Derived from the Latin collaborate, collaborate literally means to "labor with," to work together. Collaborative performances in the arts are nothing new, but the term in music is, in fact, relatively new. Making music together is the art of discovering and creating beauty with others while transforming our audiences as we transform ourselves. As a performer, it's been a privilege to share special moments on and off stage with inspired partners and ensembles throughout my life. Memories of wonderfully motivating teachers and superb partnerships bring special joy to mind. Some mesmerizing performances I've enjoyed conjure obvious questions: What makes them unforgettable? How do musicians reach "that enchanting space"? Answering these questions for the student, we point out that artists nurture their talent through practice, constantly searching for the ideal sound, ease of playing and fine-tuned reading and listening skills. Ensemble practice enhances the capacity to capture and synchronize one's pulse with someone else's, and through the discipline of constantly having to listen to each other, it further develops the musical ear.
How do we, as teachers and music lovers, help develop that special ability in other musicians who want to share in the musical experience? The teacher must be a source of inspiration, an example, constantly improving his or her craft. One can't share what one doesn't have. The teacher must know and be empowered by the knowledge that music has the capacity to affect all human responses and will enrich the lives of anyone touched by it. The teacher must create an ideal learning and teaching environment. This environment becomes as valuable as the lessons, per se.
The ideal learning environment includes the family as a support system that applauds the child's accomplishments. Parents and teacher collaborate, not only to coordinate the weekly lesson, but the wise teacher also will engage the family in the musical life of the community. It is impossible to teach music in a vacuum; we must live it. Attending live performances must become part of the musical education to familiarize the student with the language of music. A student's first learning steps need to include "emulation" through the performance of duets or simple ensemble pieces with the teacher. Ensemble practice is essential in the development of any musician; it is an integral part of most instrumentalists' training, but it is not always present in the pianist's experience. Early collaborative experience will improve reading and listening skills, as well as rhythmic organization. Training that includes ensemble experience, accompanying, playing and singing paves the way for successful collaborative experiences, including orchestral performance. I have applied these elements when developing my college courses for pianists and other instrumentalists. There's no doubt they were challenging, but the results merited the effort.
In 1995, I had the opportunity to develop a competition for the Maryland State Music Teachers Association. Choosing to name it the Chamber Music Festival and Competition, I saw it as an opportunity to combine performance experience, enjoyment and appreciation for the considerable amount of work that teachers and students devote to the preparation of the challenging repertory required for participation. Competitions should fit into the learning equation only as positive experiences for the student, meant primarily to help in performance exposure and repertoire development. In the Chamber Music Festival and Competition, ensembles not only play, but also must listen to their peers. Parents and teachers participate in a similar manner. Thus, we have an appreciative, supportive and interested audience. Every year, the variety of compositions and performances we hear never ceases to surprise us. The most rewarding aspect of the festival is witnessing how students mature through the years. Ensemble work at a young age is not easy, but the dedication of all involved makes miracles unfold every year.
Nancy Roldan, D.M.A., is the president of the American Liszt Society, Baltimore Washington Chapter, Garrison Piano Competition chair, and has been on the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory since 1976. A recording artist and performer, she also presents Wellness in Performance Workshops.