What is an Ensemble?

by Janel Sagert

When someone says the word ensemble, what comes to mind? If it is in the context of music, one may think of a group of musicians. These musicians perform together, but it is not as simple as just playing what is in front of you. It is about becoming a group of several people that turns into one entity.

Music is often an art that takes the individual and places them within a group. The individual has their own set of skills as well as strengths that are different than anyone else’s strengths in the ensemble. The individual is unique from the rest of the ensemble. Though this could be seen as detrimental to the ensemble because there are different “minds” within the ensemble, which is not always the case. A good ensemble member is able to fit their skills within the ensemble like a puzzle piece. This can make the ensemble stronger. Being in an ensemble means that where one person leaves off, you start. Where one person’s strengths end, you begin. You become one unit that feeds off of each other. In any ensemble communication is essential. Excellent communication can lead to excellent performances.

Another art form can provide an analogy for how a musical ensemble can work. Many television shows and movies take advantage of ensemble casts. With ensemble casts, each actor and character bring something different to the show. They all work together to create the show. But if you were to take away one of the cast members or characters, the quality drops and the unit does not work as well as it once did. Each one of those members brings something different to the show that strengthens it. This idea is no different when it comes to a musical ensemble.

How to be part of an ensemble is something that I have learned during my years in musical ensembles, and continue to learn in Electro-acoustic Ensemble. At times I tend to focus on only what I am doing and not what the ensemble is doing as a whole. But when I turn my focus to the group, it always seems to make the not only the group better, but also myself. The piece that I am apart of during this semester with my current ensemble has tested my skills within an ensemble. Because it is a highly improvisatory piece that allows each one of us to decide what sounds we can make, it can be quite easy for me to get lost in what I am doing, and disregard what the rest of the ensemble is doing. But when I stop and listen to what others are doing in the piece and try to add to it, I feel as though the piece becomes better and we become better as an ensemble.

As you can see, an ensemble is a group of individuals who come together to create one unit and thus are regarded as a whole. No one person is above the ensemble or the ensemble would dissolve. It is equal parts give and take.

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Author: dndrew

Orchestral, chamber and interactive music composer Digital musical instrumentalist Real-time software systems designer Computer music educator

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