The Ensemble as Organism: Part One

As a musician I have a pretty strange concept of what that art means to me. Most musicians seem to be of the opinion that music is meant to be heard, to be experienced by an audience, by a listener.

To me, music is the creation of a living, breathing, unique moment of time. It is the fashioning of sound, time, and yes, even space together to create something that will never be the same again (and in many cases, for unrecorded performances, will never exist again). Even a recording is different than the performance itself, a shadow of something that was.

For me performance, rehearsals, interacting with other musicians is all about creating a shared experience that results in a connection that lasts as long as the memory lasts in the bones of each individual present. It’s not about the audience; the audience is another piece of the ensemble. It’s magical.

I don’t think music is *about* an audience at all and, honestly, most of the time I could care less about having one. It’s like a killer haircut; a great topper to a wonderful package or something that can’t cover up what’s missing.

When I got in front of a local group today I mentioned that I think about an ensemble as an organism; some parts are internal, others stick out, some are “visible” and some are not. Every single piece of the ensemble is important and each function relies on the others to support it. Without lungs the group would pass out, without a heartbeat it’s not alive, without hands and feet and limbs it cannot interact with itself and those around it.

Each instrument plays a part in each piece, sometimes multiple. Take a standard march and you see the heartbeat in the percussion and low voices, the breath in the horns and other off-beats, the liver, pancreas, kidneys, other vitals in the pitched percussion and highest voices, the limbs in the high voices, the flesh and body in the middle voices. If the heartbeat is out of wack the entire ensemble feels it; if the breath is short it can knock the group apart. If the hands are unwieldy they can harm the body; if the feet can’t find balance the ensemble will fall. Taking these into account it’s simply amazing that we can play together as a group at all; unlike a real organism, where everything is mostly self-contained, we are not only individual parts but completely and totally isolated from one another.

Music creates a connection between these separate wholes, making us all into one for the briefest stretch of time.

How do we do this? How can we create a connection between each other that supersedes the performance, the playing, like birth and pregnancy.

We breathe.

Not just normal breathing, we connect via breath. In and out, together. Sometimes this is intentional, like today when I had the group literally breathe with me for five breaths. Most of the time we do this without thinking.

A good conductor breathes not only with their group, but for their group, AS their group. The conductor isn’t the brain of a group, the conductor is the Id, the impulse, the connecting force. We don’t think about breathing, we don’t think about how we breathe unless we’re told to.

The conductor is what lets us not think about breathing.

About Michael Robinson

An eclectic person living in a world rife with binaries, opposition, anger and pain and trying to find the spectra, love, happiness and catharsis within.
This entry was posted in Creative Non-Fiction, Creative Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Ensemble as Organism: Part One

  1. Pingback: Diary of an Introvert: Episode Four | Eclectic Discourse

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