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Category Archives: Ensemble Dynamics

Does your organization represent a shamisen ensemble or an orchestra?

Today was our annual shamisen performance at the Brooklyn Botanic
Garden’s Cherry Blossom Festival.  Rehearsing our pieces reminded me
how challenging it is for our ensemble to perform together.  Not only
do we usually practice just one on one with our teacher (only rehearsing 4 times as a complete ensemble), we also function without a conductor.

In an orchestra, the conductor keeps the ensemble together.  They’re
almost always on a platform elevated so all members of the ensemble
can see them and follow.  By comparison, we have to pick up on subtle
body language from our key shamisen and koto players who are seated in
and performing as ensemble members.

Mind you – were we a small group, e.g. a string quartet, this wouldn’t
be such a big deal.  But when you’re dealing with 30 people, this proves to be quite challenging.

But each year we pull through with relatively few glitches.  And I think
this occurs for two reasons.

The first is that the key shamisen and koto player guide us rather than hold us to a strict baton rhythm.  What this means is that we REALLY have to listen to each other.  All the time.

At the risk of possibly oversimplifying (and because I’ve been reading
a shitload of business books lately), it’s like a business with
horizontal leadership, where the leadership consists of talented
listeners and gentle leaders.  And I think it works because we’re all
deeply committed to our ensemble (why else would we spent up to 15
hours in a given day preparing for one 5 minute performance?)

Does your organization represent a shamisen ensemble or an orchestra?
Which do you think is better?

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