Why Chamber Music?

Why play trombone in a chamber ensemble? Here are a few ideas about the wealth of performance and growth opportunities.

There are many benefits for students participating in chamber music ensembles. It is one of the fastest ways a student can progress musically and technically on their instrument. Students are expected to add one more rehearsal to an already full schedule, but this helps create even better time management and schedule creation. Additionally, finding time for chamber rehearsals and coaching is an important skill, one that will follow students through professional life. Students are expected to rehearse on their own, making the most of their musical and technical progress without the direct help of a teacher. Teachers help as much as possible in weekly coaching sessions. However, student groups must have a plan for successful coaching sessions. Student groups have the option of learning vast amounts of literature and becoming aware of a whole area of literature they may not have known. For young students, this can be a liberating experience that allows for personal growth as well.
These benefits can also be challenges for some students. Time management is always an issue, and the way many chamber music programs are set up (often as an afterthought or minimal degree requirement), many students allow chamber music to be the first activity to go when schedules become challenging. Another challenge for chamber music is personnel issues amongst chamber members. Unlike in a large ensemble, chamber groups have only a few members to focus on and no specific leader at the front of the group. Students must learn to work together, even when it is difficult to work together or appreciate the chamber ensemble. Moments of tension can come from lack of preparation by one or more students, lack of technical or musical ability and even a lack of interest and commitment. For the most part, it is important for student groups to learn how to work through these issues early, because they will continue being issues throughout their musical career. The most successful student ensembles have clear expectations for their group and all of the members are in agreement about the goals each semester.
The chamber music setting is a great preparation for the various challenges professional musicians find. These include complexities like finding rehearsal space, a difficult issue in many overcrowded music facilities. Students must also learn to quickly adapt to the difference between the rehearsal space (usually a small practice room) and concert hall. Some student groups will struggle with the lack of time to prepare in the concert hall. Other groups may struggle with the variety of concert locations including malls, weddings, graduation ceremonies, background music at various events and performing with choirs or other large ensembles. Performing a chop heavy recital with little or no break is a great learning experience for many students. The must learn how to manage their own performance including getting to and from the gig, getting gigs to begin, payment and learning the expectations of the hiring staff. Issues with obtaining legal music can also be a problem. Many students are not accustomed to purchasing their own ensemble music and can resist faculty encouragement to start growing a library of sheet music.
The experience of chamber music ensembles is very different from those of  larger ensembles like band, orchestra and jazz groups. Students grow quickly as musicians and mature as adults because of these varied situations chamber music puts them in. This can be different from the experience of performing in a large ensemble, which picks music for students and does a substantial amount of practicing in rehearsal. A large ensemble and solo work both usually have a conductor or teacher specifically listening for problems and creating solutions for the problems. Student led chamber groups are responsible for all of this work in addition to performing at a high level. An additional difference from much of the solo and recital work students have at the collegiate level is that in chamber music, they typically choose their own music. This means they must create a way of reading music to see what they like and make informed decisions about programing for chamber music recitals. Students may also be expected to learn popular music or music in varying styles and is expected to alternate between styles quickly within a performance.

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