Professional wind ensemble takes root

San Francisco is an international destination for art and culture, but Martin Seggelke felt something was missing: wind music.

To fill the void, the assistant professor of music and dance formed the San Francisco Wind Ensemble, the city's only professional-level non-military group exclusively playing music written for wind and percussion instruments. Many of its members are SF State alumni.

A photo of Assistant Professor of Music and Dance Martin Seggelke directing the San Francisco Wind Ensemble.

Assistant Professor of Music and Dance Martin Seggelke directs the San Francisco Wind Ensemble during its inaugural performance in October.

Seggelke, who also conducts the University's student wind ensembles, hopes the group becomes a civic and cultural asset that introduces audiences to a different type of professionally performed classical music. The ensemble will also benefit Bay Area wind musicians by providing opportunities to play challenging wind music, as well as composers by providing a venue through which their work can be performed.

"Many people, when they think about wind music, think about high school or military music," said Seggelke. "But there are plenty of really good, award-winning, international composers who write artistically meritorious, challenging, beautiful music for wind ensemble that the average high school band can't perform. We want to give that music a chance to be heard."

A photo of Assistant Professor of Music and Dance Martin Seggelke.

Assistant Professor of Music and Dance Martin Seggelke.

The primary difference between symphony orchestras such as the San Francisco Symphony and wind ensembles is the types of instruments that each contains. Musical instruments are divided into strings, winds and percussion. String instruments include the violin, viola and cello. Wind instruments include flutes, clarinets, saxophones, trumpets and trombones. Drums, cymbals and keyboard instruments such as the piano and marimba fall into the percussion category. While orchestras utilize instruments from all three categories, wind ensembles use only winds and percussion.

Music written exclusively for wind ensemble is a relatively new development, and many of its pioneering composers are still alive, Seggelke said, giving composers and musicians a chance to create and perform innovative work that explores new sound combinations.

The seeds of the ensemble were sown in late 2011 following a memorial for longtime SF State music professor Edwin Kruth, who had died that summer. Inspired by how many musicians Kruth had influenced, Seggelke decided to form an alumni band, which performed that December. The experience led him to believe a professional group could be successful in the Bay Area, and he formed the San Francisco Wind Ensemble shortly after. The group held two concerts in the fall and plans two more in the spring. The most recent concert featured the California premiere of a symphony written specifically for wind instruments.

The ensemble has a pool of about 150 professional musicians from which it assembles anywhere from 50 to 70 performers for each concert. The group meets the Friday before a performance for their first rehearsal, then rehearses again Saturday before the concert.

"The sky's the limit as to what this ensemble might be able to do in the future," he said. "We need to get this music out there and change the perception of what band music can be. We need to wave the flag high and let people know this is very artistically fulfilling, awesome music and it's worth coming out to hear it."

For more information about the San Francisco Wind Ensemble, visit its Facebook page.

-- Jonathan Morales