Chamber Ensembles

Chamber music groups vary widely in size and instrumentation. The style of chamber music pieces also has a broad reach, since its presence had an early start in music history.  Chamber ensembles date back to the Renaissance Era, when small music groups were a popular form of entertainment.  This collaborative style of music emerged in the beginning of the 17th century. Chamber music referred to a handful of singers or instrumentalists who created music in a social and informal setting either in royal courts or salons.  People gathered together to contribute their musical skills for the enjoyment of the musicians and the listeners. As the chamber genre progressed, more music was written for extremely skilled musicians, not only amateurs as in years past.  The development of the sonata in the 17th century marked an increase in idiomatic composition (music composed for specifics instruments to display player’s virtuosity).  Today, small chamber groups involve two or more players, but are not as large as a symphony orchestra or wind ensemble, and encompass many instruments. A popular form of chamber music is the modern sonata, consisting of a piano and solo instrument, as seen in our recording of Beethoven’s violin sonata in G minor. Chamber music pieces are often written for instruments with similar tones or which are categorized similarly (like string quartet, percussion ensemble, or brass quintet). Composers use these instruments because they compliment each other, and can match each other dynamically and tonally. Chamber musicians are very important to the music world. They play beautiful pieces, demonstrate the importance of collaboration, and play music from all musical eras, old and new.

Musicians in chamber groups learn their parts separately, then rehearse together to blend their parts together. Tuning is very important for chamber groups because musicians often play notes in unison or play intervals that would sound displeasing if out of tune. To tune in a string, wind, or brass chamber group, one student begins by tuning to a reference frequency. Then, they offer one note to each of the chamber members, who tune to that one student. In a guitar chamber group, all members tune to the reference frequency, then check their tunings together with tuning chords. Our recordings of two guitars tuning and a string quartet tuning demonstrates these basic technique of tuning.  In rehearsal, the highest instrument is usually the leader, and gives suggestions to the group. When they rehearse, musicians play the pieces, and smooth over and work on difficult sections. After extensive rehearsal, groups can be “coached” by their master teachers, who help coordinate parts, suggest dynamics, and use their experiences to give helpful advice which will round out the music. In a coaching, students perform their pieces for their coaches, discuss ideas, and polish their pieces with the help of the teachers. Our recording of a string quartet coaching and rehearsal show the interaction between the teacher and the students in an ensemble along with the collaborative efforts of the students to create meaningful music.  When students perform chamber pieces, their hard work pays off because they are able to give emotional and professional chamber concerts.

Playing chamber music is important now because it is a way to preserve the music history of small ensembles. Composers' ideas and messages are immortalized through their specific use of dynamics, style, tuning, instrumentation, etc.  Teachers are vital to this preservation of history because they aid the student's understanding of the music's style, character, and intricacies by suggesting techniques particular to the style of a composer or era.