The Concert Band in Church

by Jeff Doebler

Part One: Literature

The concert band can be a wonderful part of worship services, either regularly or for special occasions. Once the basic issues have been addressed—placement, instrumentation, volume level, equipment, and for what elements of the service the band will play—then it is critical to select appropriate repertoire.

Let’s focus first on choosing music that might be used for prelude, postlude, special music, anthem, offertory, or communion.

The first step is to consult the minister of music, organist, pastor, or other leader who is planning the service. This person will know where the band music is needed, and will be able to share expectations for repertoire (which might include length, volume, liturgical reference, etc.).

The next step is to choose music that will meet the needs of the service. This is done much like the organist and choir director select music, considering sacred or secular, louder or softer, faster or slower, longer or shorter.

As various musical selections are being reviewed, ensemble instrumentation must be considered. In some instances, the band will play alone. In others, the band might play along with organ (or piano or synthesizer). A benefit to collaborating with keyboard is that if the band does not have complete instrumentation, the keyboard can fill in gaps. In some cases, these gaps are filled by keyboard parts that come with the publication. Many band arrangements also come with a condensed conductor score that can be played at the keyboard.

I enjoy searching for concert band music that is appropriate for use in worship. I will share some specific titles at the end of this article. Among my favorite sources of repertoire are:

1. The hymnsong series of arrangements by David Holsinger, published by TRN.

2. The wonderful set of sacred concert band recordings by the Concordia University Chicago Wind Symphony, conducted by Dr. Richard Fischer.

3. The hymn-based repertoire database, created by Dr. Jeff Held at Concordia University - Irvine.

4. Websites for music retailers, like JW Pepper.

5. Composers I know who often focus on sacred music, including Dr. Jesse Ayers, Daniel Kallman, and Michael Boo.

In conclusion, here is a selected list of music that I recommend for use in church. The list is by no means exhaustive. You can use this list for specific titles, and also as model repertoire that you might compare with other music and composers you know. Grade levels (I-VI) are based on standard concert band ratings, where Grade I is appropriate for beginner band, Grade III for the average high school band, and Grade VI for college and professional level. Please note that these grade level ratings are my opinions; they may be different from what the publisher has indicated.


Grade II, Sacred

42 Chorales for Band, arr. Philip Gordon

A Childhood Hymn (Jesus Loves Me), arr. David Holsinger

Arioso from Israel in Egypt, G.F. Handel, arr. John Kinyon

Benediction Chorale, arr. Robert E. Foster

Be Still My Soul (Finlandia), arr. Robert Smith

They Led My Lord Away, arr. Fred J. Allen


Grade II, Secular

Air for Band, Frank Erickson

Modal Dance from Hoosier Suite, Robert Smith


Grade III, Sacred

All Through the Night from Welsh Folk Suite, arr. Albert Oliver Davis

If Thou Be Near, J.S. Bach, arr. R.L. Moehlmann

Nearer My God to Thee, arr. Herbert Clarke

O How Amiable, Ralph Vaughan Williams

On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss, arr. David Holsinger

Psalm Elegy, Michael Boo

Sine Nomine, arr. Alfred Reed


Grade III, Secular

A Hymn for Band, Hugh Stuart

Ye Banks and Braes O’ Bonnie Doon, Percy Grainger

Grade IV, Sacred

Alleluia! Laudamus Te, Alfred Reed

Battle Hymn of the Republic, arr. Peter Wilhousky

Chorale Prelude: So Pure the Star, Vincent Persichetti

Fanfare Prelude: O How Shall I Receive Thee, J. Robert Hanson

God of Our Fathers, arr. Claude Smith

Intrada: Adoration and Praise, Claude Smith

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, J.S. Bach, arr. L. Cailliet

Power and Glory, John Philip Sousa

Prayer of Saint Gregory, Alan Hovhaness

Psalm 46, John Zdechlik

Songs of Grace and Songs of Glory, arr. John Philip Sousa

Symphony for Band, mvt. II Round Me Falls the Night, Vincent Persichetti

Towering Windows, Michael Boo

Who Puts His Trust in God Most Just, J.S. Bach, arr. James Croft


Grade IV, Secular

First Suite for Band, mvt. I, Gustav Holst

Heart of the Morn, H. Owen Reed

Second Suite for Band, mvt. II, Gustav Holst

Trauersinfonie, Richard Wagner

Grade V, Sacred

Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral, Richard Wagner, arr. L. Cailliet

Fantasia in G, Timothy Mahr

La Fiesta Mexicana, mvt. II, Mass, H. Owen Reed

Sinfonia Voci, David Holsinger

Sketches on a Tudor Psalm, Fisher Tull


Grade V, Secular

Crown Imperial, William Walton

Symphony on Themes by Sousa, mvt. II, Ira Hearshen


Grade VI, Sacred (extended works that might substitute for a homily)

and they gathered on Mount Carmel, Jesse Ayers

Jericho, Jesse Ayers

Rahab, Jesse Ayers

In The Spring, at the Time When Kings Go Off to War, David Holsinger

I welcome your suggestions and questions about the concert band in church. The concert band can almost always be an important part of the worship experience, as long as the conductor and performers are sensitive to the needs of the service.

Posted on Dec 24, 2012 7:00:55 AM
Filed Under: Instruments and Ensembles, Filed Under: review-prelude,

Jeff Doebler

Written by Jeff Doebler

Jeff Doebler serves as professor of music and director of music education and bands at Valparaiso University. He is also conductor of the concert band and handbell choirs for Lutheran Summer Music. Jeff has been a church musician since sixth grade, and has served professionally as a church music director, brass soloist, and conductor of church ensembles, including: choir, handbell choir, concert band, Dixieland band, brass choir, and woodwind choir. Dr. Doebler earned three degrees in music education: B.A.-Luther College, M.M.-Valparaiso University, and Ph.D.-University of Minnesota. Before coming to Valparaiso University, he served as a school music teacher and church musician in Emmetsburg, Iowa, and Shakopee, Minnesota. Dr. Doebler is president-elect of the Indiana Bandmasters Association, and state editor and former president of the Indiana Music Educators Association.