The Power and Purpose of an Ensemble
Happy Independence Day, my friends!
I have been pondering the idea of “ensemble” lately, probably due to my fascination with ensemble work. Now, I don’t necessarily mean organized performance ensembles, such as school choirs or community groups, because I certainly consider my recent involvement with #MusEdChat as ensemble work as well.
So I pose these questions: What is an ensemble, and how do they enhance our musical world?
“The World In Six Songs” by Daniel Levitin, discusses the role music plays in our world today. He mentions that music promotes togetherness and cooperative work, which is supported by certain brain activity. In Berklee Today, an article titled, “Why We Do This,” offers Levitin’s findings on relating music to brain activity:
“We now know that performing music together typically causes the release of the hormone oxytocin, which is involved in generating feelings of trust and bonding.”
This fascinates me, because it confirms a lot of friendships that I have made in my life; some of my closest friends are people I perform or have performed with, or people that enjoy playing/singing together for fun. But that is merely (and mostly!) for my own musical enjoyment while fulfilling performance requirements for my degree…how is this enhancing the musical world?
So now I consult the dictionary for their definition. The dictionary defines ensemble as: “A unit or group of complementary parts that contribute to a single effect.”
Aha! It all makes sense now, and in more ways than you think!
The importance of ensemble in the musical world, regardless if you are a performer, educator, or writer, is something I am finding to be more and more relevant and necessary. Just like an orchestra or choir is nothing without a bass section, our musical world is nothing without groups of musicians working together to advance and advocate what we so passionately work at, teach, and enjoy; our “single effect.”
Very soon, our musical world (and myself included!) will be introduced to the Music Professional Learning Network, or the MPLN. To me, this is ensemble work at it’s finest. From MusTech.net, Dr. Pisano states the MPLN’s mission:
“The mission of the MPLN is to generate better, more accessible, information about music, education, and technology and to use technologies to bring musicians of all types together to benefit by it, discuss it, and collaborate with it for the generation of even better and even more accessible information about music, education, and technology.”
Keywords? TOGETHER and COLLABORATE. Probably my two favorite words in musical any context.
The MPLN is going to be an incredible ensemble in our musical world. Like any ensemble rehearsal, each individual member practices and contributes their part to the music. Like any ensemble performance, there is plenty of rehearsal. The MPLN members individually contribute to our musical world, while sharing those experiences, thoughts, ideas, and advancements (rehearsals, in a way!) with other MPLN members, so that each member can execute their own successful performances, whether it be directing student ensembles, executing classroom lessons, personal performances, or whatever else a musician dreams to accomplish! And to think we’re going to be “rehearsing” together all over the world! What a virtual support team! It’s going to be epic, I can tell.
I love this recent outburst of desire to share music all over the world. I keep thinking of Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir project. It is probably one of the most incredible ensemble works right now simply because his ensemble members are all over the world, never coming in contact with one another. However, they still support the dictionary definition…complementary parts contributing to a single effect.
I have learned that ensembles have no boundaries. The members don’t need to know each other or be in the same state or country. They don’t necessarily have to converse. They don’t necessarily have to perform any repertoire. Their only requirement is to contribute to a single effect, and for our musical world, as I mentioned earlier, is just to work together to advance and advocate what we so passionately work at, teach, and enjoy.
Musicians, I encourage you to participate in as many ensembles as you can. By performance ensembles, #MusEdChat discussions, joining the MPLN, or any other group of musician’s gathering to advance or advocate music, you are contributing a great amount to the future of our world.