Starting a Community Ensemble
Starting a community band or choir from the ground up can be daunting. From gauging whether or not there is enough interest in the area to where to hold rehearsals, there is a list a mile long of important things to remember. However, having a community ensemble is an important group for musicians of all ages! There are many people out there who are looking for a way to connect with others and polish an old skill who would be amazing to work with. Plus, there is no feeling quite like being the one to bring people together who otherwise would not have met.
Here are some things to think about on your journey:
An ensemble cannot function alone on a couple of flute players and a trumpet or two. Recruiting may feel uncomfortable for some and downright impossible if you are new to the area. A good first step would be to reach out to the local high schools. Speaking with the directors there will give you a good idea of where to start and how much interest there may be in the area. It is possible that they have been thinking of starting an ensemble, but have been too busy! Directors can introduce you to some students that they think may be a good fit, or they may have a compiled list of alumni in the area. Either way, building and maintaining rapport with local directors is always a must!
Another way to recruit is to put up flyers or other ways of advertising your group. Setting up a Facebook group for your ensemble is easy and gives prospective members a landing page for information. Encourage current members to share an introduction message to their friends and tag those that they may think are interested (this is how we found out about our community ensemble!). Flyers in the post office and other local businesses where they are allowed will do a fine job of spreading the word to those who may not have access to social media.
Having a place to rehearse is one of the biggest factors to consider when beginning an ensemble. If you are a band director at a school and are able to use your band room, this is probably not an issue. As for everyone else, ask around at local churches and see if they have available space that you could borrow or rent. Use your members or their family for help in this area! The space does not need to be specially made for ensembles, but it should be large enough for your group to comfortably fit. As always, BE RESPECTFUL! Whatever space you end up using, make sure that it is treated kindly and left with the specifications of the owner. For our ensemble, we have a connection at a local church and we take in donations to help pay for the electricity and heating that we use. The room is used for Bible study, so we make sure to place the tables and chairs back the way they were when we are finished.
Without much, or any, money to get started, sourcing music can be difficult. Luckily, there are some solutions thanks to the age of the internet! Many marches are open source, which means that you do not need to pay for the piece of music. We have personally used imslp.org. When using a site that has open source music, it is important to ensure that it has the proper instrumentation. Within IMSLP there are tools that will help you find pieces that have the instrumentation that you are looking for (click here to start your search). Also, cross reference whether it comes with a score (reduced or otherwise) and that the different parts are in the correct key.
Some schools, including local universities, may be willing to loan or rent a piece of music to your ensemble. There are also companies who will rent pieces of music out, but these are typically for ones that are no longer in print. If you do buy some pieces, it is recommended to consult with your ensemble to get an idea of what they are interested in playing. Not all requests can be fulfilled, but asking is better so that members can create more feelings of ownership of the group. If you have members who have a favorite piece, they can also buy it and donate to the group. An average modern piece with score and parts will typically run between $60-150.
A note on what to play:
If you already have a list of what you would like to perform, that’s wonderful! Keep in mind that the community ensemble will likely be playing in front of audiences who may not know or know how to appreciate less known pieces. It is a good rule of thumb to sprinkle in some more recognizable music that is enjoyable to listen to. Medleys are great, but they can be expensive. Make sure to vet each one! In our experience, it is important to have good transitions between songs and to make sure that the songs are well known.
Where to Source Instruments:
When it comes to sourcing large instruments and percussion, the issue of money may come up again. Please note that when purchasing for the ensemble that funds earned or donated to the ensemble must be used. If someone would like to purchase an item and then donate it, create a receipt so that both parties are aware of where the ownership of the item lies.
As ever, asking around at the local schools will be a good option. However, many older members may already have their own large instruments if they are looking into playing in an ensemble. Percussion equipment does not need to be extensive when just starting out. A snare drum, some type of cymbal, and a bass drum are the bare necessities. Check Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for equipment on a budget. Encourage members to ask around their contacts for other pieces of equipment.
Once the band owns equipment, it is important to have a storage place and someone who is able to transport large items to rehearsals and performances. This does not have to rest on the shoulders of one person, but make sure there is a system in place so that everyone has what they need to be able to play. Music stands are an expense that the band does not need to pay for if each member is required to bring their own. However, it is handy to have one or two extra in case someone forgets to bring theirs! Chairs should already be a part of the rehearsal space, but are another item that may need to be sourced if the ensemble plays extensively outdoors.
You can do this!
Getting started is the hardest part, so take each step in stride and try not to be overwhelmed by the amount of items on your checklist! Creating a solid system of leadership within the band is crucial for success. It is not possible for one person to do everything on their own without considerable stress. Grab a buddy to take this journey with you and don’t be afraid to delegate to those who are willing to help. Often people want to help but do not know how.
In a similar vein, do not forget to have confidence in yourself! Make sure you have a baton in hand that inspires you to bring out the best in your ensemble members (check out some great options here). Click here to learn more about the most effective way to retain members. Best of luck, and remember that you started this group to bring enjoyment to the community!