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Terminology of music groups

On November 30th covering , ,

When I write and speak about the human dimension of music groups, I usually fall back on calling them “bands”, an unsatisfactory and misleading term. I’m afraid it leaves out a lot of people, particularly chamber musicians.

I’m about to launch a project that I call “BandStories” but I really want it to be about any music groups. My main focus is on self-led groups, though I’m also interested in the social dynamics of orchestras. It can get pretty complex in orchestras because each section has its own leadership and competition, and there are different frictions between sections.

You rockers may not know that “Chamber Music” refers to small groups that operate without a conductor, usually with one person to a part. So rock and jazz groups are technically chamber music ensembles. Having killed off the conductor, members have to wrangle with one another, which is where I got interested in the whole area. And it’s a very different experience playing in a group without a drummer. Players have to listen and follow each other very closely, whereas a group with a drummer has no choice but to follow the drummer. Or fling a beer bottle at his or her head.

Rock, jazz, and chamber groups have subtle differences but they have a great deal to learn from each other. That’s why I’m unhappy that I can’t think of a term that embraces everyone. “Small conductorless music performance ensembles” is a little unwieldy.

So I’ll be using “band” as the generic term. I hope you chamber folks don’t feel left out. And I don’t actually know what hip-hop ensembles are called… I don’t think they’re usually called “bands”.

But hey, maybe chamber groups should call themselves “bands”. The public might avoid “chamber music” because they’re afraid it will be boring, fussy stuff rather than the exciting and emotionally moving kind of music it really is.

This could revolutionize everything. All of you in piano trios and woodwind quintets and so forth… say it with me now…. “I’m in a band”. You’ll walk differently.

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Dec 1 at 19:00


Whether it’s some kids making noise next door or two trianglists and some cat rocking the harpsichord, the meaning of the word ‘band’ is wholly appropriate – a group of people coming together… UNITING… with a common goal, in this instance, creating/performing music.


Can’t think of any other way to put it… maybe it’s the ONLY way to put it.

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