MAX VARRELL/SAGAMORE STAFF
When most people picture an orchestra performing, they picture a stage of musicians playing in harmony under one conductor. However, musicians can also perform in many other formations such as small, self-led chamber groups.
The high school’s orchestra students spend a month taking one to two classes a week rehearsing in much smaller chamber groups. Most chamber groups are quartets with two violins, one cello and one viola; however, there are also duets and trios with different instrument configurations.
Each group is in charge of picking their own piece that they want to rehearse and setting up practice times out of school to work on their piece. This chamber group experience allows the students to have more freedom in their work and learn important life skills.
Sophomore Ellie Hyde, a violinist, likes practicing in chamber groups because of the freedom of choice that comes with it.
“I like how you get to choose the pieces you work on and the people you work with,” Hyde said.
Orchestra teacher Nina Bishop likes how the students have to take ownership of their work and become motivated to decide on a piece together and schedule their own practices.
“When you are a musician you really have to be motivated at some point. Sometimes your parents or teachers are going to tell you to practice, but eventually you need to practice on your own if you’re really going to succeed,” Bishop said.
As a teenager, Bishop went to a performing arts high school and had the opportunity to play in chamber groups, an experience she greatly enjoyed.
“It was such a great way to get to know the repertoire and a great way to get to know my classmates, too,” Bishop said.
Junior Justin Chan, a cellist, also enjoys working in chamber groups because it was the first time that he was really able to hear himself play.
“In one section a person can lose their focus or forget how important they are, but when you’re in a chamber group, there’s one person to one part, so if you hear yourself for the first time in that context it can be very important,” Chan said.
Chan said he learned how to be vocal in a collaborative environment.
“I think you learn how to communicate. You have to tell people what you think and what your ideas are when you’re in practice because no one is directing the practice, everyone is contributing to part of it,” Chan said.
Hyde also believes that chamber groups teaches the importance of teamwork and listening.
“I think it teaches more teamwork than the whole class because in chamber groups you have fewer instruments than in the orchestra so it teaches you to listen to each instrument,” Hyde said.
Bishop shares the same sentiment that working in chamber groups teaches the students how to be proactive.
“They have to set up rehearsals outside of school, so it’s teaching them how to be responsible,” Bishop said. “Some of that might be the physical parts of setting things up like getting the stands and the chairs they need, but there’s also learning how to rehearse a piece, learning how to talk to each other and learning how to say in a diplomatic way, ‘Oh this is out of tune, how do we fix it?’”
Chan also believes that working in the groups provides an opportunity to not only have more freedom but also grow as a musician.
“I think you learn to work with other musicians most of all because as a chamber group, that’s really what it’s about — you are making music with other people and you have to be able to take charge partially,” Chan said. “I think in many ways, people enjoy chamber music more than orchestra music because there’s more room for creativity.”