Breaking the Ice – Creating the Ensemble Family

Lesley Schultz • August 2023String Section • August 20, 2023

Icebreakers is a word that can fill many people with a dread of an activity to introduce yourself and get you out of your comfort zone. Amongst teachers they have a bad rap. However, they are a useful tool to build a sense of community and family in your ensemble. They also help fill time during the first few days of school while you are sorting all the housekeeping that needs to occur, things like instrument assignments and locker assignments, folder assignments, et cetera.  

Why would you want to work through some icebreakers in your ensemble? If you are a high school or middle school, performing ensemble classes are amongst the few with members from the entire student body, grade and academic level. If you have multiple feeder schools, there is a chance no one knows each other, or only a few people in the group. Ensembles that know each other will work better together. At the very least the students should know the other students in their section by name, though this is an easier task for the basses versus the violins. Students should also know people outside their section, as this can help with the formation of small ensemble groups later in the school year.

The internet has a wide variety of icebreaker activities for teens just by doing a simple Google search. Some are more complicated, while others are decidedly simple. Some are teacher directed and others are student led, others are a combination. Search for the ones you will feel most comfortable leading or facilitating. Like anything it might take some trial and error, but even the ones that may fall slightly flat you should still get some benefit from, and then you know to find something else next year.

Perhaps the simplest thing, is to take five minutes once a week or so and let your ensemble have some “family time.” Give them a topic to talk about with their peers for five minutes, then have the groups report out, or tie it to a brief writing assignment. This is like a brain break for your ensemble and will also foster communication between your students.

Fostering a family or community feel in your ensemble is important, enabling students to communicate with actual people and not over an electronic device, icebreakers or other simple games can help.    

Lesley Schultz currently teaches secondary general music and orchestra at Princeton City Schools (Cincinnati, OH). Lesley keeps an active performing schedule around the state of Ohio, performing with several regional symphonies on viola. She is a member of TI:ME (Technology In Music Education) and serves on the National Conference Committee. 

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