The Wind Band (aka Concert Band, Wind Ensemble, Symphonic Winds, Wind Symphony or a whole lot of other names) is a relatively young group compared to other performing groups, but its roots go back farther than you might expect.
The granddaddy of the wind band we know today is the Turkish marching bands known as the mehteran. The mehteran’s primary instruments are the kos, nakare (small and large timpani respectively), davul, zil (bass drum and cymbals), kaba zurna, and boru (double reed instrument and a trumpet like instrument). If you’ve heard Mozart’s “Rondo alla Turk” or Beethoven’s “Turkish March” they were trying to imitate the mehteran style.
Next in the lineage were military brass bands. It is what it sounds like; bands consisting of brass instruments. Eventually someone got the idea of adding clarinets to the mix. Eventually the whole complement of wind instruments came in, adding to the brass and percussion, thus creating something recognizable as a wind band. The US Marine Band in 1792 consisted of 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 horns, and bassoon. In the 1800’s instruments were improved greatly: keys were added clarinets, brass instruments got valves. This allowed for greater conglomerations of wind instruments. The French have a tradition of large outdoor festivals, and the wind band was perfectly suited for the occasions. Berlioz wrote his “Grand Symphonie Funebre et Triomphale” for such a group. But really up until halfway through the 20th century, there was no unified instrumentation for the wind band. In 1878 the 22nd Regiment Band of NYC had over 20 clarinets, a full section of saxophones from soprano to bass, as well as 4 contrabassoons (which seems like a bad idea). Sousa’s band was substantially smaller. But the 1938 Illinois Concert Band had heckelphones, sarrusophones, 38 clarinets, 14 trumpet like instruments, as well as 3 different varieties of tubas! Eventually in 1952, Fred Fennell, the great band director at Eastman, devised the instrumentation that we now can safely call the wind band.
I got most of my info from this website here. It has more information than one could ever use about the wind band. Who knows how the wind band will progress, but first I think it needs to accepted as a serious medium by the whole of the musical community before it can go anywhere. One day it will happen. One day.