My Rehearsal Room: Ensemble 642

My Rehearsal Room: Ensemble 642

Audience development in the early music world. 

Ensemble 642
Melbourne, Australia

My Rehearsal Room: Ensemble 642

Audience development in the early music world. 

Formed in 2016, Ensemble 642 is Hannah Lane (early harps) and Nick Pollock (theorbo, lutes, baroque guitar). As two of the few young Australian early-plucked-string players the ensemble is united by their passion for historically informed performance and the art of basso continuo (the practice of improvising on a bass line in baroque music). As 642 they create dynamic performances of repertoire from the late 16th-early 18th centuries in collaboration with the finest Australian early music specialists.

All our best ideas for programming happen at the pub. This is something that happened early on before we became an ensemble when we discovered that we both enjoy spending large amounts of time over a beer talking excitedly about early music. Now it’s become a celebratory ritual that we partake in after we’ve spent hours in the library or online searching for music, tossing ideas around, or reading through seventeenth-century manuscripts to hear how they sound.

This social dynamic is an important part of our working relationship. When you spend large amounts of time with someone who is not, say, your partner or your best friend, you need to take the time to develop a rapport along with a healthy sense of mutual respect, both professionally and personally. Making music with someone is an intensely personal activity, which requires trust, openness and most importantly a good sense of humour and the ability to laugh at yourself!

These qualities are also something we look for in choosing our collaborators. Especially the good sense of humour since they need to be able to laugh at our terrible jokes! Being a great musician is only part of the equation in an industry that is built on relationships. As a basso continuo ensemble, collaboration is fundamental to what we do so we like to work with musicians who share our openness to musical experimentation, intellectual curiosity, dedication to historical performance practice, and profound love of the baroque repertoire and aesthetic. 

We formed Ensemble 642 in early 2016 and viewed our first year as an experiment in working together; we were totally open to the idea of failure, which is an important aspect of any creative pursuit! 2016 was sort of flying-by-the-seat-of-our-pants and figuring things out as we went along. We knew we wanted to focus on specific repertoire which we wouldn’t have the opportunity to perform elsewhere and we knew who we wanted to collaborate with so we went from there. We ended up having an incredibly active year with both self-presented concerts and external bookings. The process for producing a concert goes something like this: Decide on repertoire and a concept, confirm the involvement of any guest artists, find and book a suitable venue, do a budget so you know you can pay your overheads, pay any guest artists, and pay yourself (even if you decide that initially paying yourself constitutes the price of a pint at your local pub!). It's also important to publicise the concert well in advance and through a variety of different channels to ensure that you have an audience, prepare written material for printed programs if you need them, and finally rehearse and perform your concert (which trust us, will seem like a walk in the park after you’ve done all the other things!).

In our first year, we did things like stay up until 4am the night before a concert to complete program notes or book a venue that was great... apart from the fact that it was in a location, no one could find, which halved our audience! We learned the hard way that project management, administration, marketing, and publicity take a lot of time and energy. You need to build that into the timeline for your project so you can focus on the music when you need to. Our first year of working together also taught us how to be good colleagues, as our individual freelance careers are developing in parallel to our work as an ensemble. We are firm believers in the idea of coopetition as opposed to competition: together we are stronger! This doesn’t mean that you have to like everyone or be completely uncritical but it does mean that you should learn to celebrate each other's successes and be supportive when someone hits a bump in the road.

As the first concert of our 2017 series approaches, we are thinking a lot about audience development. Audiences for our self-presented concerts in our first year mainly consisted of friends, family, colleagues, and members of Melbourne’s dedicated early music community. We’ve all heard the cliché that ‘classical music is dead’ and seen the statistics showing that the typical audience member is over sixty. We find baroque music to be utterly compelling and we want to share this with as many people as possible regardless of age. However, we do understand that there are certain barriers prohibiting younger people from attending concerts. We know this because we have experienced those barriers ourselves. With this in mind, we decided to reduce the price of our student tickets for our 2017 concert series to make them more accessible and we are aiming to market more directly to students. We’re performing in the easily accessible and intimate venue of the beautiful Medley Hall music room in Carlton, providing great wine for our audience to enjoy, and leaving any stuffy concert hall conventions at the door.

At the moment there is a real sense of growth and energy in the early music scene in Australia and it is exciting to be able to contribute to that as part of the new generation of ‘HIP-sters’! While the specialised nature of our instruments does, at the moment, make it necessary for us to pursue further study overseas, we are extremely fortunate to benefit from the generosity of various mentors and artistic role models in Australia, many of whom are now also our colleagues. There’s nothing more rewarding than being in a rehearsal or performance with someone you really look up to and seeing their eyes light up at the same time at yours.

Ensemble 642 presents Song of Songs with guest artist Roberta Diamond, soprano.7pm Friday 12 May at Medley Hall, 48 Drummond St, Carlton. Complimentary wine provided by Hurley Vineyard. Tickets $40 adult/$10 student via Trybooking or at the door.