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Great Song Selections for Community Concert Bands
Good music, but not TOO difficult
Community bands present a great challenge to the musical director shepherding them through music. The volunteer members want to make good-sounding music which is perhaps lightly challenging to learn, but not drastically beyond their capacity. After all, the members come out to have fun. Since these community organizations are populated by folks whose performing ability ranges from high school level through semi-professional (and sprinkle in an occasional real beginner!), choosing scores to meet everyone’s needs can be likened, sometimes, to Sisyphus and his rock pushing adventure.
Since I have belonged to a community band for over ten years, cycling through a variety of instruments, I would like to offer my recommendations for a great pile of arrangements, based on our own band library. (A band library is the collection of all the songs the band owns with all the written parts for every instrument.) Often I include a phrase providing my reason for selecting the song.
FOr me, The Music Man is in a handful of perfect musical shows.
Titles from the First Part of the Alphabet
Alexander’s Ragtime Band by Irving Berlin.
America, The Beautiful by Samuel Augustus Ward. Because many of our audiences like traditional, patriotic songs and get involved by singing along. Having the audience get involved is a great thing for everyone.
Anchors Aweigh by Chas. A Zimmerman. To honor my father who served in the Nvay in WWII and Korea. Plus it is a good toe-tapping tune with wistful ending lyrics. (Wishing you a happy voyage home.) Also traditional and an audience pleaser.
Arabian Dances by Brian Balmages. For a band that can recruit percussionists for this number. It is delightfully different from standard American numbers.
Armed Forces Salute arranged by Bob Lowden. Audience pleasing patriotic medley.
Ascentium by Ed Huckeby A great arrangement with many good cymbal crashes. I like it so much that I want it played at my funeral (whenever that will be.)
Ashokan Farewell by Jay Unger– This was used in the Ken Burns Civil War PBS mini-series documentary. It is an easier piece which is gentle and yearning. Also, it may be slightly familiar or brain tickling to the audience.
Bashana Haba’ah by Nurit Hirsh. Middle Eastern with delightful finger cymbal part. Unusual. like Arabian Dances.
Basin Street Blues by Spencer Williams. Because I like jazz.
Benny Goodman: The King of Swing arranged by Paul, Murtha. Because I like jazz. And our elderly audiences like it.
Big Four by Karl L. King. Because a few marches are de rigueur for a community band.
Blue Tango by Leroy Anderson. Because I like Leroy Anderson, audiences will recognize it, and this is a different genre – a tango. Need variety in a program. (I know of a Jazz Swing era band whose selections are so self-limited, that I swear the metronome setting for every one of their songs is identical. BORING!)
Cartoon Symphony by Larry Clark. Cute medley of them songs from cartoons. Difficult to play, but audience pleaser.
A Christmas Festival by Leroy Anderson. Leroy A. Say no more.
Classic TV Hits by various. See reasoning for Cartoon Symphony.
Dolce and Dance by Gary Fagan. Theme is treated in contrast. Just plain beautiful melodic sequence.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin. Because I need to be reminded to not worry.
El Capitan March. A band needs marches. This is a SOUSA march, for goodness sakes. Toe-tapper and audience will recognize.
Fantasy on an Irish Air by Richard Saucedo. Ethnic flavor. Moderately difficult. Great tunes.
Feliz Navidad by Jose Feliciano. Because we need to honor our fellow Americans of Latino/ Hispanic origins.
A Festive Christmas Celebration arranged by John Moss. Good arrangement.
Folk Song Suite by Ralph Vaughan-Williams. I adore Vaughan-Williams and the British early 20th century composers. This is hard for my band, but I feel we should continue to work on it. Maybe not perform it for a few more seasons, but work on it: yes!
The Footlifter by Henry Fillmore. Another march.
Four Polish Christmas Carols arranged by John Jadus. More ethnic variety.
Funiculi Funicula by Luigi Denza. More, more ethnic variety and familiar to audience.
Girl from Ipanema by Antonio Carlos Jobim. Latin and audiences will know it.
God Bless America by Irving Berlin. A patriotic audience pleaser.
Good King Wence-Salsa arranged by Erik Morlaes. Silly and fun.
Great Waldo Pepper March by Henry Mancini. Another march and Henry Mancini. What more is there to say?
Guadalcanal March by Richard Rodgers. Another march and Richard Rodgers. An American community band needs Richard Rodgers’ numbers.
Middle of Alpha List of Band Tunes
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Martin and Blane. Gentle and our trumpet soloist kills (that is a good thing) this.
Here Comes Santa Claus by Gene Autry. It’s corny, but an audience pleaser.
Hogan’s Heroes March by Jerry Fielding. Another good march and possibly familiar to audience.
Holly and the Ivy arranged by Manheim Steamroller. Great, interesting arrangement.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Albert Hague. A classic show and a medley worthy of us learning.
I Can’t Give You Anything But Love by Jimmy McHugh. A classic twenties tune.
I Dreamed a Dream by Claude-Michel Schonberg. From Broadway hit, Les Miserables. Audience will know it. Grand, sweeping concert style piece.
