Mystery Lovers


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Ensemble Techniques

Personal, Musical, Professional and Emotional Connections


Every player, regardless of style or experience level, will eventually find himself in a position where he will either want or need to play with other musicians in an ensemble setting. This can be in a blues band, with a string quartet, as part of a metal outfit or as an accompanist with another instrument or singer. People outside the business of making music have a number of misconceptions about playing with others. Unfortunately many musicians harbor these same misconceptions and bring them along with them to the ensemble. Knowing what we want to do with ourselves as performers and having a plan to achieve our desires is paramount in importance. Our goal as musicians shouldn't be to blindly throw ourselves into the business with the thought that we'll more than likely be ground up and spat back out. Our goal is to rise above the poseurs and achieve something grander, be it artistically or financially. I'd like to relate some hard-learned lessons and some common sense, then team them all up with some basic ensemble performance technique.




Part One

The Emotions


"It don't matter who you're playin' with as long as you're playin' with somebody..." -- Del Paxton


Have you ever seen the movie That Thing You Do? One of the characters, Del Paxton, an older and fairly successful black jazz musician, gives this advise to Guy Patterson, a young drummer with stars in his eyes and a few professional disillusionments beginning to sprout. Yeah, it's only a movie, but whoever wrote this screenplay had some pretty good thoughts.


Guy: "We've been together two months now."

Del: "With some bands I've been in, that was two months too long."

Seems like a contradictory thought to what he'd said previously about just keeping oneself out there playing. It isn't. It is one thing to play out and jam with lots of different musicians, it is quite another to 'get into bed' with them for a long haul.


"Get a second-hand guitar
Chances are you'll go far
If you get in with the right bunch of fellows"

BTO Takin' Care of Business

Yup. And that is the thing that so few of us understand -- how it is done -- getting in with the right bunch of fellows. How do many fledgling bands start? Usually, it's a bunch of guys in High School. And it's teenage boys, testosterone driven and fairly undeveloped responsibility-wise that start (and finish!) the most bands. They'll be friends (or at the very least classmates) and have an interest in music. Talent? Not considered. Ability? Usually lacking. These are the guys who bug their parents for a guitar, bass or drums for Christmas, find that it isn't as easy to make music as it looks on FUSE or MTV and go on to successful lives as realtors, lawyers or something more socially acceptable like dealing drugs in a school zone. Now let's say this "band" gets passed this phase and actually presses in to rudimentarily learn their instruments. They've gotten a bit further, but let's take a closer look at them

When I list 'emotions' as a factor in ensemble success, some might think that peoples' inner feelings and desires have nothing to do with the success of the music. Not true. Music is so deeply rooted in our emotions that anything can and will color the musical output. Hasn't anyone's job or other relationships suffered whilst the person has gone through a nasty divorce, a major illness or a death in the family? These are extreme examples, but I know that for me an argument with the wife makes me play much differently than when all is light, soft breezes and rose petals. This is a minor example. Now of course the musician must channel their emotions into the music when the music requires it. However, emotions play a role. plus or minus, positive or negative, within the ensemble experience itself. In other -- and simpler -- terms, what the emotional expectations are ("We're all gonna be rock stars!' 'This'll never make us any money.' 'I just wanna score chicks.') will most certainly decide the direction the ensemble will take. This even gets down to the finer points like 'we don't need to practice so much, we're good enough.' That is bullcrap, no one is ever good enough to practice less -- only the wannabes, not the real players. See? Emotional commitment has already separated the wannabes and poseurs from the players.

All members of the ensemble, be it a duo, quartet, five piece metal band or a symphony orchestra. must, Must, MUST be on the same emotional page when it comes to expectation of outcome as well as what it will take to accomplish it. The ensemble will struggle (and probably not succeed) to get past the expectations of its least dedicated member. The car can't go as far or fast with one flat tire, right?

