For all of you musicians: Can you remember the very first moment you ever played in an ensemble? To be quite honest, I cannot. But I do remember the first time I was part of an ensemble with so much passion, talent, and high level of playing that it was almost spiritual, and I am pretty sure I got to that point because of my previous, less memorable ensemble experiences. Last week I shared and helped facilitate the first string ensemble experience of our JAMM kids. It was a bit chaotic, confusing, and most likely not at all memorable for anyone – except for me.
Up until then, the violinists were used to playing in unison, standing up. As the cellos only entered the JAMM picture a few weeks ago, our cellists had held their instrument twice before and were still learning the open strings. In retrospect, we (myself and another JAMM teacher) threw too many new things at them at once: chairs, stands, a semi circle formation, more than one instrument in the group, and more than one line being played. The cellos looked at me anxiously when I said we were going to play the Can Can and one boy raised his hand, looking especially stressed out, and said that they didn’t really even know any notes on the cello. The violins that were supposed to play the harmony forgot how it went, and the violins on melody wanted to play it at a tempo that no one could keep up with. When I do it again, I will do about a dozen things differently.
But we did have a Moment. It lasted about five seconds, when the cellos were playing their open D strings and the first violins slowed down and the second violins all remembered their part at the same time. I saw a couple kids look up, as if they weren’t sure why what we were playing sounded like real music for a fleeting instance. They looked down again once we all got back off track. It was a Moment, though, that makes it all worth trying again, and doing the dozen things differently. It was the perfect example of everyone offering a small part of themselves to create something that makes so much sense - and sounds so beautiful - when it’s complete.