When we finished our studies in London, we wanted to continue playing at a really high standard without falling into the path that orchestral instrumentalists often take following graduation – fellowships, trials, auditions. We’d all had prior experience in creating chamber music and had played in this ensemble (flute, cello, piano) before and thought that the ensemble could be a great opportunity to build on that. Honestly, we didn’t have to think too hard about starting the trio, we just jumped in! We’ve since found a lot of great music so we’re committed to making it work. When we first decided to go ahead with the trio we searched all the dark corners of the internet for recordings and repertoire – and we found a lot of terrible recordings! We then made a list of pieces including previous standards we’d performed before, then we searched fairly hard for other repertoire. Most of the music we found was written by little known composers but it turned out that there was a lot of interesting music for us to explore. So far, we’ve had a lot of positive feedback from audience members commenting on the pieces and composers that they’ve heard for the first time at a Taimana performance. I think the biggest struggle we have then, is to convince people to come along in the first place, because we know that once they hear it, they’ll like it!
Basically, we do our best to program works from composers that people will be familiar with alongside some more obscure works that we’d like to introduce them to, and try and pull audiences that way. We also do a lot of duo works – flute and cello sonatas in particular. If there’s a Brahms Sonata on the menu, that often encourages people to come along!
The hardest thing about setting up an ensemble is not the playing – it’s all those extra things that they don’t teach you at university: all the business skills. It’s been a steep learning curve and has involved lots of time on government websites looking for business information. In hindsight, the time we’ve spent doing all of our own design and marketing work has given us a leg up in the world of modern music careers so we do have the skills we need to do to achieve our goals. You wouldn’t necessarily develop those skills if you were going along a traditional career path, because you wouldn’t need them in many cases. We think that branching out and learning to do things for yourself affords you a bigger learning opportunity.
These days, there are many young ensembles, and it’s really heartening to see so many people taking initiative and setting up their own projects. Ensemble work, though, is difficult to make a living from and you need something else going on to pay the bills – maybe that’s where the idea of a portfolio career comes in. People supplement that interest and passion for ensemble work with other activities, either in or out of the music industry.
All of us teach fairly extensively and we all do freelance work. We’re all generally quite centred around music on a day to day basis, and as such, we’re all serious about how we approach the ensemble. We’ve had the experience in the past of collaborating with friends and not treating it in a professional way, which often makes you lose the focus and intensity that treating it like a job affords you. We work on a per concert basis, and all the necessary marketing and administration happens in the lead up to that performance. I guess what it means is that we’re very focussed, because we have to be! Time is a luxury that we don’t have access to and when it comes to performance time, we have a job to do and we want to put on the best concert that we can while presenting a very professional image.
Because time is limited, we all turn up to the first rehearsal with the parts very much prepared – we’ve individually taken the time to understand the stylistic elements of each piece and put together some ideas as well. We’re very conscious of making the most of our short lead time. Our priority, particularly at the beginning of the preparation process, is slow work – it helps us find out where things are at and gives us a sense of the structure. We revert back to slow work when things aren’t quite clicking as well. If we’re practicing a particularly complex passage, there’s often one thing that’s anchoring that section, so we try and identify that aspect and use it to help us stay together. Also, not enough can be said for just playing through a passage a few more times! When you’re playing in any kind of ensemble, your brain is going at a million miles an hour, and often just playing a passage the second or third time might fix thing that initially went wrong. We didn’t realise that until after our studies – rather than “fixing things’ immediately, we take some time and try again. With practice, we’re learning what to grab hold of.
The biggest thing we’ve learnt is the importance of listening carefully. And if we could start again? We’d remember to start the work sooner! Every new performance we work on, we’re slightly more organised. This time around we have all of our design work done and ready to go, which frees up time to actually concentrate on the playing. If you’re prepared and have done as much of the menial administrative tasks as possible, you can go away and focus on the most important bit – the music.
Taimana Ensemble presents Vivacity at St Mary’s Anglican Church at 3pm on Sunday August 20. Tickets available here.