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In the 1920s, the school band movement exploded across the U.S.A. bringing a need for new band repertoire. Authors such as Arthur A. Clappé provided composing guidelines to enable more people to create transcriptions, arrangements and original compositions for their students. These “how to write for band” rules were based on ensembles that had haphazard instrumentation, conductors with limited training and a very different education curriculum. Fast forward 100 years and many works for wind band still adhere to such guidelines. This adherence has generated a particular wind band sound, a sound our ears have come to expect and love. Today, we find that now, more than ever, there are composers writing for wind band with a different approach to the 1920s model. Some composers may have a ‘rhythm-first’ approach, others a ‘texture’ or ‘timbre-first’ approach. Either way, composers are thinking differently about the sonic capability of the wind band. In this clinic, we will explore some of these composers, their repertoire and how compositional approach not only impacts the timbral outcome, but also, provides newfound opportunities for you to explore the full capability of your students through alternative instrumental blends and differing instrumental roles.

Featured repertoire

Melody-first composers

Example 1: Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827, Cologne, Germany)

Use this graphic notation clip, starting at the introduction of the "Ode to Joy" theme from Symphony no. 9 to discuss melody-first composers with your students.

To find out more about Beethoven visit:


Melody-first composers

Example 2: Giovanni Santos (b. 1980, Puerto Rico)

Listen to the stunning use of melody and melodic motif in this exciting and dance-like work called El Zape!

(also available for flexible ensemble).


Find out more about Giovanni Santos and his music here:

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Harmony-first composers

Example 1: Phillip Glass (b. 1937, New York, NY, USA)



Minimalist American composer Phillip Glass talks to school children in 1988 about how   he starts his compositional process with harmony. 

Philip Glass b 1937.jpg

Find out more about Phillip Glass and his music:

Harmony-first composers

Example 2: Cait Nishimura (b. 1991, Toronto, Canada)



Into the Blue features repeated ostinatos represent a constant energy and forward motion, while memorable melodic fragments depict the feeling of soaring through the sky toward a new destination.



Find out more about Cait Nishimura and her music:

Rhythm-first composers

Example 1: Steve Reich (b. 1936, New York, NY, USA)

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Reich is heavily influenced by African music and their use of multiple downbeats. This clip of "Clapping Music" clearly demonstrates this influence as well as the role rhythm plays in his music.

To find out more about Reich visit:

Rhythm-first composers

Example 2: Kevin Day (b. 1995, Charleston, WV, USA)


"I would definitely say that I am a “rhythm-first” composer. I focus a lot on rhythmic structures or ideas whenever I start writing a new composition. Then once I have the rhythmic idea, I will write melodies and harmonies based on that rhythm."

Example: Havana (Grade 5)

Find out more about Kevin Day and his music here:

Elegant Paper

Texture-first composers

Example 1: Percy Grainger (1882-1961, Melbourne, Australia)

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"In FREE MUSIC the various tone-strands (melodic lines) may each have their own rhythmic pulse (or not), if they like; but one tone strand is not enslaved to the other (as in current music) by rhythmic same-beatedness. In FREE MUSIC there are no scales - the melodic lines may glide from & to any depths & heights of (practical) tonal space, just as they may hover about any 'note' without ever alighting upon it."

Music example: Hear Grainger play Colonial Song (piano roll recording)

Find out more about Percy Grainger and his music:

Recycled Paper

Texture-first composers

Example 2: Alex Shapiro (b. 1962, New York, NY, USA)



"I do admit to being very “textural” in my approach to my electroacoustic works. The option of an infinite bevy of sounds I can create from sources beyond the instruments themselves means that I can replicate any gesture I hear in my head, without regard to limitations of registration, playing technique, or other human-based logistics."


Music example: Rock Music (Grade 2)

Find out more about Alex Shapiro and her music:

Candy Cotton

Timbre-first composers

Example 1: Michael Colgrass (1932-2019, American-born Canadian)

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Colgrass talks about his composition process in this clip, demonstrating the influence of performers on his compositional voice. 

Listening suggestion: Old Churches (Grade 2)

Find out more about Michael Colgrass and his music:

Colorful Abstract

Timbre-first composers

Example 2: Jodie Blackshaw (b. 1971, Wagga Wagga, Australia)


"Being a colour-first composer (for me) means linking emotions to timbral blends that best express the intention of the piece being written. These colours quickly transform into melodic and harmonic fragments that formulate a new musical creation."

Hear a different version of Letter from Sado here.

Find out more about Jodie Blackshaw and her music:

White Noise on Black Background

Concept-first composers

Example 1: John Cage (1912-1992, LA, California, USA)

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"The material of music is sound and silence. Integrating these is composing."

Example: "Third Construction" for percussion ensemble

Find out more about John Cage and his music:

Grey Round Patterns

Concept-first composers

Example 2: Jennifer Jolley (b. 1981, LA, California, USA)


"We’ve engineered a country where the survival of too many people is an act of defiance. I think one really important political act to encourage is the audience. Listening to the silenced, the ignored, the neglected, and the dispossessed is going to be critical."

Example: Ash (Grade 3.5) - also available for flexible ensemble

Find out more about Jennifer Jolley and her music:

Stadium Concrete Seats

Concept-first composers

Example 3: Hubert Hoche (b. 1966, Germany)

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"It is the problems of people/humanity that move me."


"I think children should not be overwhelmed. The various parameters of the music (rhythm, harmonic, tempo) must be well considered, depending on the goal I want to achieve with the composition. "

Example: Beginning (Grade 1)

Find out more about Hubert Hoche and his music:

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Keen to learn more? 

Please read Chapter 6, The Repertoire (R)evolution by Jodie Blackshaw in
"The Horizon leans forward"
as published by GIA Music Inc. 
Other contributors include Erik Kar Jun Leung (the driving force behind this incredible book), Alex Shapiro, Courtney Snyder, Robert Taylor and Alfred L. Watkins who share stories of courage, strength and triumph from underrepresented communities in the wind band field (a MUST read!). 
Watch a webinar with all the authors here!
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