Harmonizing Technology with Tradition: Electronics in Concert Band Music

Harmonizing Technology with Tradition: Electronics in Concert Band Music 

This article about electronics in concert band music was originally published in The Woman Conductor Journal, February 2024 issue.

In the ever-evolving landscape of music, the integration of technology and electronics into the concert band setting marks a significant shift from traditional performances. This not only expands the sonic possibilities but also challenges the conventional norms of what constitutes a concert band. It’s important to remember that incorporating electronic elements in this genre is not just about adding new sounds; it’s a transformative process that redefines the boundaries and potential of band music.

Harmonizing Technology - Electronics in Concert Band Music

French-born composer Edgar Varèse was one of the first to embrace the idea of electroacoustics – the combination of acoustic instruments and electronic sound production – in a classical setting, as early as 1954. Other composers continued to experiment with various forms of electronics over the next several decades, leading to some notable contributions from the beginning of the twenty-first century including Mason Bates’ Rusty Air in Carolina (2006/2008), Christopher Stark’s Augenblick (2008), and Steven Bryant’s Ecstatic Waters (2008). Now, in 2024, with the advancements and accessibility of technology, programming a piece of music with electronics is easier than ever, and achievable for bands of any size or ability level.  

Concert Band Music Using Electronics

Many pieces using electronics/technology include pre-recorded audio tracks that accompany the ensemble. However, other composers have employed technology in different ways, such as these: 

The Haunted Carousel, by Erika Svanoe (grade 3), has a theremin part that is played on an iPad through the GarageBand app. 

Axe to Grind, by Daniel Montoya Jr. (grade 2.5), is “a love letter to rock music and the rock concert experience.” In addition to traditional concert band instruments, the piece requires 4 iOS devices with GarageBand and amplification. Montoya also wrote Garage Band (grade 3.5) for similar instrumentation. 

Phase Shift, by Robert Langenfeld (grade 4), includes an electronics part which requires a 61 key MIDI Keyboard, a laptop with Ableton Live, and PA system. According to the composer, the title refers both to the shifting of sound (waveforms) and the shift away from a traditional performance medium. 

High Voltage, by Randall Standridge (grade 1.5/2), was written to include both synthesizer and electronic sound effects. The electronics help amplify the theme of the piece, our electric world. 

Band of Heros, by Erika Svanoe (grade 3), incorporates technology through audience participation! Svanoe describes it as “an interactive musical adventure for band.” Using a provided PowerPoint and an optional online voting platform, the audience follows the adventure and must vote to decide which direction the story – and music – will take.    

Pieces Organized By Grade Level

Here are some pieces, organized by grade level, that include pre-recorded electronic tracks to accompany the band. 

Grade 0.5

  • Count to Ten, by Alex Shapiro (3-part flex band) 
  • Downtown Strut, by Tyler Grant (3-part flex band) 
  • Five-Note Jive, by Ed Kiefer (also available as a 5-part flex band)
  • In the Distance, by Jennifer E. Rose (2-part adaptable ensemble, including parts for strings) 
  • Remains of an Ancient Sea, by Amber Sheeran (3-part flex band)

Grade 1-1.5

  • Circuit Breaker, by Randall Standridge (electronic track or optional synthesizer part) 
  • Cyberspace, by Mollie Budiansky (3-part flex band) 
  • hitchBOT Jr., by Alex Tedrow (4-part flex band) 
  • New World Breakdown, by Dvorak/Ed Kiefer (also available as a 5-part flex band)
  • Techno Glitch, by Jennifer E. Rose (adaptable wind parts) 

Grade 2-2.5

  • hitchBOT, by Alex Tedrow 
  • Off the Edge, by Alex Shapiro 
  • Techno Blade, by Benjamin Taylor (4-part flex band) 

Grade 3-3.5 

  • Imminent Danger, by Jennifer E. Rose 
  • One Giant Leap, by Erik Morales
  • Papercut, by Alex Shapiro (also requires recycled printer paper) 
  • The Machine Awakes, by Steven Bryant 

Grade 4+ 

  • Ecstatic Waters, by Steven Bryant 
  • Lights Out, by Alex Shapiro (also includes optional lighting and physical effects) 
  • Moment, by Alex Shapiro 
  • Suspended, by Alex Shapiro 

In most cases, composers have provided detailed suggestions for how to set-up, rehearse, and perform with the technology, making it achievable for even those new to electroacoustic music. You can also check out these composer websites for more options: Alex Shapiro, Jennifer E. Rose, Benjamin Taylor, and Ed Kiefer. Keep in mind, these are not exhaustive lists, only a sampling of what’s currently available. 

As we stand at the crossroads of tradition and innovation, we know that technology will not replace acoustic instruments and live musicians, but it’s worth considering how it can set the stage for a new era of musical expression and experience. I hope you will explore the pieces listed here and others, and reflect on how you could incorporate technology into an upcoming performance. 

Have you played any of these pieces or others that include electronics? I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below, sharing your ideas.

Interested in learning more about incorporating technology in ensembles? Check out these blog posts:

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