Chamber Music; or “What on earth do you do after the last concert?”

This year, I experimented with chamber music for my 7/8 Orchestra. We also did a bunch of other stuff during the last month and a half of school, but this was something I wanted to do in order to give the students an opportunity to work independently.

In the last issue of Leading Notes, Joe Guarr wrote in his piece:

If we can find some time during the year for chamber music, our students can take control and make their own musical decisions. This will help them grow into independent musicians, which will in turn improve the ensemble as a whole.

In his book Drive, author Daniel Pink lays out evidence showing that autonomy is directly correlated to job satisfaction. Having the ability to perform even menial tasks in whatever manner one sees fit gives the worker or student some sense of control. The authors of Love and Logic, Jim Fay and David Funk, argue that giving up some control in the classroom leads to a better classroom environment. Chamber music is one way in which you can give your students a chance to explore independent musicmaking.

I had the honor of editing Joe’s article earlier this year, and after I read the first draft I knew I wanted to experiment with chamber music in my ensemble.

I had already incorporated sectional rehearsal days into my classroom, and this seemed like a good next step. The students were already used to working in small groups with their peers, primarily independently, to problem solve playing tricky areas in their concert repertoire. After almost a school year’s worth of the instructor (me) directing how the musicmaking process would go, they were now given a new problem to solve: learn a new piece of music and execute it by themselves.

At first, I thought about giving each group a different, self-contained piece of music to work with. However, I found my music library’s selection limiting (and if anyone has any great recommendations for chamber music, please send them my way!). I eventually settled on arranging a simpler version of the “Prelude” from Grieg’s Holberg Suite (here’s a link to the piece on Spotify), dividing it up into sections. Each group got a different component. A group of students who were entirely new to their instruments, in the meantime, is working independently on a beginners’ piece that is more up to their speed; they’ve come a long way over the year!

The students are playing their brief excerpts for each other tomorrow and I’m excited to see the results. No matter what, I was glad to give them the opportunity for independent learning, playing, and musicmaking. Next year, I hope to incorporate more activities like this throughout the school year and not solely at the end, in May/June.

What are you doing to encourage creative and musical independence in your classrooms?

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