Assistant Band Director, Center ISD, TX
Founder and Director of the East Texas Chamber Winds
Chamber ensembles typically have between two and sixteen members, with an unlimited combination of instruments. Performing in these ensembles has many benefits and provides numerous opportunities for players of all levels; enhanced musical technique and understanding, a vast amount of performance opportunities, and exposure to new and different styles of music. Studying chamber music creates more well rounded and enlightened musicians, regardless of age.
Musicians who study chamber music will enjoy an enhanced ability to listen and hear every detail of the music. Often chamber music is performed without a conductor. This puts a greater responsibility on the players to know how their part fits within the overall musical idea by listening intently to his/her fellow players. Without a leader, the musicians must keep their own pulse and move as one organic unit. This advanced level of listening enhances a player’s musical ability whether the selected work is simply for a duet or a complex 16-piece chamber ensemble.
Chamber music can also quickly develop a player’s technical abilities and confidence. Even in the larger chamber groups (8+ players), each part typically gets some solo time, or at least some exposure. A melodic passage might bounce around, showing off the different instrument colors or abilities unique to that instrument, and unlike in a full ensemble, there won’t be several other people on the part for back up. This should motivate the players to prepare as much as possible since it’s individuals, and not sections, playing each part. Music in general is a great way to build team work, but chamber music takes that to a whole new level. Having to depend on each other and work together to bring the music to life brings everyone closer. With there being so few people in the ensemble it is easy for players to discuss issues they might be having, or musical ideas they would like to develop. This is why chamber music has been called “Music of Friends.”
Requiring, or strongly encouraging, students to participate in duets, trios, etc. speeds up the process of developing stronger and more technically secure players. As long as the repertoire is appropriate for their skill-level, chamber playing can be applied to even beginner musicians. Obviously, younger players will need more guidance. In that case, the music coach/director just becomes part of the group. Whether I am working with middle school students or an adult chamber group, I always try to make myself the 9th player in an octet, or the 5th player in a quartet. There is no need for a “maestro” to make all of the musical decisions; when so few people are working together, it’s easier for everyone to collaborate equally.
Because chamber groups are much smaller than typical bands and orchestras, it is easier to travel. Smaller ensembles can fit into small areas and tend to be quieter; perfect for private parties or public events held in museums, banks, or restaurants. There are also more opportunities to play at churches, holiday services, community events with smaller groups. The numerous performance opportunities that chamber music provides is beneficial to players of all ages. For student-musicians (middle school through college), competing in festivals or state/national competitions (like the UIL Solo and Ensemble Contest) provides opportunities to perform publicly and earn recognition for the school music program. For amateur musicians, chamber music offers a chance to play some different and, in some ways, more challenging music than they might play in a community band or orchestra.
As chamber music has grown in popularity, the instrumentation has become more diverse; you could find almost any combination of instruments you wanted. This allows more opportunity for participation across the band or orchestra. There is also chamber music for the larger instrument families such as clarinet, saxophone, flute, and trombone. Doing something like a clarinet choir provides opportunities for the players to practice the smaller and larger versions of their main instrument. Not only will this be exciting for the player, but it will diversify any high/middle school or college ensemble, adding more color and depth.
Finally, chamber music is great for all musicians since it offers exposure to different styles, genres, and forms of music. For a typical band person, chamber music allows wind musicians to play original pieces by Mozart, Beethoven, and Hummel written for their instruments (as opposed to a transcription of an orchestral work). Chamber music encompasses nearly every genre and style of music, affording the players an opportunity to branch out of their standard literature and discover all that music has to offer. This exposure helps create more mature and developed musicians, provides numerous performance opportunities, and is well worth the time and effort.