Read This Before Starting Your Next Ensemble – Jamie Whitmarsh | Ep. 31

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This installment of “Freeway Philharmonic” on the podcast features OKC based freelancer Jamie Whitmarsh. Jamie and I have been close friends for over a decade now, and I have enjoyed watching his freelancing career as a composer, educator, and performer take hold.

In this episode, Jamie talks about a project he is involved with called the “Oklahoma Composers Orchestra”. I asked him what went into starting a group like this, in case others were inspired to do something similar. You can hear how he describes it in the episode, but here are some points to consider, for reference:


Find A Conductor

One of the most important steps in making an emerging ensemble successful is finding a conductor that people want to work with. Not only do they need to be prepared, but finding someone who respects the musicians time and not have a reputation for being a jerk are important as well.


Finding A Date, Time, And Place

Obviously being able to coordinate the schedules of 30 or more musicians can be difficult, but Jamie offers some extra advice. He recommends being cognizant of the other musical offerings that are in the community that your musicians might be involved with before scheduling your own.

In addition to cutting down the amount of musicians that will be able to perform in your group, scheduling your concert or rehearsals over other events takes away the opportunity for the members of your group to attend those events. Jamie mentions that he really very hard to avoid OKC Philharmonic, OCU, OU, and OSU conflicts because he wants to encourage his members to be attending those events.


Be Ready For Anything

This wasn’t a point that Jamie expressed directly, but when listening to the amount of work that goes into putting an ensemble together, it really shows you have to be ready for anything. Whether it’s the aforementioned scheduling issues or having to take care of details such as social media and who puts out the chairs for the concert, there are many responsibilities outside of the obvious ones of hiring and programming the concert.


Know Your Mission

My takeaway from my talk with Jamie is for a project like the composers orchestra to be successful, you really need to know your mission. Why do you feel this ensemble should exist? What value are you providing? For Jamie, he understands he’s providing performance opportunities for musicians and composers, as well as a space for the community in Oklahoma City to hear and support the creation of new music.

Knowing your mission can help give your ensemble direction. It can help with marketing and social media promotion. It helps the way you interact with the audience. It gives clarity to the musicians performing in the ensemble, and helps them believe in why they are there. This is especially helpful if you are at the stage where you cannot pay people, and are relying on their belief in the mission to sustain the group.


Here are some links Jamie gave me to share:

Composer Diversity Database

A fantastic tool to discover new music. There are so many new pieces out there that could change your life, this is one way to find some of them. You can search for pretty much anyone who isn’t a straight, white male, and select different instrumentation or genres.

New Music Box

This is a great way to stay plugged into the modern world of music. So many great articles are written, with lively discussions in the comments.

Oklahoma Modern Music Collective

OKMMC is dedicated to bringing the music of OUR time to audiences everywhere. We believe that the music being written now can be accessible, relevant, and relatable to everyone. Several ensembles are part of this – Duo Rodinia (clarinet and percussion), Great Plains Percussion Group (percussion collective), nu (recording chamber group), and the Oklahoma Composer’s Orchestra.

New Music Engine

This is a great platform for composers to find new opportunities or for performers to host calls for scores/competitions. OKMMC worked with them on multiple calls for scores, and they have been incredibly helpful.


Until next time,