Big Lessons Learned Playing Chamber Music

by Abby @ Quaver on June 13, 2013

in In the Quaver Classroom!,Music Matters

Welcome back Quaver guest blogger Jeannine Everett – violinist and all around student of music!

Today Jeannine is sharing her experience as a student of Chamber Music: 
Young violinist

First a little background on Chamber music – music that is specifically composed for a small number of players–typically one per part. The ensembles were small enough to play in a parlor setting (a chamber!) or dance hall of a nobleman’s court. Chamber Music is often played by duos, trios and quartets but can even be played in quintets, sextets, and octets!

Many of the composers you introduce to your students are as well known (or even better known) for their chamber music as their orchestra music. Bach, Haydn and Mozart wrote scads of chamber works, as did Beethoven. Schubert, Mendelssohn and Brahms were masters at it, and Dvorak is considered sort of like a king of chamber music.

I’m pretty new to the whole chamber music thing.

I competed in solo and ensemble when I was in school, but it was at best, a side pursuit. Now I play chamber music regularly and I’ve come to appreciate it as a musical endeavor that stands on its own. Not only is it fun to play–it teaches some really big lessons.

There is no hiding in chamber music.

Wow, that run looks scary, but I can’t avoid it. I have to confront it. Break it down, take it note by note, and figure out how to make it work. If I can do it once, I can do it again and again. What’s more empowering than that?

It’s all about the team.

The best chamber players work together, move together and even breathe together. Chamber music is full of tempo changes. There are commas, fermatas and pauses all over the place. Without a conductor, the only way to avoid a train wreck is to be as connected to each other as possible.

It’s a great way to study composition.

A quartet is often a braided ribbon of duets—the violins for this phrase, the viola and cello for that phrase—or a trio with a soulful bassoon line underneath. Sometimes my part is melody, sometimes counterpoint, sometimes the metric support. While working sections of a chamber piece, I see the genius of the composer firsthand, and close in.

It develops a sensitive ear.

I may think I’m in tune when I’m practicing those high passages in private, but chances are I’m playing sharp. Intonation problems really show in chamber music. I have to listen for the chord structure—to feel it as much as hear it. I also have to match the dynamics, the length of the notes, and the color of the sound coming from the rest of the ensemble.

What I appreciate most about chamber music, however, is how much fun it is to play.

The repertoire is varied and glorious, but more importantly, my quartet is like another family- our friendship is as profound as the music we create!

Encourage your students to try some chamber music.

Keep some in your library for reading days, or when you have a substitute, or just for a change of pace. Mix students around so they experience different musical configurations, or have them write a composition for a small group.


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