When I was first a student at Joy of Music, way back in the 1990s (gasp), the JOMP Youth Orchestra was yet to become a reality. The school’s beloved string ensemble program was still a thing of the future. I loved attending my weekly cello lessons, and adored my teacher, the one and only Timothy Terranella. Still, I could sense there was a missing piece. I chose the cello in the first place because my mom took me to watch an orchestra concert! I remember being impressed that all of the string instruments sat together on stage, in front of the woodwinds, brass and percussion, and together this large ensemble produced a powerful blended sound. I knew then that playing my instrument with others would be part of my musical future. The questions of how and when to get me involved in ensemble playing were not as easily answered for my parents, however. They were not musicians themselves. Fortunately, they turned to my private lesson teacher for guidance, and that was the beginning of a beautiful and important part of my musical journey.
Talking with your child’s private lesson teacher about when and if an ensemble is right for them is a pivotal first step in understanding the potential benefits of learning how to play music with others. Ensemble playing could become a lifelong passion, as it did for me and several of my peers, but in all cases there are skills to be gained from ensemble participation: teamwork, communication, and how to truly listen to others are just a few that come to mind. Interacting with one’s peers in an ensemble setting can be highly motivational on the practice front, as long as the group’s level of advancement is well matched to the student, and vise-versa. Following the guidance of your private teacher will ensure the best placement in one of the many ensemble opportunities offered here at JOMP today. If your child isn’t sure whether an ensemble experience is right for them, or has yet to express interest, consider taking them to see one of JOMP’s student ensembles in performance: in addition to attending professional concerts, witnessing firsthand what other students are doing with their music can be impactful and inspirational.
I certainly found this to be true when Joy of Music eventually started our very first “chamber orchestra” (smaller than a full orchestra, but larger than a chamber ensemble) when I was about 10 years old. I was one of the youngest in the group at that time, but thanks to careful guidance from my teacher, my parents, and JOMP staff, I had already experienced playing with a few different smaller ensembles, and was ready for the chamber orchestra to be my next musical adventure. And was it ever! I was thrilled to be playing music with kids close to my own age, and even some of their older siblings, whom I admired and often tried to emulate. Seeing how good the “older kids” were at playing their instruments served as an inspiration to me to improve my own skills as a cellist. I even started practicing at home without needing to be told! If you are a music parent, you probably already know how big of a deal that is. I loved playing with my JOMP ensemble so much that I wrote a story about it, at age 11, called Classical Encounters. ;) I would have chosen to have rehearsal every day if I could, surrounded by my orchestra friends and our conductor, who made every rehearsal into a bonding experience for us as well as an educational and musical one. It was truly a special time in my life, and one of the reasons why I am so passionate about sharing a love of ensemble playing with my private students, my children, and all JOMP students.
I will always have fond memories of the friends and connections I made playing in youth orchestras and ensembles. One of the most beautiful things about learning to make music together is knowing you will always have this shared experience in common with others, no matter where life takes you in the future. I went on to play in a professional orchestra for many years, while some of my youth orchestra friends became doctors, lawyers, ministers, and writers, among many other equally important callings. A cellist who once sat next to me in the JOMP Chamber Orchestra now tours the country with his folk rock band, while another practices law here in town, and sits on the Joy of Music Board of Directors (lucky us!). The possibilities are endless, and music can take us there, together.