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School concert bands are often the first opportunity for formal musical training that american children encounter. They, along with marching bands, make up the bulk of many music programs across the country, and yet they represent a miniscule portion of its actual music production and consumption.

How did this dominance come about historically, and what are the modern explanations for keeping it this way?

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    Are you contrasting this with individual instruction, or other groups like orchestra (with strings) and jazz bands? – hpaulj May 11 '16 at 9:36
  • I'm not sure about the premise of your question. A sampling of local school districts in two different states shows that A) the programs are partly guided by "federal standards" and B) they all offer band, orchestra, chorus, and Jazz ensemble. I'm assuming many, if not most or even all schools also have marching bands. What other contexts for music instruction are you expecting to see or thinking would be more appropriate? Even LAUSD, possibly the most maligned school district in the country, offers choir, string orchestra, band, guitar/"modern band", and piano instruction. – Todd Wilcox May 11 '16 at 13:38
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    Viewed from the UK, the "school marching band" looks like a very US-specific thing, associated with US field sports. The only "indigenous" marching bands in the UK are in the armed forces and associated with some political organizations and (historically) with trade unions - none of which are relevant to school age players. And If you have a marching band, you already have most of a concert band. For orchestras, I suspect that string players need more learning time than wind and brass, before they reach a standard where they can perform in public. – user19146 May 12 '16 at 0:27
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    .... Note, the UK brass band movement is something very different - as the name implies there are only brass instruments, the size and composition is rigidly fixed for competitive purposes, and the size is relatively small - maximum 25 players + percussion. Brass bands do sometimes "march", in the sense of "walking in step with each other from point A to point B while playing", but they don't perform choreographed routines like US marching bands. – user19146 May 12 '16 at 0:38
  • I'm most directly asking about bands as opposed to orchestras. While I realize that most schools have orchestra and band, it seems like band is given special emphasis considering its limited repitiore and popularity. – pjc May 12 '16 at 3:02
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I don't think this is restricted to The USA and this form of musical education has many pluses.

  1. The band culture requires each musician to behave in an cooperative fashion. While there are rules-and-regulations, the fundamental structure is based on the individual self-discipline contributed to achieve the group’s goals.
  2. School bands can allow musicians with differing skills to play together.
  3. Probably the most important being cost. Individual tuition is expensive. In the UK schools may have individual tuition, usually on Saturday morning, but there is normally a charge for this.
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  • Isn't there overlap between concert band and marching band? Marching band is huge at many universities in the US and students can get significant band scholarships, so at least high school marching band has value in prepping students for that. I also wonder if the literature for concert band is educational, accessible to beginners and intermediate students alike, and widely culturally acceptable, unlike other options like symphony orchestra or punk rock. – Todd Wilcox May 11 '16 at 11:57
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Compared with what?

Orchestras are relatively rarer, primarily because fewer kids are encouraged to take up string instruments than wind instruments -- and because a school band can handle a near-arbitrary number players in each section, while an orchestra will only use a few winds and brass players.

Nearly every high school I know of (Eastern USA) has a jazz band of one sort or another as well, so it's not strictly "concert band or nothing."

As for "why is it still this way," well, just try changing any tradition in a school system (double sad face)

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  • Are orchestras actually rarer? I can't find any support for that. – Todd Wilcox May 11 '16 at 13:41
  • @ToddWilcox I have to admit this is a highly parochial study -- high schools in my general environs all have bands but quite a few do not have an orchestra. I don't have a statewide or countrywide study at hand. – Carl Witthoft May 11 '16 at 13:58
  • Hmm.. I wonder if it's a case of districts/counties having orchestra and other non-band programs available but not all schools have enough interest in those programs in their student body. If so, that would change the nature of the question to being, "why are so few students interested in music programs besides concert band?" – Todd Wilcox May 11 '16 at 14:08
  • Where I grew up, orchestras and string quartets were the norm, with small brass groups also in existence. – Doktor Mayhem May 11 '16 at 16:55

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