Insight: When an ensemble really gels and their performance is organic and alive, you’ll hear “That band has great chemistry.” “Chemistry,” is so essential and is so broad a term, it’s nearly synonymous with “group mind.”
An ensemble that has chemistry:
- Anticipates: each member has enough familiarity with each others’ tendencies as to be able to anticipate what they’ll do next (like being able to complete each others’ sentences.) Any musical moment is stronger when what comes before it sets that moment up. Familiarity means individual members can set up what comes next from other members.
- Listens: simply put, you can’t interact if you are in your own world. Chemistry requires each member connecting simultaneously with their inner voice, the piece at hand and the rest of the ensemble.
- Has common ground: shared musical sensibilities, gravitating toward similar styles of music and interpretation of phrases, cadences, harmonic treatment, rhythmic variations etc., perhaps from having a similar musical education.
- Is reciprocal: there is a give and take. Call it hospitality – making room for other voices while honoring one’s own.
- More concretely, each member bases what they play on what they hear both externally and internally. “Externally” meaning the here-and-now sounds coming from the other members as well as the palette of possibilities of the piece. “Internally” meaning one’s inner creative impulses refined by the musical disciplines like mastery of the instrument and an understanding of the style of the piece.
- Also includes members’ good working sense of how their instrument contributes to the whole – of the breadth and limits of their role in the ensemble and the piece at hand.
- Balances individual and group concerns: there is room for both individuality and unity. “Speaking as one” but not to the point of losing one’s individuality. Not insisting on one’s individuality to the point of reducing the performance to a clamor of individuals competing for attention.