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What Is a Cello Ensemble?

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

A cello ensemble is a musical group comprised entirely or prominently by cello players. The cellos the musicians play are low-pitched members of the violin family, pitched higher than a double bass but lower than a viola. These groups may perform different styles of music but commonly concentrate on classical works. They are considered chamber groups, but the exact number of musicians in a cello ensemble varies.

Most commonly, three to eight cellists perform in a cello ensemble. This depends on the exact orchestration of the composition and on the exact needs of the director. For instance, an orchestra teacher might use quartet music but double two parts if there are six cellists.

Man playing a guitar
Man playing a guitar

Regarding the number of cellists, cello ensembles sometimes are called cello orchestras. This is not entirely accurate, however, because orchestras typically have at least a dozen or more members. The more members a cello group has, the more likely it is they will refer to themselves as an orchestra rather than an ensemble. There are no limits on how many members can be in a cello orchestra, but larger groups tend to gather for conferences or special events.

Depending on the tastes of the cello ensemble members and their director, cello ensembles can perform in genres such as classical, jazz, rock and pop. In non-classical genres, cello ensembles may use electric cellos instead of acoustic cellos in order to blend better and compete with the volume of instruments such as electric guitars and amplified vocals. In any genre, the amount of music designed specifically for cello ensemble is limited. Subsequently, much of what these groups perform are arrangements of works intended for other instruments. The challenge in arranging is maintaining the original feel of the work, as the cello's characteristics might not match those of the original instruments specified.

The genre in which cellists perform and the exact orchestration of a composition sometimes require cello ensembles to include other instrumentalists. For example, a cello ensemble who performs rock or pop music might use a drummer or percussionist, while a group that plays jazz might collaborate with jazz flautists, harpists or pianists. Composers simply label a work for cello ensemble when the majority of the players are cellists, or when the most significant parts are for cello.

Classical cello ensembles perform frequently at events such as weddings and extremely formal dinners. They also are featured in concerts at concert halls. Groups that perform in other genres have slightly more flexibility. They can perform in venues such as clubs and bars and are more likely to have an agent. Ensembles of all genres commit to professionally recording their work.

One advantage of being a member of a cello ensemble is that performing with other cellists sometimes requires a player to get out of his playing comfort zone and improve his technique. For instance, cellists who have upper parts in the ensemble have to hone their ability to play closer to body of the cello, extending performance up into the fingerboard. A disadvantage is that, although the ensemble can use all the tonal characteristics found within the cello's range, the group may not be able to blend with other timbres the way they can in other groups to create a unique sound.

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