ensemble playing

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.


The Rules of Ensemble Playing (according to students)

Image source: http://www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-3366836720 Thanks to my Giggle Trio (AKA Tess, Gabriel & Danielle) for sharing these rules of ensemble playing and rehearsing. It's quite the work of art, which I think applies to ALL ensembles:

  1. No knee pinching.
  2. No story telling until the end of the rehearsal.
  3. Try not to giggle so much.
  4. Listen to everybody's ideas.
  5. Pay attention.
  6. Try new stuff.
  7. If the group is getting too giggly, tell them to stop.
  8. Listen/look for each other's cues.
  9. No body checking.
  10. Have a plan.
  11. Have fun!!!!!

Personally, I think rule #9 is a classic!

(c) 2009 by The Giggle Trio, Calgary, AB, Canada. Posted with permission.

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.