22 April 2020

The Magic of Ensembles

Middle School
The Magic of Ensembles
The Magic of Ensembles
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Last week the leaders of many of our musical ensembles met (in the virtual space of course) to discuss ways of maintaining our ensembles in a time of social distancing. We unhappily concluded that there is no viable way of doing this. Sure, we can use tricks and incentives to try and maintain some engagement through the use of the internet. We have all seen many creative musical clips popping up through clever use of technology – the best example I have seen is the Roedean School (South Africa) performing Hallelujah. However, nothing can in any way compete with making music in one room with a group of fellow musicians, or sharing performing arts with an attentive audience.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about this recently. Firstly because I have lost direct face-to-face contact with my Carey ensembles, but also because in the good times, I am lucky enough to attend many performances. There are usually not many weeks when we are not attending a play, a concert, a musical or an opera. But not anymore!

The word that comes into my mind is privilege. It is a privilege to perform with a group of like-minded musicians. It is a privilege to have an attentive audience to share your performance. It is a privilege to sit in an auditorium and have a highly skilled group of performers share their art with you.

With such wide access to technology, we can access almost any music, play or movie at the click of button. Many of the performances will be perfect. But they are not real. I have a large CD collection, covering a wide range of musical styles. There are several Yo-Yo Ma recordings, and they are lovely. However, they in no way compare with the privileged experience we had last year when we sat down in Hamer Hall and Yo-Yo Ma walked onto the stage, sat down and over two hours performed the six Bach cello suites in their entirety from memory. He was there in the flesh, human, placing his incredible skills on show just for us. A real privilege. Authentic!

So many performances live on in my memory. Another performance I remember so well was the first time I saw the musical Billy Elliot – incidentally one of my all-time favourite musicals. There is quite a long scene where Billy and his good friend Michael are alone on stage, clowning around, dressing up and talking about life. Here were two actors – probably around 12 years old – with total control of the 2000-strong audience. It was magic!

It is one of the great joys of my job – helping in humble ways to give our young people the opportunities to grow as performers, whether as choristers or back row players in the larger ensembles or as front row soloists.

We are very lucky to be in Australia, and to be weathering the COVID-19 crisis relatively safely. However, we do so miss our ensembles, our bands, orchestras, choirs, plays and musicals and we earnestly wait for the days when we have the privilege of getting the ‘band back together’!

Martin Arnold
Head of Music


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