I Get a Kick out of You by Cole Porter. Another thirties piece. (I like the 1920s and 1930s popular music.)
I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Kim Gannon. Sentimental WWII. Good.
In Heaven There is No Beer. YES, of course! How can we do a Roman Catholic church festival without this song?
Jingle Bell Rock by Joe Beal. Familiar and a toe-tapper.
Kingsbridge Overture by David Gorham. A skill strengthening song for the band.
Klezmer Classics by Johan de Meij. Absolutely: another genre of ethnic music.
Les Miserables medley by Claude-Michel Schonberg. A very nice, timely Broadway show medley.
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! By Sammy Cahn. Good for Valentine’s Day gigs.
The Liberty Bell March by Sousa. Since we have a bell especially given to us for this march, let’s keep playing it. Monty Python fans also will recognize it.
Louie, Louie by Richard Berry. Fun song. Can the director dance while conducting?
Mary Poppins selections by Robert B. Sherman. Nice medley and will be familiar to audiences.
Mickey Mouse March by Jimmie Dodd. Another march and dear to the hearts of those who remember. It will turn into a sing-along.
Mission Impossible by Lalo Schiffrin. Because I like it.
Mood Indigo by Duke Ellington. Another voice of jazz.
The Music Man by Meredith Wilson. Great medley of tunes and rousing 76 trombone section.
National Emblem March by Edwin Eugene Bagley. Familiar and super chance for trombones to strut their stuff.
Nessun Dorma by Giacomo Puccini. To show the band’s versatility and it is short (for opera haters)
One O’Clock Jump by Count Basie. More jazz.
Over the Rainbow by Harold Arlen. A classic, it is an anthem for the LGBT community.
Last, but Not Least, Band Music Suggestions
The Peanut Vendor by Moises Simons. I like it: especially the clave part.
Pennsylvania 6-5000 by Jerry Gray. A jazz classic but the band better do a good job at shouting out the phone number.
Pennsylvania Polka by Lee-Manners. This is mandatory for our band’s location in polka dancing Pennsylvania.
Pink Panther by Hnery Mancini. Cute and mysterious feel.
Poet and Peasant overture by Franz von Suppe. Well, it is a good one to work on. Also shows the band’s versatility.
Purple Mountain Majesty by Samuel Ward. A good patriotic arrangement with some surprises.
St. Louis Blues March by W.C. Handy. A jazz march and another jazz great. Little kids really march along to this one.
Salute to American Jazz. Jazz!
Santa Baby for alto vocal – a favorite of mine. ;-)
Seventy-Six Trombones – see reasoning for Music Man.
Sleigh Ride by L. Anderson. Leroy Anderson rocks.
Somewhere Out There by James Horner. A yearning melody.
South Pacific medley by Richard Rodgers. It is 15 minutes long but it is fabulous.
Star-Spangled Banner. Need this one!
Stars and Stripes Forever march by Sousa. Whether you have a piccolo player or not, this is a toe-tapping basic march.
Stompin’ at the Savoy. Jazz.
Strike Up the Band by George Gershwin. Familiar and good.
Sussex Carol arranged by Anne McGinty. I love British carols and it may be delightfully novel to the audience.
Sweet Georgia Brown by Ben Bernie. Band members will enjoy this.
Symphony of Sit-Coms by Paul Jennings. See reasoning of Cartoon Symphony.
That’s Entertainment by Arthur Schwartz. A lively show opener.
The Band Played On by Frank Cofield. A waltz appropriate for band!
New York, New York by John Kander. For the rambunctious audience members who want to do a chorus line. And for Sinatra lovers.
They Can’t Take That Away from Me by George Gershwin. Just because.
Three Scottish Vistas by William Owens. Another ethnic offering.
Tiger Rag by D.J. LaRocca. I like rags.
Tiptoe through the Tubas by Joe Burke. Allows the tubas to shine on melody.
True Love by Cole Porter. Need another Cole Porter.
A Trumpeter’s Lullaby by L. Anderson. Save this for the right trumpeter if s/he ever comes along.
Tuxedo Junction by Erskine Hawkins. My love of swing era jazz is a bit obvious, isn’t it?
The Typewriter by L. Anderson. Fun novelty number for the audience. Also must come up with a description and explanation of what in the world a typewriter is for the young folk.
The Walking Frog by Karl King. This is a nice cakewalk, yet another style to add to the band’s vocabulary.
What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve by Frank Loesser. Great.
When the Saints Go Marching In by James M. Black. Pair this with Sweet Geargia Brown and maybe the band will get a gig opening for a minor league sports team.
The Whiffenpoof Song by Meade Minnigerode. If the band can get its dynamics down and stay down, yes.
With a Little Bit of Luck by Frederick Lowe. Broadway good.
Yankee Doodle Boy by George M. Cohan. Obviously great for summer patriotic programs.
You’re a Grand Old Flag. Ditto
You Came a Long Way from St. Louis by John Benson Brooks. If the band can get raunchy enough, play it!
Just reading this list is a bit of work. Can you imagine deciding which ones to play and then rehearsing every week? To the right peopl, t isn't work at all.
It is FUN!
Text copyright 2013 Maren E. Morgan