Effective and informed recruitment will determine the success or otherwise of your ensemble
One further point that is critical to students gaining the most from large group experiences, is to ensure that your full ensembles are well balanced. Strive to build ensembles that will sound complete and in the correct proportions. This can ensure that even your beginner groups will sound full or complete. Students will appreciate it more and audiences/adjudicators will sit up and take notice.
Too often ensembles are built only using the ‘smaller, cheaper, or easier’ instruments, ignoring the larger, more expensive ones that actually make the whole ensemble sound better. It is always worth the effort to develop strong low brass and low woodwind sections. These critical instruments are no harder to play if students are suited to them both aurally and physically.
As I start many students into the band program from scratch, it is my responsibility to try to guide students into playing an instrument that they are best suited to. There are many ways you can achieve this, including using a Timbre Preference test, other aptitude tests, and of course, the good old ‘blow test’ where students try out the instruments with tutor guidance.
It is always wonderful to watch a young student, after trying to play an instrument like the trumpet or flute and struggling to get any sound out, pick up a trombone or tuba and make this glorious huge sound, and see them beam from ear to ear! You should have them and their parent hooked. It will also pay off for your program long term if you engage the ‘coolest’ tuba tutor (for example).
Don’t leave this student on his/her own at the back of the ensemble! Make sure that you buddy them up with other like instruments in a team as mentioned above, and then ensure that you select repertoire that always has something ‘cool’ for the bass line to play.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is the importance of the ensemble. While many students continued to play alone, what we all really missed was the opportunity to play and perform as a group. The performance opportunities at school functions, eisteddfods and festivals are the reward for all of the hard work throughout the year, and the appreciation of our audiences has been sadly lacking this past year.
May 2021 bring a resurgence in large ensemble playing, and allow us to engage once again with an appreciative audience.