The Collaborative Experience: Ensemble Performance in Music Studies

By Roldan, Nancy | American Music Teacher, June-July 2005 | Go to article overview

The Collaborative Experience: Ensemble Performance in Music Studies


Roldan, Nancy, American Music Teacher


Derived from the Latin collaborate, collaborate literally means to "labor with," to work together. Collaborative performances in the arts are nothing new, but the term in music is, in fact, relatively new. Making music together is the art of discovering and creating beauty with others while transforming our audiences as we transform ourselves. As a performer, it's been a privilege to share special moments on and off stage with inspired partners and ensembles throughout my life. Memories of wonderfully motivating teachers and superb partnerships bring special joy to mind. Some mesmerizing performances I've enjoyed conjure obvious questions: What makes them unforgettable? How do musicians reach "that enchanting space"? Answering these questions for the student, we point out that artists nurture their talent through practice, constantly searching for the ideal sound, ease of playing and fine-tuned reading and listening skills. Ensemble practice enhances the capacity to capture and synchronize one's pulse with someone else's, and through the discipline of constantly having to listen to each other, it further develops the musical ear.

How do we, as teachers and music lovers, help develop that special ability in other musicians who want to share in the musical experience? The teacher must be a source of inspiration, an example, constantly improving his or her craft. One can't share what one doesn't have. The teacher must know and be empowered by the knowledge that music has the capacity to affect all human responses and will enrich the lives of anyone touched by it. The teacher must create an ideal learning and teaching environment. This environment becomes as valuable as the lessons, per se.

The ideal learning environment includes the family as a support system that applauds the child's accomplishments. Parents and teacher collaborate, not only to coordinate the weekly lesson, but the wise teacher also will engage the family in the musical life of the community. It is impossible to teach music in a vacuum; we must live it. Attending live performances must become part of the musical education to familiarize the student with the language of music. A student's first learning steps need to include "emulation" through the performance of duets or simple ensemble pieces with the teacher. …

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