Find the right musicians to form an ongoing group, with similar goals, musical values, and a shared sense of what is “musical”

Finding the people to form a long-term, high-level ensemble is like dating and marriage: you need to be compatible in a number of different ways. That first blush of playing together may be great, but over the long haul things can get difficult.

The points below may all sound very basic and obvious, but often cause huge problems for ensembles at all levels.

There are a number of things to look for in coming together as a performing group. I believe it is important for each member of the ensemble to be respected by all the other members for their technical and musical abilities.

Generally, all members should be at about the same level. Yes, each player will have particular strengths and weaknesses, and that should add to the flavor of the group. However, if it is perceived that some players are holding the music back, that can be a recipe for disaster.

Common Goals

  • Musically, there should be agreement about what music to perform. It is important to talk about this and come to a common vision. This understanding will guide many of your future decisions about where to perform and how to market the ensemble. If one member wants to specialize in the ‘standard’ classical repertoire, while another really wants to play mostly ragtime, for example, this can cause problems.
  • We all have musical tastes — how to play a particular phrase, pet peeves artistically — and while some creative tension can be a good thing, in general it helps to have agreement here as well.
  • Time commitment. The level of involvement should be agreed upon by all. While groups should grow together, if everyone has a different expectation, trouble will ensue. As careers begin, members may well have to split their attention to the group with the necessity to supplement their incomes with outside work. 
  • Scope of career. Is this a part-time group? Is it restricted in terms of when travel can occur? What amount of performers' professional time is spent outside of this ensemble? If ensemble members have significant disagreements about the scope of the group there is no agreement on what "success" will be. On the other hand, a common vision here will go a long way toward group happiness.