Small Ensemble Balance

Small Ensemble Balance

Hi, I am in a rural area in Canada, so there aren’t many opportunities to play Celtic/Irish music. I am in a group right now, we have a Violin, Cello, Accordion/piano and Whistle/Bodhran - the instruments with the slash, of course means one person plays both, so we can’t play them at the same time lol. We were all somewhat beginners when we started (although 2 of us are professional classical musicians, just on different instruments). We have had singers over the years, but they have fallen by the wayside, and so we are now strictly instrumental. Before Covid, we were getting about a gig a month, which wasn’t too bad considering we live in such a rural area! Anyway, that’s a bit of background.

We are possibly losing our violin player as she will be off to have a baby! However, we’re not sure if she will be back. So that means we may be down to 3. This isn’t so bad, because the 3 of us get along very well and have a strong desire to keep playing. Our concern is if we would have a good enough balance of sound, with the instruments we have left; basically cello, accordion and whistle. We’ve talked about looking for new members in the future, but not sure how feasible that is, considering our location. We just worry that we won’t have a big enough sound.

Sorry for the long post, just looking for advice on how to proceed with fewer instruments, and wanted to get all our background out there! 🙂

Re: Small Ensemble Balance

Assuming that the violin played the tune on everything, that will need to be covered by the remaining players. That probably means accordion melody on everything and more whistle than bodhran.

Re: Small Ensemble Balance

You may have to reconsider your arrangements but you have a good range of sound there. The accordion or piano can play both melody and chords, underpinned with a rich bass line from the cello while the whistle adds colour at the top and can also share the melody. Lots of scope there for a good full sound I’d have thought.

Re: Small Ensemble Balance

It may be that your small group has an advantage. A small group of players with a wider range of instruments means that you have opportunities to add a lot of variety to your sound. You can delightfully arrange tunes in ways that would be hard to get with a larger group that has to fit in all the instruments every time. Good arrangement can be beastly difficult but worth the effort. You have a blank page here with a real chance to avoid falling into a well worn groove rut. I’d say your biggest challenge is what to do without a fiddle, possibly the most fundamental of all the instruments in our tradition. Good luck.

Re: Small Ensemble Balance

Whistle, accordion, and cello gives you high, mid, and low range instruments, should be fine I would think.

Re: Small Ensemble Balance

Thank you, everyone for your positive comments, that’s very encouraging!

We had a lot of melody with the violin and accordion, and some whistle, so it’ll mainly rest now with accordion/piano and whistle… but I like the idea that we have the low/mid/high sounds covered.

I guess I just needed a bit of a boost that we CAN still do it, or at least keep trying.

Many thanks