Playing With Others Pt. II

This guest blog comes to us from Adam Marks of the Fifth House Ensemble.  You can read part one of Playing With Others here. Also, be sure to check out the Fifth House Ensemble online.  Members from the Ensemble will be contributing from time to time around these parts, so get to know them and then when they post, you can say “hey!  I know them!”

Here’s Adam:


One of the most important aspects of creation in the arts is collaboration. Though people do work in isolation, the most powerful performances in my memory are all products of intriguing partnerships. And yet, some of the biggest train wrecks that have ever graced a stage were also the products of collaboration, so what makes the difference?

1. Start with great music played masterfully.

Audiences are very, very sensitive to imbalanced art. If the music is less than stellar, it detracts from the performance immediately. Performers must love what they’re playing, and be invested in the repertoire selection process. Similarly, you can never treat another art form as stage make-up for bad work. It’s easy to underestimate preparation time, but start early, and rehearse often. By the time you begin to incorporate the other aspects of the final performance, the music should be concert ready.

2. Find partners with musicality.

Collaborators don’t need to be musicians, and don’t even necessarily need to be well-versed in the repertoire you’d like to present, but they have to be musical. A good collaborator knows how to listen, and wants to talk about the tone, shifting moods, and story of a good piece. A great way to start a dialogue with a potential partner is by listening together and discussing personal reactions to a specific piece of music.

3. Be a good audience member.

If you want your collaborator (and audience) to appreciate your final product, you need to familiarize yourself with different types of art as well. School yourself on the media of your collaborator, so that you can have an educated dialogue about their work.

4. Trust.

It’s hard to do… really hard. We’ve all spent years developing a hearty self-confidence, but nobody can control everything. If you’ve selected the right partners, you need to let them control their aspect of the work. Keep an eye on the final product, but give a bit of yourself over to the bigger cause. If you absolutely need to, get an impartial eye to check it out. Make sure that this person is independent of either discipline, so as to avoid bias. See what the reaction is, and talk about possible revisions as an entire team.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t share at least one stellar example, and to illustrate these points, we can look at one of my favorite interdisciplinary works, “Falling Down Stairs,” Mark Morris’ modern dance set to Yo-Yo Ma’s performance of Bach’s C major Cello Suite.

In this piece, you can enjoy it with your eyes closed. The music is graceful, gritty, powerful, and earnest. Yo-Yo presents it with a finesse rare even among the highest echelon of performers. But when you open your eyes, you can see incredible work by Mark Morris. Though Mark is not a musician, he clearly understands structure, line, and counterpoint. When you watch the film version of this piece, you can see Yo-Yo delight in the dancing that surrounds him. When it comes to the actual process of creating this masterpiece, I have no idea what the dynamic between Yo-Yo and Mark was. I do know, however, they they both did some of the best work of their own careers.

So the next time you’re considering a partnership or interdisciplinary work, think about if you are ready to commit to this lengthy process. It’s always more work than a solo show, but when done right, it can expand your abilities, your audience, and your experience as a performer.


Adam is the pianist and Director of Artistic Programming for Fifth House Ensemble. For more information, please visit www.fifth-house.com. Like what you read here? For more music entrepreneurship tidbits, visit www.playingclosetothebridge.wordpress.com, brought to you by members of 5HE.

Creative Commons License
Resource Center for Arts Entrepreneurs by Entrepreneur The Arts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.EntrepreneurTheArts.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.EntrepreneurTheArts.com.