What to Do When Your Ensemble Isn’t Quite Standard

In today’s climate of school budget struggles and shrinking music programs, teachers may find themselves having to be a little creative in piecing together ensembles from the instruments (and students) available. A teacher may find himself rehearsing with a quartet made only of violins, or an otherwise intact orchestra might end up performing with only one cello. Teachers who encounter such unusual combinations for the first time may doubt whether they can lead to a worthwhile musical experience. Not to worry. Many have found that nontraditional types of ensembles can be just as rewarding as typical orchestras, trios, or quartets – and sometimes even more so.

Angelo Moreno, orchestra director at Davis Senior High School in Davis, California, directs three different orchestras comprising 145 students. For him, shortage of instruments or players is clearly not a problem. But Moreno does have experience working with unusual groups, such as the recently created DHS Baroque Ensemble, consisting of students playing Baroque music on Baroque-style instruments.

According to Moreno, teachers faced with out-of-the ordinary instrumentation should have one ultimate goal in mind: creating a palpable sense of ensemble despite the differences. It may be necessary to start at the beginning by introducing the various instruments to the ensemble members. If these players are going to learn to work together they will need to understand what makes each instrument tick.

Turn to page 50 of your February 2010 issue of Teaching Music to read the entire article by Cynthia Darling.  Tips on organizing nontraditional ensembles included.

— Nicole Springer, February 24, 2010. © National Association for Music Education.