• Chris Grifa

Find your Ensemble Sound

Updated: Sep 15, 2019

Welcome to the Ensemble Sound Blog Series. The blog posts in this series are meant to help you improve your ensemble sound.


Deciding on your ensemble sound

Prior to discovering my ensemble sound example, my focus was teaching my students to use a lot of air to create a strong full sound. This resulted in a decent ensemble sound from my students, which was strong and supported. We would work on the pyramid of sound (balancing to the tubas) as well as balance within our music. My groups were playing with a good ensemble sound but lacked the clarity and pureness I would hear from groups performing at conferences like The Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic.


Randomly, I was searching through iTunes listening to band recordings when I came across recordings of the University of Houston Wind Ensemble while under the direction of Eddie Green. What struck me about these recordings was how vibrant and pure their sound was and yet at the same time I could hear every single instrument. As soon as I heard the recording of a transcription of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, I knew that this was the sound that I wanted my groups to emulate. Hearing these recording gave me a clear focus on how I wanted my groups to sound. I finally had an idea in my head that was more than just wanting my students to play with a good overall ensemble sound. My next step was to find out who Eddie Green was and how they were achieving such a vibrant sound while creating an amazing amount of clarity.


I fully understand that my middle school band will never sound like the University of Houston due to obvious reasons, but this did not stop me from learning as much as I could about Eddie Green, his teaching philosophies and applying those concepts while teaching my students. Finding those recordings started me on a path that changed how I taught my students and the results they were achieving. By working on these concepts, I have become a better teacher, my students have become better listeners, and my ensembles sound better!


Find Your Sound

There are many exemplary ensembles such as the Marine band, Navy band, the Eastman Wind Ensemble and the many other wonderful college wind ensembles. Each has a wonderful quality of sound that they achieve in their own unique way. The music of these groups is more accessible than ever as a quick search of iTunes or YouTube will show you. I would also encourage you to listen to professional recordings of full orchestras, chamber orchestras, choirs, and small ensembles. You never know when you will find the sound that “strikes a chord” with you. When you are listening, be an active listener. Ask yourself what do you like, what do you not like, what are the members of this group listening for, what instrument can you hear the most of? Question everything!


Research

When you find a groups’ sound that you like, do research on the group, the conductor and any information that you can get on how they are achieving the sound they are creating. Personally, I found out that there was a book about Eddie Green and his teachings including his own fundamentals series published by Hal Leonard (Cavitt, 2012; Green, Benzer, & Bertman, 2004). Find out as much information as you possibly can. It is important to understand what they are teaching, why they are teaching it, and how they are achieving it!


Application

Figure out how to work on achieving this sound with your ensembles. Obviously, this is the most challenging part but also the most rewarding for yourself and for your students! I had no idea that having a sound in my head would completely change my approach to teaching my students. It opened up so many new ideas and possibilities! Ask yourself, “what do I want my ensembles to sound like?”


References


Cavitt, M. E. (2012). On teaching band: Notes from Eddie Green. Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Corporation.


Green, E., Benzer, J., & Bertman, D. (2004). Essential musicianship for band: Ensemble Concepts. Miluakee, WI: Hall Leonard Corporation.