Benjamin Coy

Trombonist

Chamber music

September 8, 2013 at 11:52 pm

Some of my friends and I recently formed a quartet and have begun rehearsing regularly. I am under no illusions about the profit margin on trombone quartet performances. Rich and famous are unlikely. However, we’ve all noticed that chamber music is underrepresented in our performance experience, and it’s important to us to exercise that aspect of our musicianship.

Arnold Jacobs used to talk about how the repertoire for tuba was less musically demanding than that for violin, and how limiting one’s self to tuba music would result in a lesser musician. I have found no greater illustration of this than the chamber music programs at many undergraduate institutions. The string quartet programs are usually very solid. But, in my experience, after a brass quintet or two have formed, all the mismatched brass players who have nowhere else to go get lumped into a big choir and conducted through some half-hearted Gabrieli. Educationally, the experience becomes just another large ensemble and teaches little that is new or different.

For awhile, that didn’t bother me. After all, I was very busy and didn’t have time to devote to a dedicated chamber ensemble. Perhaps more importantly, I had no patience for the political subtleties required by such a group. But then, after I was granted tenure at my first orchestra job, the review committee told me that their biggest concern was that the way I played made it clear I had no chamber experience. It had never occurred to me that chamber music skills would be so important in a symphonic environment, but in retrospect, it was obvious. I was playing second trombone, and my primary job was to blend between the principal and the bass. While I had a fine education in fitting a trombone section into an orchestra, I was missing the vital element of listening to the specific few people around me and being able to instantly fit my sound to theirs.

Since then, I have become a huge advocate of chamber music for many reasons, and I am excited to be a member of an active chamber ensemble again. While there is nothing quite like the power of a full symphony orchestra, there’s also nothing like the satisfaction of having a real say in the artistic message and direction of a performance.

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