“Chamber Music America’s Web site defines chamber music as ‘music for small ensembles in which players perform one to a part, generally without a conductor.’ Using this definition, chamber music currently has a wider scope than the traditional Western classical pieces and ensembles it once implied.”¹ Playing chamber music provides singers with so many learning opportunities to become a better musician. Chamber music requires musicians to be able to work together in rehearsal and in performance on such issues as rhythm, tuning, and more. There is a wealth of chamber music in the world that singers can access and put together for performance without having to move mountains. Since we have been discussing what to program on a recital, your Day 6 challenge to Play Some Chamber Music, seems appropriate and exciting.
Do not fret, divas, you do not even need to be in a mecca of musical activity to find musicians to fill out a chamber ensemble. The smaller number of personnel helps reduces funding and space obstacles. If you do not have the space in your home or apartment to get an ensemble together, think creatively about which spaces you may be able to borrow. Does your religious space have an extra room where you could meet? Maybe a school? Those are pretty straight forward but see if you can expand your thinking to find a space that best suits your rehearsal needs. If you are actually forming a chamber ensemble you may be able to pursue funding opportunities reserved for ensembles. Or, you could even apply to do a stint at an artists colony to spend uninterrupted rehearsal time together. Uninterrupted rehearsal time? What a gift, huh?
“At its height, when all of the players are contributing equally, it is an experience not to be rivaled. Try to get 100 people in an orchestra to all be on 100 percent of their game, and you’ll be holding your breath for a long time. Try to get four people to feel the same emotion while playing a piece of chamber music, and your odds of having a purely uplifting musical experience go up considerably.” – Molly Barth
One of the main objectives of chamber music is the successful performance of one on a part which is an exercise in musical independence and interdependence. This balance of soloists in ensemble fashion presents learning opportunities unlike any other experience. A musician must feel utterly comfortable and confident on their own line so that they are able to participate in the group music-making. Plus, you need to be able to communicate cross-ensemble about common goals and musical opinions.
“Small ensembles should use a “listen-play-discuss-decide” formula in which ensemble members (a) listen to one members’ suggestion or critique, perhaps rephrasing it to determine if all members understand the suggestion; (b) try the suggested interpretation or solution, making sure to wholeheartedly try the suggestion; (c) discuss whether the suggested approach worked well or not; and (d) as a group, decide on an interpretation or solution. To avoid extended discussions and fairly consider each member’s ideas, discussion should follow a suggestion rather than precede it.” Margaret H. Berg
How do you find other chamber musicians? Well, first, know that playing chamber music on your recital is very different from running a chamber ensemble. Both are fulfilling in different ways. A chamber ensemble is its own small business. Decide what works best for your situation. Do you want to get together a group of musicians for your recital or would you like to start something a more long-term to help explore repertoire and other gig opportunities?
“Regarding the success of Imani Winds, oboist Toyin Spellman states, “Nothing has helped us more than respect—for each other and for the group itself. That means we listen to each other’s ideas, try to keep a level head when there is a disagreement, and keep in mind that we must always give up personal needs to the needs of the group.” Valerie Coleman, the group’s flutist, offers advice that cannot be stressed too much: “Have a plan in mind of what you want to achieve for both short-term and long-term.” – Molly Barth
You could follow the path of D.C.-based Great Noise Ensemble which was born in 2005 when composer and conductor Armando Bayolo placed an ad on Craigslist.org seeking like-minded musicians passionate about contemporary music. Most of you know a variety of musicians in your local area with whom you would like to perform. You could start by asking them to either play with you or give you a referral. Speaking of referrals, go to your local music institutions (universities, colleges, music stores, music venues) and ask those in the know. Also, if you are lucky enough to live in or near a city with a Classical Revolution chapter, do not hesitate to check them out. Big shout-out especially to the Baltimore-based CR troupe who has been doing wonderful things. Although singers spend most of their education in choirs, glee clubs, and vocal ensembles, we should not be afraid to pursue chamber music with other musicians. It can lead to wonderful experiences.
Not sure where to start with repertoire? Here are a few suggestions to get you going:
Vocal Chamber Music: A Performer’s Guide By Barbara Winchester, Kay Dunlap
Chamber Music for Solo Voice and Instruments, 1960-1989: An Annotated Guide By Kenneth Sheldon Klaus
Twentieth-Century Chamber Music By James McCalla
The Art of the Song Recital by Shirlee Emmons, Stanley Sonntag
What are some of your favorite chamber works to perform? Did you create a chamber ensemble? What was your experience? Have any tips for other divas that would like to break into the wide world of chamber music? Please feel free to divulge in the comments below, darlings.
Michael Oberhauser says
Great post! I think these tips are useful for more than just singers, too!
One thing I might add: A great place to look for chamber music is from composer friends. Most of us would jump at the chance to write something for a chamber ensemble, and it’s good for the performers for several reasons: We can write something specifically suited to whatever performers are in the group, the performers can have some say in what the piece will be – especially in picking the poetry, and, if desired and if possible, the composer can come to a rehearsal for a coaching or another set of ears.
Thank you for your comment! I would definitely encourage all performers to work with fellow composers when looking for chamber music. (Especially if you can find a really talented one like Michael!)