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Teaching Through Ensemble Performance

McCaleb, Murphy ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9867-9909 (2021) Teaching Through Ensemble Performance. In: Timmers, Renee, Bailes, Freya and Daffern, Helena, (eds.) Together in Music: Participation, Co-Ordination, and Creativity in Ensembles. Oxford University Press

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Strategies for teaching ensemble performance in higher education tend to draw on staff members as conductors or mentors. This approach to teaching can easily remain unexamined, either through habit or presumed beneficence, and thus music programmes and lecturers miss opportunities to explore potentially more efficient and effective ways of working. This research investigates a third path to lecturers’ involvement in university ensembles – one where the lecturer rehearses and performs with their students.

In previous artistic research I have conducted on ensemble interaction, I analyse how different types of leadership arise and are exerted within small ensembles (McCaleb, 2014). The flexibility of this leadership amongst group members may vary depending on the repertoire, balance of expertise around the ensemble, and other circumstantial factors. Professional chamber ensembles exhibit qualities similar to the business model of alternating leadership, where members assume ‘ad hoc leadership positions […] by temporarily and freely [alternating] back to be observers, followers, and so forth’ (Andert et al., 2011: 54); adopting this framework for teaching ensemble musicians in higher education encourages students to engage more critically in the development of the ensemble. Playing a larger leadership role (even temporarily) in ensembles allows students to ‘learn musical independence as they might learn civic participation, by making musical decisions that matter’ (Shieh and Allsup, 2016: 33).

As part of an ongoing research project on ensemble pedagogy, this paper explores teaching strategies where a lecturer rehearses and performs within student ensembles to develop cultures of alternating leadership. Throughout this academic year, I am using rehearsal and performance observations, focus groups, and interviews to assess the effectiveness of this approach to small ensemble teaching across all three years of an undergraduate music programme. Thus far, two themes emerge: first, that regular engagement with the technical and interpretative decision-making that shapes the development of an ensemble is imperative for students to become effective ensemble musicians; second, that lecturers acting as co-musicians within ensembles can facilitate a flexible culture of leadership to allow students to alternatively lead and follow. In combination with my own critical reflection as an ensemble musician, this research will offer systematic strategies for helping students develop the skills required to develop as ensemble performers.

Item Type: Book Section
Status: Published
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
M Music and Books on Music > MT Musical instruction and study
School/Department: School of the Arts
URI: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/4469

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