Leadership, Gratitude, and Experimentation in Chamber Music

Wellspring of Creativity.jpg

By Miranda Wilson, CelloPracticeCelloPerformance.com

Today, during a chamber music coaching, I decided to stop micromanaging my students and let them figure out how to fix their intonation, time, and group sound themselves. I jumped in when needed, and when I wasn’t, I backed off.

I could do this because I trusted them and trusted myself. I knew I had taught them task mastery: of their instruments in their studio lessons, of the language of music in the theory classroom. Using a set of guidelines, it was now up to them to become their own best coaches.

I call this method inquiry-based rehearsal technique.

Here are the guidelines I gave them.

  1. Every member of the group is a leader.

    • If there’s only one leader, that means there are then three followers, and if you’re following you’re already behind the group.

    • Each member is allowed an allotted time as the director of the rehearsal. That person gets to pick the places she or he wants to work on, and shape the conversation about how to work on them.

  2. Criticize experimentally; listen generously.

    • It’s OK to offer constructive criticism to colleagues. Remember, though, that they have feelings. With this in mind, crux criticism as an experiment:What would happen if Jane put her F-sharp a little flatter in that D major triad?”

    • When you are the one receiving criticism, remember this: criticism is a gift. It is for you, to help you improve. Be available to this gift, even when it feels hard to accept it.

  3. Acceptance and gratitude

    • Be grateful for your colleagues. You could not make this music in this moment if they were not available to you.

    • Accept yourself and your colleagues as the players you are right now. You are all travelers on the same journey. All of you will improve on this journey if you are available to criticism.

    • Be grateful for your colleagues’ ideas, and try them out as wholeheartedly as if they were your own. Accept that sometimes, other people’s ideas may be better than what you wanted to do.

    • It’s OK if your idea that seemed great in practice doesn’t work in rehearsal. Embrace your failures. They are the wellspring of your creativity.

  4. Questions to ask yourselves that no one can answer for you:

  • How will we start?

  • What are our shared goals for intonation, interpretation, and everything else?

  • Is our group sound unified? If not, why not?

  • What is going wrong?

  • How do we fix it?

And the biggest, most important question of all, one that you should ask yourself at all times:

Are we making each other sound good?

Because it’s not about you, the individual, any more. It’s about you, the group.

Further Reading:

Cello Practice, Cello Performance by Miranda Wilson (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015)

  • The principles of group sound, Chapter 3

  • The principles of keeping good time, Chapter 5

  • The principles of just intonation, Chapter 6