A Musical Ensemble is a family

This is a time of year that often focuses on family. If you play music in any ensemble, my experience is that whatever the group, it is a sort of family. And the ensemble can be 100, or it can be two. I’ve always thought of duets as the smallest version of an ensemble.

If you think about it, to make a family work, everyone has to know their role. The youngest has a different role from the oldest, and the parents from the children.

Now every family operates differently (and some better than others!) however it is not a bad idea considering how you function in your musical family. Are you the leader? If you play the top part in a section or ensemble, that role often falls to you. And there are different styles of leadership, right. Some are dictatorships, some are like a democracy, everyone gets a say. 

Perhaps your role is the rebel, always throwing things in the back of class at the other kids. Maybe you are the jokester, keeping things light. Maybe you are the time keeper, moving things along, watching the clock and making sure you end on time.

Maybe you are the collaborator, working with another member behind the scenes to take over the leadership, or the grouse, complaining about every conductor at every opportunity, making sure everyone knows you do not approve!

Some of these could be exhibited together in one person. But whatever the case, take a minute, and ask yourself what your role is. And then ask yourself, is this the best way to help the group achieve it’s goals?

Maybe you’ll decide it’s time to run away from home, and quit the group, it’s just not working for you. Or maybe you see that your constant joking, or complaining isn’t in your best interest, and try to sit quietly more often.

But this still doesn’t change the fact that what you really have is a close relationship with the other musicians, and in many ways, your basic experience is an effort to mold the combination of personalities, musical skills, genders, ages, all of it, and produce the best music you can.

And this is a selfish act, really. It’s nice if the audience likes what you do, but I want to enjoy it as well, and great performance for a dozen people can be just as rewarding as for 1,000. I’ve had some really good fun and enjoyed a wonderful musical day, just rehearsing, no audience at all!

And you may find, after all the time spent working together, you really like your colleagues. Maybe there is a weird Uncle Henry (random name choice!) but still, you are a part of something, you belong. Yes Uncle Henry is nuts, but he’s ours, and we love him anyway.

You realize that the connection we share on stage, in a basement rehearsal, is special, and being a part of it bonds you to these other crazy folks. 

If you’re really lucky, you can have a great group that shares not only some good music making, but also really gets along, even likes each other.

If so, enjoy every minute, and make sure you express it. Tell them how much you enjoy playing with them. If they sound great, don’t sit on that compliment, be generous and let them know. Everyone likes hearing they’ve done a good job.

I once belonged to just shy of 100 folks in a family called the St. Louis Symphony. Sure, I wasn’t hanging out with all of them every day, but many became good friends, folks that I really care about. Now in retirement, I still care about them, and miss them. (again, not ALL of them!)

And just like my actual family, though we live miles away, I can call, or text, FaceTime, and reconnect. It’s so nice to hear their voice, see their face, their laugh. 

So enjoy your families, all of them, if you’re lucky enough to have some. It can be a quartet, a symphony, or just sitting down with a friend to play some duets. Making music connects us to others, and going through life connected is a good thing.

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