Spurred by various discussions within and without DePauw, I've been thinking alot about music ensembles and the training of professional musicians. Eric has several posts about the dearth of traditional jobs for musicians, with excellent ideas on how that should impact music education. I also wonder about the general format of Band, Orchestra, Choir as the main performance venues for students in secondary and post-secondary education. While I loved performing in those groups as a student, I also recognize that hardly any of my performing since college has been in one of those formats. I play in a variety of chamber groups, both traditional and non-tradition. Brass quartets and quintets, jazz combos, rock bands, trumpet with string trios or quartets, trumpet with vocal soloists or chamber choirs, trumpet with piano or organ, these are the gigs that are both available and profitable. Alex Ross and Lisa Hirsch have been discussing escalating ticket prices for professional orchestras, and it is somewhat rare to find the organization or individual who can afford to hire a large ensemble for ceremonies or entertainment. (Perhaps becoming more rare as wealth gets ever concentrated among small numbers of people.) However, many people can afford to hire 1-5 musicians for their musical needs. Thus we should be focusing the training of our pre-professional students on those chamber performance venues. Here at DePauw, performance majors are required to take four semesters of chamber music, with no specifications as to genre. But each student (performance or otherwise) is required to be in at least one large ensemble each semester on campus, double the amount of chamber experience. These students also only perform two recitals during their time, plus about four chamber recitals. I'd like to see more performances of shorter length, in a variety of venues, in a variety of ensemble sizes. Require the students to provide ceremonial music for various campus organizations (especially our overwhelming fraternity/sorority presence). Give 15-minute concerts in the cafeterias and commons.
I don't want to do away with large ensembles. They provide an excellent learning experience through rehearsals with professional conductors. These conductors teaching musicality in ways that can be far more effective than private lessons or classrooms. The exposure to important music literature, the glorious sounds that are created, all these are important purposes of large ensembles. But perhaps large ensembles could receive a little less emphasis, in favor of chamber music. What do you think?