When we talk about classical music we usually talk about symphonic groups. Bands are for militaries and other kinds of marching, like for football game half times. But symphonic bands can be just as musically sophisticated as orchestras.
Dr. Erik Janners is the director of music at Marquette University, but he is also the conductor of the Knightwind Ensemble, the premiere wind band in southeastern Wisconsin. When he first became the conductor of the ensemble, he understood that they wanted to be the elite wind band for Milwaukee. This was not going to be an ordinary community band.
Wind bands are unique in Western classical music ensembles. They grew out of the military drum and bugle corps. In the early 20th Century, they modulated to become a formal concert music ensemble.
Originally playing Sousa marches, wind bands established its formal concert foundation when the Eastman School of Music in New York founded its wind ensemble in the 1950s. Eastman commissioned composers, like Paul Hindemith, Leonard Bernstein, Walter Piston, and Vincent Persichetti, to write pieces for the ensemble. Wind ensemble pieces are not light, dainty works; composers push musicians and their instruments to their limits.
“Wind composers have really been pushing the limits of what’s technically possible with all the instruments – clarinets, trumpets, saxophone – you name it,” says Janners.
It was also around that time when the Knightwind Ensemble was established. The organization was started at an Elk Lodge, but then was adopted by the Catholic Knights. The group became a free-standing wind ensemble when they became the Knightwinds.
The group is made up of volunteers who come from the music education community or classically trained musicians who want a challenge. They rehearse two hours every Wednesday night and perform three heavy concerts and a variety of lighter concerts throughout the year.
The Knightwinds have an all-Russian concert on Sunday afternoon at the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center at 3 PM.