ensemble music

Excited About My New Accompaniment Gig

Playing ensemble music reminds me of the Tamil Indians. You create something different each time you play with a different group or a different song. I'm looking forward to my newest accompanying project. Four really fun tunes.

Ensemble Musings

No world exploration clip this week. My students and I have been reviewing video of their performances at last week's recital. There were many strong performances. However, I think the ensemble numbers really got the crowd going.


Those ensemble performances were a great prelude to what coming up at the studio. Next week is Group Class Week. The kids have been working hard since September on two or three ensemble pieces. Instead of their regular lesson, they will have a combo class. Next week is the first time they will meet as a group to work on their pieces. It's hard to tell who's more excited: my students, Maestro or myself!


I've split my students into eight ensembles. We have a varied line-up:


  1. "Mission Impossible" (for sax, clarinet, keyboard and cajon)
  2. "Numb" by Linkin Park (for voice, keyboard, cajon and bass)
  3. "Under the Sea" for 4 hands/1 piano, cajon and hand percussion
  4. "Super Mario Overworld Theme" for piano, cajon and hand percussion
  5. "Lady Bird" for piano and cajon
  6. Pia no Jac's version of "Ode to Joy" for piano and cajon
  7. "Edge of Glory" by Lady Gaga for voice, keyboard, cajon and hand percussion
  8. "The Athletic Rag" from Super Mario for 4 hands/1 piano, cajon and hand percussion
  9. "Bless the Broken Road" for piano, guitar and cajon
  10. "Gerudo Valley Theme" from Zelda for 4 hands/1 piano and cajon
  11. "Floral Heartstring" by Pia no Jac for piano, cajon and hand percussion
  12. "When You Believe" for voice, piano and cajon
  13. "Moves Like Jagger" by Maroon 5 for voice, keyboard and cajon
In addition to the studio combos, I've been preparing for my submission to Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir 3.0. This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult works for voice I have ever worked on. With it being a "virtual" choir, I do not have the benefit of having a stellar singer beside me to follow. I need to know my pitches! Not only that, but I have to work tremendously hard on breath support.
It's been a wonderful challenge though. I got goosebumps when I first heard Virtual Choir 2.0 and am excited to just be a part of it.


Solo music making is fun but I'm finding that there is something magical and energizing about music making in an ensemble.
(c) 2012 by Musespeak(TM), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Choir Music Musings

This semester, I'm filling in for the pianist of Okotoks Alliance Church Choir. They are busy preparing for the Christmas concerts. Yes, I know, we're not even past Thanksgiving yet but these things take time to prepare! I haven't sung in a choir since university and it's been a few years since I've "accompanied" (or shall I say, worked as a "collaborative pianist") in this capacity.

I forgot how much fun it was.

There is such a rush when you hear all the voices blending in and filling the room. It's somewhat similar to the rush I got playing in the jazz combos at jazz camp this summer, especialy when we fed off each other's energy and ideas.

I find myself itching to practice Michael W. Smith's setting of Gloria/Lux Venit, because if some of the youtube videos are any indication, the build-up in Gloria is going to give one huge rush to performers and listeners alike.

[Note to those who've heard this - yes, I'm drilling that transition from Lux Venit to Gloria like crazy!]

This is serving as a reminder of how important it is for pianists - who play mostly solo repertoire - to engage in group music activities.

It provides balance, works on our teamwork skills but most of all - it's just plain fun to do.


Here's our performance of Gloria with Lux Venit:

(c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.


Keeping Ensembles in Sync

This year, my students are working on duets and trios. For most, it's their first experience in the collaborative arts. Some groups are finding it relatively easy to find the ensemble's pulse. These players have a fairly good internal pulse and have caught on to giving and receiving cues. Or in the case of those who aren't usually steady, they become steady because they are listening to their partners and to how everything fits together. And - they get along (always a bonus). Then, there's the other extreme. One trio is comprised of a boy whose tempivary widely (although he vehemently denies this), one girl who stops every time she plays a note that's not on the page and one girl who just doesn't care about getting the notes right, much less the tempo. I can only hope that the next trio class will go more smoothly. In another group, my "Giggle Trio" - two players were distracting each other, which drove the third partner crazy because she just wanted to get through the entire song.

Here are a few articles on ensemble playing and the importance of pulse:

The Ensemble that Plays Together - another great post from Chris Foley

Ensemble Playing

(c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.


Fun with Ensemble Music

While my students are enjoying their summer off from lessons, I'm practicing madly for an intense one-week piano camp, offered by the Calgary Arts Summer School. One of the songs that I'm working on is a two piano, eight hand arrangement of "Stars and Stripes Forever". I'm learning the Piano II - Primo part.

Now, I can't vouch for whether my quartet members and I will be able to play this sucker at this speed after only one week of practice together, but this performance is pretty exciting:

I haven't played in a piano quartet since my university days. For an April Fools' Day recital, my classmates and I performed the Blue Danube for one piano, four noses!

At any rate, ensemble playing can be really fun - once you get over the hurdle of everyone counting beats together.

Want to learn this arrangement? Check it out here:

The Stars and Stripes Forever look inside The Stars and Stripes Forever By Mack Wilberg (1955-). For 2 pianos, 8-hands. Intermediate Level piece for the Piano Quartet Event-Two Pianos, Eight Hands with the National Federation of Music Clubs (NFMC) Festivals Bulletin 2008-2009-2010. Patriotic. Intermediate. Music book. Published by Neil A. Kjos Music Company (KJ.WP181)Smp_stars40 (6) ...more info

(c) 2008 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.