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The conceptualization of a faculty-student performing ensemble.

The idea of pairing musicians of varying performance abilities and intellectual maturity in an ensemble might seem to be a strange idea. In normal circumstances, musicians tend to team up with others who have similar musical training, educational backgrounds, performance abilities and aesthetic viewpoints, in an effort to have the most rewarding musical experience.

It is not difficult, however, to find examples where composers had performers of varying levels of technical ability in mind when writing their works. In J. S. Bach's multiple keyboard concertos, those for three and four keyboards in particular, one of the solo parts clearly predominates in technical display and musical weightiness, while another solo part might have a perfunctory or supportive role, with less technical challenges. When writing the predominant parts, it is easy to suspect that Bach might have had his virtuoso keyboard player sons in mind (Wilhelm Friedmann or Carl Philipp Emmanuel), and the easier parts might have been designated to a lesser-skilled or -gifted performer.

In the genre of piano duets, there are numerous examples of composers writing specifically with a teacher/pupil team in mind. Oftentimes, works are clearly written with either a lighter primo or secondo part. The benefits of these educational duets are abundant and apparent. Even in pieces written for elementary levels, students have the opportunity of performing music with greater harmonic color, musical depth, variety of sound, rhythmic complexities and contrapuntal interests, than what their abilities would allow if they would be performing a solo. Performing with one's teacher can also increase musical expression, rhythmic stability and confidence in performance.

The concept of combining students and faculty in a performing ensemble is not often encountered in universities and colleges. When designed pragmatically and administered appropriately, the educational philosophy of pairing faculty and students in rehearsals and performances can be viable, successful and yield extraordinary musical results.

By putting students in faculty chamber music groups, such as woodwind and brass quintets, string quartets or piano trios, the student has the opportunity to work with faculty mentors as fellow chamber musicians. The degree of musicianship, refinement and technical proficiency raises a student's normal performing expectations to a higher level. It can also stimulate and challenge the student's imagination, ensemble techniques, performance skills and musical understanding. Instead of the normal relationship of teaching/learning, coaching/assimilating and instructing/acquiring, the role between teacher and student changes to true musical partnership and camaraderie. This type of performing experience inspires a student's musical sensitivity and enhances his artistic growth.

Speaking from my own experience, I can attest to the benefits of such

educational opportunities. Many years ago, while a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music, there was an opportunity for me and another student to perform Schumann's Piano Quintet with some of the faculty members of the conservatory (Masao Kawasaki, Yehuda Hanani and Kurt Sachssmanshaus). That wonderful experience left an indelible mark on my musical development. The high level of musical refinement, musical conception and ensemble challenge was a great motivation and stimulation for me to attain a level of musicianship that I had not thought possible. The result of the performance was so successful that the conservatory arranged another opportunity for me to perform with Hanani. The work was Beethoven's Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 1, and the violinist was a very gifted pre-college student from the preparatory department. This very unusual combination of performers turned out to be equally rewarding.

This idea can also be extended to large performing ensembles such as orchestra and wind ensembles, where faculty members serve as section leaders or principal players. Performing side-by-side with faculty mentors allows students to work in a setting that helps bridge the transition from performing in a student group to that of a professional level. The Chamber Orchestra at Wright State University, which I conduct, is such an ensemble. The format was established some 20 years ago by my predecessor. This setting abounds in six crucial musical and educational benefits.

With faculty participation, level of technical and musical difficulty in repertoire chosen is greatly enhanced. Students are able to perform works that would otherwise be too challenging for an apprentice group. It opens the door for broader range and scope in repertoire selection, hence constituting more effective teaching.

In most rehearsals and sectionals, music faculty assume the role of section leaders. This provides ample opportunity for teaching instrumental technique in ensemble playing (such as fingering, bowing and rhythmic precision) and performance consideration (including intonation, volume, tone color and articulation). In certain pieces, faculty members are free to designate a principal part to the students, thus creating a built-in opportunity for coaching of orchestral excerpts for the students. The mentor/pupil set-up in a faculty/student orchestra is a brilliant teaching environment that cannot be replicated. The skill of playing second part in an orchestra is very different from playing principal, and the best way to learn the differences is to play them both. Given that, for the first couple rehearsals with new literature, the faculty can play the principal part, while the student plays second. After two or three rehearsals, faculty and student are free to trade parts--all the while the faculty can coach style, intonation and technique. It may sound unorthodox, but it is actually a very practical pedagogical tool. The student learns the literature and develops the ability to "shift gears" according to the part she is playing.

When performing with faculty members, students learn to acquire rehearsal and performance etiquette. The experience puts students in an environment that evokes the professional world. These qualities include sufficient preparation and practice prior to rehearsals, punctuality and professionalism during rehearsals and utmost concentration during performance.

Length of preparation for a concert is significantly shortened. While the normal preparation time for a student ensemble concert ranges from eight to 10 weeks, a faculty-student ensemble can shorten the preparation time to five or six rehearsals. This training is extremely useful for students to prepare themselves to meet the expectations and demands of the profession.

With other faculty present, the conductor serves as a "facilitator" rather than a "dictator." The setting encourages exchanges and discussions of interpretive ideas among the faculty present, thus creating the atmosphere of true chamber music making.

Students can learn a great deal about musical interpretation and ensemble playing from various ideas of the faculty, thus encouraging them to be proactive chamber musicians in the orchestra.

With faculty soloists as principal players, ensembles--orchestra, in particular--can conveniently program works that feature soloist(s), such as concerti grossi. These works normally demand greater technical difficulty in the concertino group than in the orchestra. Examples of these works include Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, Concerti Grossi by Handel, Symphonies Concertantes by Mozart and Haydn, Elgar's Introduction and Allegro for Strings, Op. 47, Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite, Concerti Grossi by Herbert Howell, Vittorio Giannini, Joly Braga Santos, Henry Cowell and Ernest Bloch. Although with no specific concertino groups scored, many orchestral works feature virtuosic soloistic writing within the orchestra. Such passages can highlight the high performance level of the faculty members. These pieces include: Respighi's Gliuccelli, Trittico botticelliano, Kodaly's Dances of Marosszek, Dances of Galanta, Wagner's Siegfried-Idyll, Stravinsky's Suite Nos. 1 and 2, Richard Strauss's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin, and Prokofiev's Overture on Hebrew Themes and Peter and the Wolf and Piazzolla's Tangazo.

Although there are built-in difficulties and certain disadvantages of creating faculty-student ensembles, including budgetary issues of faculty load and lack of opportunities for students to take leadership roles in ensembles, among others, the educational and musical benefits resulting from the establishment of such groups greatly offsets the drawbacks. College and university administrations should consider incorporating such ensembles into curricula.

Jackson Leung is coordinator of keyboard studies and conductor of the chamber orchestra at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, where he is an associate professor of music. He holds degrees in piano performance from Hong Kong Baptist University, Temple University and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
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Author:Leung, Jackson
Publication:American Music Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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