Monthly Archives: February 2014

Ensemble…Part 2

Some more thoughts on the “art of ensemble”:

After hearing an absolutely flawless and inspiring violin/piano duo concert last night, I had some more thoughts on the “art of ensemble”:

The husband and wife duo that I heard were phenomenal.  They played sonatas by Debussy, Saint-Saëns, and the Sonatensatz by Brahms.  I expected the performance to be good given their educational background, but they far exceeded my expectations.  Besides their depth of expression, there was not a split second where they were not completely together the entire evening.

Besides the obvious reason that they are both exceptional individual players, in my opinion it is the time spent learning and discovering the pieces together that makes the duo so enjoyable to listen to.  I think you can take any “all-star” chamber group of famous musicians, put them together, and you will get a pretty good performance.  But there is something deeper and more meaningful in performances when the group rehearses pieces for long periods of time.  “Living” with a piece, the ensemble becomes “in tune” with each other.  Rather than two or three different interpretations, you get a completely uniformity of purpose in the musical expression.

Of course, this goal is not always possible, given our varying situations of gigs, short term accompanying jobs, etc.  However, I think if we are looking for the most satisfying musical experience, we should strive to form consistent ensembles that we can work with on a regular basis.  In this way, we can learn pieces together, come back and revisit pieces we’ve done before, and in so doing, improve our “ensemble” playing!

The Art of Listening and “Ensemble”

I recently played an organ 4-hand piece with another organist, a player whom I will say right off the bat, is much more accomplished than I am on the instrument.  It was a real treat for me to play with her, and I feel like I learned a great deal from the collaboration.

We rehearsed and performed an organ duo by J.C. Bach (one of J.S. Bach’s sons).  This was not only the first time I had played an organ duet with someone, it’s also the first time I had played anything by J.C. Bach on the organ.  I have played plenty of Classical era pieces on the piano.  However, there are stylistic things that are done on the organ that differ greatly from the piano.  Phrasing, articulation, and dynamic contrast are just a few of the musical elements that are achieved very differently on the two instruments.  I have not been trained much on the organ, so I find myself extremely eager to hear accomplished organists play.  With the absence of instruction, we learn primarily through listening and being exposed to other performances.

The only way we could create a good “ensemble” at the organ was to listen to each other.  I felt like I didn’t have a good grasp on style for this piece, so I listened very intently to my duo partner.  If she phrased a passage in a certain way, I would need to follow it and phrase the same way.  The piece has a lot of dialogue between the primo and secondo parts, so this method worked well.  I basically learned by imitation.

The importance of listening in any kind of musical ensemble cannot be overstated. Every group that plays together, whether it’s a string quartet, brass quintet, small choir or other combination is making music TOGETHER.  Without a director, the individual musicians of the ensemble need to be involved that much more, discussing how each part interacts with all the other parts.  The more experienced and accomplished musicians obviously should be influencing the less accomplished members of the group.  But there needs to be a constant awareness and understanding of ensemble.  A few things to think about in rehearsal:

1. How does my part relate to the other parts at this spot in the piece?  Do I have a motive that has been heard before?  How was it phrased/articulated previously?

2. Are we all breathing together where possible?

3. When am I in unison/octaves with another voice/part?  Are we listening and tuning to each other?

4.  Why not try playing the piece at 2/3 tempo or even 1/2 tempo to see how the parts relate to each other?

5. Get your hands on as many recordings of other ensembles playing the same piece.  Avoid listening to only one interpretation.


Hope this helps!


International Trumpet Guild 2014 in Valley Forge!

The International Trumpet Guild’s 2014 national conference happens to be in Valley Forge!  It’s exciting to have the conference so close to home this year.  Most of the events and activities will be from May 20-24, 2014 at Valley Forge Convention Center.

I was checking out the official website and some of the familiar artists performing are:  Canadian Brass and two ensembles from my alma mater, West Chester University.  Eric Ewazen will be one of the presenters.  For more information, visit