I sat and listened to a quartet today practicing Beethoven. They weren't high caliber so-to-speak; simply a group of young musicians learning to read music and work together at the same time in a small environment. They were playing a relatively simple piece in the world of ensemble music, but these young ones were having a bit of trouble. They made simple mistakes consisting of not reading the notes right, or miscounting and falling behind, causing the entire quartet to falter and stumble. Their coach did not direct them with a baton, but rather sat back, giving comment occasionally, stepping in when the mistakes made were irreparable. His quiet confidence that they could eventually get it made them determined to work harder.

The first violin, second violin and cello were all students. The viola was one of the coach's helpers. The primary violinist seemed nervous at first. Very awkward and shy. She'd never been a first violin before, she said. She'd never had to start anyone before. But start she did. She also wasn't sure of which tempo to use. The coach simply gave her a promising tempo and let her sort herself out. It started out rather badly. The second violin didn't come in on time and, the second time round, came in correctly but played the wrong note. The cello played fairly decently and the violist never needed correcting.

They managed to play through the first movement or portion of their piece, though I don't know which it was because I didn't have any music. The coach stopped them, told them they did well, and then asked if they could think of any ways to make the piece (or what they'd just played) more interesting. Either shy or stumped, they simply sat there, giving no input. Their coach, not seeming in the least frustrated, told them that maybe using the dynamics would help. He hadn't heard any. To be perfectly honest, I hadn't either. It was simply a group of young musicians playing the notes on the page in front of them and trying to stay together.

They played it again and more dynamics appeared, but with the help of the coach. He would wave his arms and lean dramatically forward in his rocking chair (there were no other chairs around—just a bed, and I occupied that) simply asking for that crescendo. Then he'd, ironically, shout above the music, if one could call it that at the moment, for a decrescendo. All in all, they weren't doing much with the dynamics, though they might have thought they were. The coach pointed this out at the next pause in the music. "Overemphasize your dynamics," he told them. "Just because you think you've done something loud like the dynamic says too, you really haven't. Make your dynamic extra loud, or extra soft." They all nodded and the next time they played there was notable difference in the dynamics. Not hugely significant, but there, nonetheless. After this followed a discussion of what the marking "sf" meant. Several people knew that it stood for "sfortzando" but didn't know what that meant. Their coach was of the opinion that it was an accent. I thought it meant "sudden forte". They were inclined to agree.

Although the group did not get significantly better during their forty-five or so minutes together, I did notice a difference before the rehearsal finished. At first they had seemed timid and unsure of themselves. The first violin was not sure of herself and she didn't want to start the music. The second violin had the same problems. They all knew or had looked at their music before getting together. However, getting together and hearing all the other parts threw them for a loop. This often happens to musicians when they suddenly have to contend with other instruments, trying to make their music heard. They needed to start listening to each other. They needed to realize that their part was not the solo. All four of them had to work together as a team to make the music beautiful. Each part on its own makes no real sense. And, wonder of all wonders, while I listened, the quartet came together.

The first violin missed a beat and stumbled around for several seconds before the rest of the players realized what was going on and came from behind to help her. There was no noticeable help, but rather, the subtle pause between notes, allowing the first violin to get on her feet again and catch up. They finished the music sounding like a quartet. In the space of forty-five minutes they learned to work together and to lean on each other. Through out the rest of their practices they will learn more to lean on each other and trust each other. They will grow both musically and friendship-wise. All four of them, especially the young ones, will feel as if they have a bond. They will be able to look at each other a year after they've finished the piece and say, "That's our piece." A bond between them will grow irrevocably. Even though they did not play the same parts, they did work together to make beautiful music. The first step to that though, was learning to play together and this they are well on their way to doing.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 (New King James Version)

"Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken."