Is music better in groups or solo? That depends…


With the holidays approaching, the music program practice studio is one place on campus that never really quiets. Even without all its instruments yet, our new studio is regularly occupied by people wanting a place to practice. But why?! Our concerts for the season are over and there are no auditions to worry about until Spring. The need to practice at this time must not, therefore, be driven by performance needs.

It is interesting, but at the end of each semester, the practice room becomes a remedy for many symptoms. It helps to relieve the stress and anxiety of our rigorous final exams, and it is place where feelings of solitude or isolation find expression. What DOES one do when all of their peers have left for far-away places? The usual hang-outs are lonely reminders that school is out, but the practice room is a place that was always intended for the company of only one. There is something comforting and familiar about this. Pay attention to the notes in here and the whole world will wait. Outside.

There is certainly a well-worn image in literature of the musician as a solitary character whose ways are mysterious and sometimes strange. But then, there is the symphony, the choir, the jazz band. None of these activities are solitary at all. In fact they are quintessential examples of advanced teamwork and group identity. Most musicians, while they may enjoy the freedom of the practice studio and relish moments of solo spotlight, find their most rewarding experiences in groups. And what interesting groups these are! In the large group rehearsals people rarely get to speak to each other, save for a broken sentence here or there between songs, and the groups are interdisciplinary so there may be no linkage to other shared curricula. Everyone concentrates on his or her own page until the director calls rehearsal to an end. Yet, participants build bonds and form their identities around such groups! I have a theory about this, but it is drawn only from my own experience, so please feel free correct!

There is something very satisfying about being a part of something beautiful and complex, especially when you know EXACTLY what that part entails. Everyone struggles to find their path in life and the decisions we make outside of rehearsal can be overwhelming. But in a music ensemble, you always know precisely where you fit and where you are going. You have a purpose and it is beautiful and perfect! It takes practice and skill to make it happen, but the path is clear. The best part is that at the end of the road there is a performance where your patient introspection becomes a gift for the world.

Performance is so exhilarating, but it is over in an evening! What then? A new gift must be imagined. So… back to the comfortable quiet of the practice studio until we gather again in the Spring.

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