The Summerglen Files

Music, Creativity, and Everyday Life at Summerglen Music in Raleigh, NC

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So, Why Trombone Choirs?

August 19th, 2008 · No Comments

I’ve written on this blog and in several other places about this summer’s student trombone choirs, and how exciting it’s been to work with them. But I haven’t written much about the reasons for my excitement–the amazing transformative powers of chamber music!

The defining characteristic of chamber music is that only one person plays each part. Because each person is responsible for adding something distinct to the music, playing chamber music forces you to be a leader and a cooperator at the same time. You have to know your part thoroughly. You have to understand what your fellow musicians are doing and how it relates to your part. And, you must be able to react very quickly if anything funky happens. There’s also nowhere to hide–if you’re the only one playing Trombone 4, nobody’s going to cover you if you get lost.

In trombone choirs this summer, several students had eye-opening experiences when they realized how much they contributed to the sound in a chamber group, and how important it was for them to prepare thoroughly for each rehearsal. At the first few rehearsals, there was always one kid who showed up without practicing. Much to that kid’s surprise, the group would fall apart because a critical part was missing or wrong–and everyone knew that their teammate hadn’t done his or her job! By the last few rehearsals, though, every kid started coming prepared, and the pieces of the musical puzzle began to fall nicely into place.

When I set out to teach a course or coach an ensemble, I think of 2-3 big ideas I’d like to get across. For these choirs, the theme centered on listening, subdivision, and balance, but each kid came away with something extra–an understanding of the possibilities that thoughtful, focused practice opens up. And the realization that their sound matters, and is worth working on. The students paid me to coach their trombone choirs this summer, but they walked away with the true profits! :-)

Tags: music education

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