[Editor’s note: The Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble‘s year-long exploration of the evolution of wind music begins with free lectures on October 20 and November 3 and a concert on November 11.)
By Mallory Rutiligiano ’17
I have been a flute player for the past 14 years and a piccolo player for the past seven. For most of my life, truly, I have self-identified as a wind musician. However, it took quite a bit of time for me to play music that made me feel like one.
Throughout high school I played in both my high school’s symphonic band and orchestra. The band music was entertaining–generally upbeat, slightly jazzy or march-like, and engaging giant sections with 40 clarinets and flutes or 20 saxophones and trombones. As a flutist and a piccoloist, I always played the melody or some variation thereof and always in the high flute register, sitting happily above the ensemble.
The school orchestra was the exact opposite experience. I was also fortunate enough to play in an orchestra outside of my high school that engaged students who were passionate about their instruments. In this group and in my high school, wind instruments were slightly left out. They acted as embellishments to the soaring sections of strings–understandably, given the focus of most orchestral compositions on strings’ abilities. As a piccoloist in these ensembles, I would have dozens of rests at a time, in order to play fun garnishes accompanying strings. My time in the orchestra was some of the best I have had as a player, exposing me to some of the most renowned and impressive music I will ever experience. However, the music was intended to showcase strings and in many ways, rightfully so, since the music was intended for the lyricism and stamina produced naturally from string instruments.
Additionally, outside of high school, I was asked to play with a local college’s wind ensemble as a part of the flute section. This experience was similar to what I had experienced in symphonic band, with large wind and brass sections. However, rather than the traditional buoyant “band” music that was intended for winds and brass, this ensemble typically played string-based orchestral music that had been “transcribed” or rewritten for wind instruments. The winds were a sort of pseudo-orchestra. As a flute player, I typically wound up playing what the violins would have traditionally performed, as a lyrical, high-register player.
It wasn’t until the Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble that I was exposed to true wind ensemble music, by the DCWE’s phenomenal conductor, Matthew Marsit, who is very much devoted to doing justice to the capability and sound of winds and brass in an authentic wind ensemble. The music we play is not the band music marches I played in high school, nor is it the cute ditties of winds and brass that are in an orchestra. Most importantly, however, the parts are not merely orchestral transpositions. While flutes and violins play in similar ranges, they are very different instruments. Wind ensemble music plays to the strengths and true registers of wind instrumentation. The music also tends to showcase more contemporary composers, since the wind ensemble, by this definition, was developed more recently than the orchestra or big band (typically attributed to the work of Frederick Fennell at the Eastman School of Music in the 1950s).
It has truly been an experience to play with the DCWE through my time at Dartmouth and to find my, albeit haphazard, pathway toward wind music. For those who are as unfamiliar with the sounds of true wind music as I was throughout most of my musical career, it would be worth giving wind ensembles a try; it will open your ears to new sounds and arrangements for the instruments upon which they are manifest and will open your eyes to the start of a more recent, yet critical musical establishment at the relative beginning of what is sure to be a long and successful history.
Mallory Rutigliano is a member of the class of 2017. She enjoys playing in the wind ensemble, working with microscopic worms and missing New York pizza. Mallory studies Biology, Psychology and Global Health, and is also involved in the Office of Sustainability.