a standard part of most orchestras, saxophones are added when needed.1

A 2014 article in The Guardian celebrating the 200th birthday of the saxophone's inventor, Adolphe Sax, lists 10 orchestral works for sax, including:

  • Bizet: L’Arlésienne suites
  • Ravel: Boléro
  • Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances
  • Vaughan Williams: Job, A Masque For Dancing (scene 6)
  • Benjamin Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem
  • Richard Rodney Bennett: Concerto for Stan Getz
  • John Adams: Nixon in China

1. Note that this can take different forms on the business side. The orchestra might have a part-time saxophonist on its roster; it might hire freelancers as needed; or someone who primarily plays another instrument might cover saxophone parts as needed.

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    "Although not a standard part of most orchestras, saxophones are added when needed": it might be worthwhile to note that this can take different forms on the business side. The orchestra might have a part-time saxophonist on its roster; it might hire freelancers as needed; or someone who primarily plays another instrument might cover saxophone parts as needed. (Trivium: William Walton's Belshazzar's Feast includes a part for English horn that is to be used only if an alto saxophone is unavailable.)
    – phoog
    Sep 6, 2023 at 9:46
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    Ravel's 1922 orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures from an Exhibition rather famously has a quite extensive Alto Saxophone solo.
    – A. R.
    Sep 6, 2023 at 12:52
  • @phoog So noted. Thanks.
    – Aaron
    Sep 6, 2023 at 17:57
  • Due to physics, the saxophone and most other woodwinds share similar or near-identical fingeringing progressions. The flute, despite being in different keys, actually uses the same (similar) fingerings for the same written note (as opposed to the clarinet, which is shifted). Obviously a single-reed instrument (like a clarinet) will be closest from an embouchure point of view. Sep 7, 2023 at 1:23
  • Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kije has a prominent tenor sax part.
    – Mike G
    Sep 7, 2023 at 15:19
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Saxophones sometimes appear in the orchestra. Not all that often, the list in @Aaron's reply above is pretty exhaustive! And when a saxophone does appear, it's normally as a featured soloist rather than an additional 'section' of several players.

But sure, a combined band/orchestra piece could be fun! One point to check though - in a school situation you might find that a lot of players are in band AND orchestra, maybe playing the same instrument, maybe not. It might be more practical to write for 'band + strings'.

And, of course, it's ultimately practical to write for the existing ensembles. Organising special rehearsals for a hybrid group will be a nuisance, and may not be deemed worth it just for your one piece.

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    "But sure, a combined band/orchestra piece could be fun! One point to check though - in a school situation you might find that a lot of players are in band AND orchestra, maybe playing the same instrument, maybe not. It might be more practical to write for 'band + strings'." Yes! There's only two of them: a tenor saxophonist as a cellist, and a bass clarinetist as a violist. I talked to them, I will keep the tenor since we only have two, and I've already written a part for tenor 1 and 2. We have 15 violists, the arrangement only needs 8, so the bass clarinet can play the bass clarinet part.
    – mikechad
    Sep 6, 2023 at 13:15
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    That's hardly an exhaustive list, I can think of another fifty examples.
    – PiedPiper
    Sep 6, 2023 at 15:41
  • @PiedPiper OK, let's have the first 20 :-)
    – Laurence
    Sep 6, 2023 at 16:19
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    Adams, John: City Noir, Fearful Symmetries - Albeniz: Suite Iberia - Bartók, Bela: The Wooden Prince - Berg, Alban: Der Wein, Lulu, Violin Concerto - Berio: Alleluia, La Vera Storia, Bernstein: Mass, Symphonic Dances from West Side Story - Britten, Benjamin: Our Hunting Fathers - Copland, Aaron: First Symphony, Piano Concerto - Gershwin: An American in Paris, I Got Rhythm Variations, Porgy and Bess, Rhapsody in Blue - Glass, Philip: Koyaanisqatsi - Grainger, Percy: Green Bushes
    – PiedPiper
    Sep 6, 2023 at 16:33
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    @PiedPiper Dangit, you made me imagine a mashup of Koyaanisqatsi and I Got Rhythm! Sep 6, 2023 at 22:35
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Pit orchestras for some musicals have saxophones as well as more conventional orchestral instruments. From memory the Royal Shakespeare version of "The Wizard of Oz" is one such. Of course the style of music is different from the standard symphonic repertoire, but I wouldn't describe it as jazz.

I would encourage you to use saxophones in your orchestrations wherever appropriate. They might not be used regularly in orchestras, but then the clarinet (invented early 1700s) was not regularly used in orchestras until the late 1700s.

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