Five Tips for Contemporary Chamber Music-Making: Amanda Ross

This week’s Five Things Friday is from trumpeter Amanda Ross, on her experiences with her contemporary chamber ensemble, Girlnoise. Thanks to Amanda for sharing her thoughts with us!

Amanda Performs with her chamber ensemble, Girlnoise

Girlnoise is an mixed chamber ensemble specializing in contemporary music and improvisation. Founded in 2015 in Ann Arbor, MI Girlnoise has collaborated with several local composers and musicians and has performed at UMMA, Canterbury House, and University of Michigan’s School of Music. In January 2017 Girlnoise held its first collective gathering, Meditation on Water, to help raise awareness for the Flint Water Crisis. As well as playing trumpet and arranging for Girlnoise, Amanda Ross is a doctoral student in trumpet at the University of Michigan.

1. Collaborate with everyone. Work with artists both in and out of your area of performance, artistic discipline (dance, visual art, language), and experience level.  Interacting with people of varying backgrounds opens up options for projects and repertoire and engages more members of the community.  As a brass player I did not work extensively with woodwinds and strings on the chamber music level until the formation of Girlnoise, which is an open ensemble with a core group of flute, saxophone, trumpet, and cello.  In learning repertoire written for our group and improvising together (see number 2 and 4) we were posed with the challenge to negotiate how all of these colors and timbres would fit into a cohesive unit. It opened up our ears to a completely different realm of sonic possibilities.  We also made quite a few friends along the way; the more people you work with the larger your community becomes.

2. Commission new repertoire, choose works from unfamiliar and new artists. As much as it is important to be open about collaboration in performance it is also important to be open about the performance and creation of repertoire.  Talk to local artists and composers, your friends, and within the ensemble to find/create a body of works that reflects the identity of the group.  Arrange pieces if not available for your instrumentation.  Finding work that already exists can be a challenge, especially if it isn’t a standard ensemble.  Don’t be discouraged!  Looking at line ups from new music festivals and concerts are great research starting points.  Some music festivals with up and coming artists include Strange Beautiful Music, Bang on a Can, and Nief-Norf.

3. Play for everyone. If you are in school and work regularly with faculty members in coachings reach out to teachers in other disciplines.  This could mean that they play a different instrument, play no instrument at all, or work within a completely different area of study all together.  Branching out gives the ensemble a chance to practice performing, connect with the community, and further establish and solidify the identity of the group.  You can learn from anyone and everyone!

4. Improvise regularly. Improvising as an ensemble is one of the core foundations of Girlnoise, and one of our recent performances had a large portion being completely improvised.  While the methodology of improvisation can vary, its benefits are consistent” or something along those lines  Improvising improves communication on both at a verbal and nonverbal level, enables exploration of your group’s individual “sonic fingerprint” and helps individual musicians hone their technique and aural skills within the group environment.

5. Perform often and for everyone. Embrace any and all opportunities to perform.  School recitals are a great performance outlet however local businesses, schools, churches, co-ops, retirement homes, street corners, a friend’s attic/basement, and open fields are all examples of nontraditional performance spaces.  Working both inside and outside of the traditional recital format can expand the number of people you reach.  Outreach concerts, open improvisation and meditation gatherings, benefit concerts, sound painting workshops, and pop up performances are just a few examples of possible concert formats.  Your imagination and inspiration are the limit!  Record every performance with both audio and video if possible any media collected can be used as promotional material and/or material for group evaluation.

Music is about connecting with others, sharing our experiences, and opening our ears, hearts and minds to others and the world around us. Embracing these connections not only enhances the music-making experience, but (and arguably more importantly) it helps us form a communities of artists and allies. These communities, both large and small, help open lines of communication and create opportunities for us to meet new artists. Personally, if I did not have the community of musicians that I have here at Michigan, I don’t know where I would be. They have given me and Girlnoise the fortitude and courage to “do our own thing”; because of this freedom to be who we are we have created sounds, spaces, and friends that we never would have had otherwise. This article is dedicated to them, thank you all for your unyielding support.

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