Collaboration and Touring: SIJE On The Road
The Sound Investment Jazz Ensemble began a novel project during the 2011-2012 year, working with the Amherst College Jazz Ensemble and The Rivers School Big Band. The collaboration culminated in highly successful concerts at all three schools.
In 1961, the Duke Ellington Orchestra and the Count Basie Orchestra cut an album, titled First Time! The Count Meets the Duke, on which the bands played simultaneously. This project inspired a collaboration with the Amherst College Jazz Ensemble in the fall of 2011. In a distinctive concert, the two bands played a couple of tunes together, in addition to each band performing works from its own repertoire. Middlebury students got a chance to hear their peers play. They became more serious about their work. As a result, the quality of our six subsequent performances improved significantly.
After the Amherst visit, we realized that another meeting of the two bands would build momentum for both bands. We also envisioned that similar collaborative work with a high school band could be both an valuable project and powerful recruiting tool for Middlebury. The Rivers School, a prestigious prep school in Weston, MA, and its well-regarded Rivers Conservatory Program, was interested in working with us.
With commitments from Amherst and Rivers in place, financial support for a tour was secured from various College sources. Planning and rehearsing for the tour intensified.
In April, 2012, we traveled to Amherst and offered a second collaborative concert. We found opportunities to further integrate our work, and doubled the number of tunes that the bands played simultaneously. The concert was well-received by an usually-large audience.
After an evening of social activities with the Amherst band, we moved to The Rivers School for yet another successful event. The two bands collaborated on a couple of tunes as part of the concert, which also featured selections by each group. The Middlebury band turned in a high-energy, tight performance. The Rivers students were eager and excited to work with us.
The year’s collaborative work and the tour were inspiring and invigorating. We look forward to expanding the project—working with additional schools and continuing to tour regionally. We’ve also begun exploring ways to expand our horizons.
A sample of student voices:
“Our jazz ensemble trip to Amherst and Rivers was an amazing experience. We were able to play away from our usual setting, for new people, while still being united as a group from Middlebury College. Not only did the trip force us to practice harder than ever in order to prove ourselves to the Amherst band, but we also got the chance to act as representatives of our school, and hopefully made a difference in the future academic and musical choices that some students at Rivers may make. But the most important part of the trip, and what made it most fun, is that we got to be a band on tour, if only for a few days. The connection we made as a group during concerts, bus trips, and just hanging out is something that no amount of practice sessions could replace. The jazz tour was an excellent idea, and I hope we are able to do it again in the near future—perhaps to an even wider audience over a greater period of time.”
“I think just like sports, being a part of a music program involves teamwork, and being on the road, schlepping gear from place to place definitely builds that attitude. It also is more rewarding after the show having put in the traveling and the work to make it happen. My final remark would be that playing outside of Middlebury made me really excited about music. I think playing within our college is great, but bringing it into an entirely new environment makes me happy to know that what we're doing here, in rehearsal or in practice rooms on our own time, is relevant and meaningful to people outside our campus.”
The tour was a memorable experience. With the impetus of playing at other schools, members of the SIJE stepped up their individual practice and their investment in rehearsals. As a result, the band played significantly better than before our collaborative performances. One Amherst student said, with a degree of surprise, “It’s really not the same band we played with in October!” He was right. I can’t imagine the trip, itself, or the outcome being any better.