Ensemble

Definition: A unit or group of complementary parts that contribute to a single effect.

We went to hand bells tonight. I just started playing with the handbell choir in the fall and have really enjoyed playing (and am slowly getting better at it). The fun thing about the bell choir is the chance to play with other people, to build camaraderie with the group. If I just played my two bells by myself, that would be a pretty sad little piece of music. The beauty of the piece emerges from the collective efforts of the group.

What makes a good handbell choir, or a good flute choir, or any good musical ensemble? Watching and listening! We all have to watch the director in order to maintain the same pace. We need to pay attention and count our measures so that we are, literally, on the same page.

It is equally important for us to listen to our director and to each other. Our director always points out the hard passages and suggests different strategies for approaching them. Sometimes he will even count us through sections the first few times.  When we did a jazzy piece, he had us clap the rhythm for him so we could master the off-beats.

Finally, we really need to listen to each other. If we are in a run, and we are not listening to each other, just counting, that run can quickly degenerate into a mess of notes. We need to listen to who has the melody so that person can bring out their notes while we play softly. Most of all, we need to listen to the overall flow and musicality of the piece.

We also need to cooperate. Sometimes we can’t play all those bells in the right order. We have to have our neighbor, who doesn’t play any bells for 29 measures, grab that tricky chime. We have to negotiate who turns the page. 

A lot of these lessons translate directly to the real world. Church committees, nursing units… paying attention to the goal, watching, listening, and cooperating are the keys to good teamwork.

In handbells, that goal is worship. Not creating pretty  music, although that is a nice side effect. No, we have to lay aside any petty feuds, open our hearts and minds, listen, and offer our gifts with the rest of the ensemble to God.

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