Monday, April 17, 2006

School Music Ensembles

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?


Bodie said...

As a pre-professional musician, I, not even purposefully, did a lot of chamber music playing. Every summer since the one before my first semester of college I have attended the Brass Chamber Music Workshop in Arcata, California ( I can honestly say that playing so much chamber music has had the largest influence on my musicianship, more so than any other kind of playing that I have done.

Also, the emphasis of large ensemble playing in a musician's education (in America!) could be due to the dreams of the school AND the musicians of one day playing in the New York Philharmonic (or whatever big orchestra) and not in the Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble. There isn't the exposure for professional chamber ensembles as there is for the big orchestras (Canadian Brass excepted). Although, this raises the question of whether or not our education is for learning all that has come before or preparing us for what is to come. The reality being that very few Music major graduates end up in the NY Phil., and most end up doing the kind of playing you are talking about or leaving the field all together.

Scott Spiegelberg said...

Bodie, you are absolutely correct. One day in studio class at Eastman, our teacher asked all of us what our professional plans were. Eight answered "principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony," a few more were principal trumpet of New York Phil, and a few other orchestras named, with me as the standout (I was already working on my theory degrees and planning to stay in academia). Today, only one of them is principal of a major orchestra (Atlanta), and a few more are in small regional orchestras. Only Chris Martin is making his living only as an orchestral musician. Everyone else plays a wide variety of music. And that was Eastman.

We teachers have a responsibility to show the students the reality of orchestral life, and what the alternatives are. It sounds like you are on an excellent track yourself.

Sarah said...

I'm fortunate at my school. All music majors, music minors and anyone taking lessons are required to be part of one large musical ensemble (the concert band, symphonic orchestra or choir) each semester, perform in one student recital and/or in a jury recital. There are also numerous opprotunities for small ensemble performance.

In four semesters, I have performed with the chamber orchestra once (and will again next semester), the jazz ensemble (which included a clarinet choir this semester) and a small ensemble (clarinet, viola and cello).

The director of the concert band has made it his goal to expose the college students to as much literature as possible. My private lesson teacher is also doing his best to expose myself and his other students to important literature.

I am also aware that many of my friends have been hired to perform for weddings and college events.

Sarah said...

Just remembered - my teacher wants me to attend the Eissenstadt Festivle in Vienna next summer. Many of the upper classmen have attended in years past. Two of my friends are going this summer so that myself and a vocalist can attend next summer. There's also a scholarship set up for help with just this sort of thing.