There is an intangible quality that develops when those involved in a group have built connections and rapport through working together in all conditions, over an extended period of time. These connections are often created through times of difficulty or diversity, as musicians (or people in general) learn to listen with intention and defer to one another for the good of the whole. Diminished when one person in the group tries to be more prominent that the others, but enhanced when each one understands how they fit in a unified whole, this quality – elusive but essential – is called ensemble. Ensemble is more than getting along with each other and playing well together. It is a mysterious element that, in the best ensembles, creates something that is more than the sum of its parts.
During the season of Lent, the playlists will explore different varieties of chamber music: each week a different musical combination and an opportunity to identify the nuances of superior ensemble. Instead of turning inward to focus on our own, individual Lenten discipline(s), these musical examples will help remind us of how much we need each other, as we travel toward Holy Week. One practice we can explore is to be purposeful about creating and enhancing the ensemble of those with whom we will share the Lenten journey.
The sound of one person singing sola voce (a single voice) or a cappella (without accompaniment) may be lovely, but a single voice can never create harmony. Ensemble develops when a small group of people commit to the process of experimenting, submitting, wrestling, discovering, and remaining, together. They continually demonstrate the willingness to invest in each other and the group. Aside from the foundational elements of tempo, tone quality, and dynamics, each group member must learn to anticipate the exact moment of release of air into the instrument, synchronize vibrato, match articulation, trust their section, and play their own part with confidence. These are some of the subtle, but essential, qualities of ensemble that you will hear in the music over the next two months.
The Philip Jones Brass Ensemble (performing Three Brass Cats: Mr. Jums, Kracken and Black Sam), the Berlin Philharmonic Horn Ensemble, the US Army Trumpet Ensemble, and the Canadian Brass Quintet, comprise this week’s playlist. What do you hear that reflects the musicians’ determination to be/become an ensemble rather than just an ad-hoc group of players? How does this metaphor apply to the ensembles in which you will participate during the season of Lent?