“As a member of a quartet, you come to realize that you’re responsible for other people’s reputations and livelihoods as well as your own.”
–Michael Tree, violist (The Musician’s Way, p. 115)
Few things in life bring as much joy as collaborative music making. When we create music together, we ascend to loftier planes.
Still, such artistry grows on foundations of collective culture. Ensembles that sustain healthy cultures are primed to thrive; those that don’t typically crumble.
Here are 10 ways that ensembles can fuel collective success.
1. Clarify Your Structure
Musical groups come in two basic structures: egalitarian or leader-run. A third form functions as a hybrid of the two. Be sure that every member of your ensemble understands which type you correspond to and what your individual roles are. Also, if your ensemble writes original material, earns income, or has a unique name or website, it’s wise to spell out your structure in a written partnership agreement.
2. Articulate Your Mission
Is everyone clear about the sorts of music you’ll play, your long-term objectives, and where and how often you’ll rehearse and perform? See page 127 of The Musician’s Way for a list of 12 questions that collaborating musicians should ask themselves and each other to ensure that their missions are understood.
3. Commit to Professionalism
I distill professionalism into four elements: punctuality, preparation, courtesy, and integrity. When ensemble members abide by professional standards, they foster the trust and openness that are essential to mutual creativity.
4. Share Responsibility
Whatever your group’s structure might be, share responsibility for the quality of your music and your public image. In so doing, you cultivate a team culture that breeds excellence.
5. Set Achievable Goals
Ensemble members often harbor high hopes, and they should. But the ladder to musical success has to be climbed one rung at a time. So go ahead and dream large, but proceed in increments – tackle easier compositions before you take on intricate ones; book lower-stakes gigs that bolster your confidence prior to seeking high-exposure shows.
6. Get Organized
Smart organization lowers stress levels and frees you to focus on art-making. For those reasons and more, plan your rehearsals in advance and implement protocols for managing travel, updating websites, setting up gear at concerts, and so forth.
7. Rehearse Strategically
Use varied, efficient techniques to tighten up your execution and bring your music to life. If your intonation drifts, let’s say, you could play or sing individual parts in unison with a keyboard; when rhythms don’t line up, you might vocalize passages to the beat of a metronome. Pages 121-127 of The Musician’s Way explore diverse rehearsal strategies.
During rehearsals, listen attentively, critique tactfully, admit when you mess up, and always try out collaborators’ ideas before you comment on them. Still, limit verbal exchanges as you work. When complex issues surface, set up meetings and, in egalitarian groups, aim for consensus in your decisions.
9. Help Each Other Succeed
Let your co-performers know that you value their talents, and strive to be easy to work with. Respect personal differences, and, when conflicts emerge, treat them as opportunities for your group to attain greater synergy.
10. Keep Art at the Core
All ensembles face difficulties. Personalities can chafe, opinions diverge, and priorities shift. But you can surmount troubles by steadfastly applying these tips in service to your art. For instance, when challenges arise – and they will – address them openly in light of your structure, mission, and goals. Then, during rehearsals and performances, reinforce your bonds through wholehearted musical expression.
For more ways to enhance professionalism and creativity in rehearsals, see Chapter 6 of The Musician’s Way.