So how do you find the right bunch of fellows? It's all in the art of conversation. Before you ever hear a note they play, you must hear the content of their soul. What does music mean to them? Is music a way to meet babes? Is music a neat hobby? Do they think they're good enough and don't need to practice as much as they did when learning the instrument. [That's a dead giveaway of a poseur. No real musician ever feels the need to stop growing artistically. Any musician who thinks he's arrived...well, he's probably right in a sick way. He's arrived at the end of any further growth.] Does the potential ensemble member look upon music as a pleasant pastime away from his 'real' job? We all like playing music better than our day job. What I mean is this: Is the day job what he'd prefer to do for the rest of his life?

You say you're a professional musician with the passion and desire to make music your career. Be certain of this yourself. You can't assess others if you are disingenuous with yourself. Okay? A wise man once told me that If anything can dissuade or discourage you from being a professional musician, let it. There's a great deal of truth there. Of course, there will be momentary setbacks and frustrations, but if you can't deal with, well, dealing with these things, maybe insurance sales really is for you. Make sure potential partners in the ensemble are like-minded. That's the crux. There's even a scripture in the New Testament about the power of everyone 'being in one accord' which is nothing to do with Honda's fine products, but about the power derived from unity. And in music, you'll need all the unity and the power it can provide.

Everyone in the ensemble must be on the same page as far as:

1.) What the goal of the ensemble is. (I only came for the nookey, Good Bar band, Recording and touring, Being bigger than the Beatles.)

2.) How far all will go to succeed. (Two evenings a week, Every night and all weekend. "I'm quitting my job to practice 24/7.")

3.) What you all will cope with to succeed. (I don't mind missing some sleep, I don't mind spending some money, My family think I'm a bit off,. Divorce isn't too much to bear for the sake of art, I'll either succeed or die trying!)

4.) How hard we are all willing to work. ('I've got to stop, I've got a little blister on my finger', My hand is bleeding, but I want to keep going. Who's got the crazy glue? )

Now realize this. One doesn't wake up one morning saying "I'm gonna be bigger than the Beatles so I'm going to quit my job and practice even if it ends in divorce, starvation and death -- or until the crazy glue dries up!" It's a disease that comes on progressively, though sometimes rather quickly. This is why people come and go in bands -- more is expected of them than they're willing to invest. [And sometimes they leave because they're willing to invest more than the others!] Do your darndest to make sure you'll have the highest member retention rate and find out how and who people are emotionally as soon as possible.

Part Two: Rehearsal and Performance Etiquette


  LOW END  By Harry George Pellegrin.  The first in the Gary Morrissey series of mysteries.  Dealing with modern subject matter in the classic style of the 1940's Mystery Noire masters--think Raymond Chandler in New York in the 1980's...  LOW END is the story of a drug addict who is murdered after he believes he has found evidence of a major government conspiracy.  Is it only drug-induced paranoia?  Might be, except his paranoia could be considered justified: he was murdered, after all.  Friend Gary Morrissey takes it upon himself to find out just what happened and lands himself in the crosshairs.
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Classic Guitar Method  Composed, written, transcribed, edited and arranged by Harry G. Pellegrin: Now in one volume, much of what the novice classical guitarist will need to know to lead him or her to the recital stage. From proper instrument care and maintenance to the necessary technical skills, musical mind-set, and the standard repertoire—all exposed and explored with enough detail and insight that the student will wish to keep this book handy years to come as a ready reference source.
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DEEP END: The Wreck of the Eddie Fitz  By Harry George Pellegrin. A mystery novel. Involving a semi-professional musician and a Kreyol death cult, DEEP END takes the reader from the bottom of Long Island Sound to the steamy streets and Blues clubs of New Orleans. Alternative spirituality does battle with the common working man.  Published by PAB Entertainment Group in association with
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Deep End is the exciting sequel to the first Gary Morrissey novel Low End. Spanning the gap between Haiti, New York and New Orleans, Deep End is an exciting tale of smuggling, rock n' roll, love and murder.


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