Getting to know: Ensemble classes at YMC

Ahead of the YMC ensembles concert this weekend, YMC cello tutor and chamber music coach, Sheena McKenzie, answers some frequently asked questions about YMC’s ensemble classes.

What does playing in an ensemble involve?

Ensemble playing involves listening attentively, to the pulse, to what the other members of the group have melodically, rhythmically and dynamically.  Every player is part of a team and responds to the musical ebb and flow.

Is there a conductor?  How is playing in an ensemble different from playing in an orchestra?

In a small ensemble, there is no conductor.  There is one person to each part.  This means that your individual sound will come across in a way that it won’t in an orchestra.  If you play in an orchestra and have been relying on your desk partner to count your bars rest, you won’t be able to do so in an ensemble! ”  

Why is it important to be in an orchestra or ensemble?

Playing music is all about teamwork – working together to create a finished product, which is as close to what we hope the composer wanted.  When we play together, it trains our listening skills as we hear how the different harmonies and rhythms come together.  It makes us better musicians.

What kind of pieces do you play in an ensemble?  Do pupils pick the pieces?

We mostly play classical pieces with some occasional lighter popular music.  Teachers pick the pieces as they are able to gauge what would suit each player’s ability.

Are there concerts or opportunities for ensembles to perform?

Yes.  Every year, our ensembles perform in a Spring concert.  They also have a chance to take part in the North London Festival, competing against other schools and music schools.