The Symphonic Band today in Valencia province

The city of Valencia, with a population of almost one million, is the third largest city in Spain.


The province of Valencia, with the outlying towns has a population of about two million. There are over three-hundred and sixty concert bands registered in Valencia province. Almost every town has one of these neighborhood or "town bands" and some of the towns have two. The city of Valencia itself has a band in almost every neighborhood.

Most of the bands are run by social societies. The members of the society pay monthly dues to support the bands, usually a few dollars a month. There are sometimes special assessments if the band has extra expenses such as a trip to an international competition or the building or restoration of a rehearsal or concert hall. There is also some government support that sends additional funds directly to the bands.

Some of the Valencian band societies have over one thousand members. In the town of Llíria, a member of a society can be kept as an active member even after death as long as a surviving member keeps paying dues. There is a "family pride" in being members for generations. If a person is born into a family that supports the Banda Primativa of Llíria, that person is expected to continue the tradition of Primativa support, either as a performing musician or a dues-paying member of the society. In the towns of Llíria, Buñol and Cullera there are some "mixed marriages" where the husband and wife are of different bands. Both people usually keep their allegiance to their band, especially if both bands compete in the Certamen that year.

The bands have many purposes in the town. They play in parades for the major religious and civil holidays during the year. There are special presentations where the band will play a concert for the town government or one of the other town social societies. There is the famous "Fiesta de las Fallas" which happens in March when there are many parades and presentations. The band will usually have an independent concert series when it performs formal concert repertoire. Also, there are several band competitions which are usually held in summer. The largest and most prestigious of these competitions is the Certamen Internacional de Bandas de Musica sponsored by the city government of Valencia.

Along with performing, the band societies also are involved in education. There are municipal conservatories throughout Valencia province where children can learn to play an instrument, but most of the band societies have their own schools set up. There is a tradition in Valencia that all children who want to play an instrument, must take two years of solfége first. There would be a solfége teacher from the band who would start teaching children usually at eight years of age. After the two years of solfége, the children would be given an instrument and would study with a private instructor from the band. A junior band is often formed with the students during their second year of playing an instrument. The Valencians in general like bands that are very big, so it usually does not take a child very long until he or she becomes a performer in the regular band of the society. It is very common to have bands of more than one-hundred musicians.

Many of the social clubs that sponsor the bands are very prominent in the community. There are three towns in Valencia province that boast the best bands of Valencia. The towns of Llíria, Buñol and Cullera each have two very large bands. Each of these six bands is a very large and expensive operation. Each of these band societies owns a building for its band's rehearsals as well as a concert hall and a restaurant/bar. The concert hall is sometimes used as a movie theater on the week-ends to help raise money for the society. It is in these bands where the conductors are the best paid, because they have the most pressure to produce prizes.

In the towns of Llíria, Buñol and Culleray the bands are sometimes thought of more like sports teams than music organizations. If a person walks into a shop in these three towns they are immediately asked which band he or she belong to. This is usually followed by cheers or jeers from the shop owner, since the shop owner is probably a member of one of the two bands. In Buñol there is one special concert in August called the "Mano a Mano" (hand to hand) when both of the Buñol bands play one after the other in one concert. This informal competition leads to much discussion in the style of "Monday morning quarterbacking". Of course the social members of La Artistica or "Los Feos" (the uglies) always will say that their band played better and the members of C.I.M. La Armonicia or "Los Litros" (the liters) will always say that their band played better. There is a similar "mano a mano" in Llíria in September, and during the month of July in Cullera, the bands do not play in a "mano a mano", but alternate on Sundays.

Today it is thought that between eighty and ninety percent of the professional woodwind and brass musicians performing in Spain are from Valencia province. Is is common for professional musicians working in the professional orchestras and bands in Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and throughout Spain to return to their hometown in Valencia during the holidays and to play with their town band. It is also common for these professional musicians to return to play in the Certamen International of Valencia when their band enters the competition. In 1996 when the Banda Primativa competed in the Certamen, it was estimated that of the one-hundred sixty performers in the band, over one-hundred twenty were full time professional musicians returning to their "home town band" in Llíria. Of course they would not get paid for the rehearsals and the concert, but their strong dedication their hometown and to the society makes it an obligation.

A few years ago, one of the performers in the Barcelona Opera Orchestra, who was also a member of one of the bands in Valencia decided to perform for a Saturday matinee in Barcelona, then drive the four hours to Valencia for the Certamen. Car trouble made the person miss the Certamen which in turn made social life awkward for the musician's family, who lived in Valencia, since the band did not take first place that year.

The bands of Valencia are symphonic concert bands. The common instrumentation is piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 bassoons, Eb clarinet, principal clarinet, 3 sections of clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 alto saxophones, 2 tenor saxophones, baritone saxophone, 4 French horns in F, 3 or 4 trumpets in Bb or C, 3 or 4 trombones, 2 flüglehorns, euphoniums, tubas, cellos, contrabasses and percussion. There is a history that the bands of Valencia try to imitate the orchestra as closely as possible. Many of the orchestral transcriptions are just recopying of string parts into the clarinets (first violin to clarinet 1, second violin to clarinet 2, viola to clarinet 3) with saxophones used to fill in for the violas and double the cellos. The principal clarinets usually play the regular orchestral clarinet parts. The euphoniums often play directly from the cellos parts and the tubas play directly from the contrabass parts.

Today many of the Valencian band societies expand their activities by hosting conferences and workshops. During this summer of 1997, the C.I.M.La Armonica, "El Litro" Band in Buñol sponsored a saxophone workshop with two professors from Madrid, an oboe master class and workshop with an oboe professor from the National Orchestra of Madrid, a percussion workshop, and a clarinet workshop. Each workshop was one week long and included participants from within Buñol as well as other towns in Valencia.



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