I have been working on a definition of “community music ensemble” for a publication. I have found it helpful to trace the roots of these words.
Community music ensemble. A term used to denote an instrumental or vocal group that is typically comprised of volunteer amateur or semi-professional musicians. The word “community” comes from the Old French comunité and the Latin communitas, which have meanings of joint or public ownership or shared participation and service. Modern senses of the word community include (1) a group of people viewed collectively due to (a) proximity, such as a village or town or (b) common interests or characteristics (nationality, culture, ethnicity, religion, occupation, and so forth), or (2) the quality of relationships in a group, such as shared goals, values, identities, participatory decision-making, and mutual support. The French ensemble comes from the Latin insimul (at the same time) and denotes a state when the constituent parts of something are viewed as a whole, such that each part is considered in relation to the whole. In combination, the term community music ensemble connotes a group of musicians, a locale, and a unity of purpose, concerted action or ethos.
Therefore, a community music ensemble can be viewed as the music of a community and as communal music-making. The phrase “music of a community” typically situates the music-making ensemble within a city or municipality, such as a community band, choir, or orchestra. Members of these ensembles are often drawn from the community at large and thus are not restricted to a single institution. They can be financially supported by the local government or by not-for-profit organizations and they reflect the civic or public ownership sense of comunité. These groups rehearse with some regularity and arrange for public performances within the community.
Yet, limiting the term community music ensemble to this one sense of meaning obscures other ensembles within communities. “Communal music-making” refers to collaborative music-making and encompasses a variety of corporate music experiences. Examples include the congregational singing of religious communities, folk musicians gathering in Irish bars or parking lot jam sessions at blue-grass festivals, and public singing events such as RiverSing in Boston. These instances involve participants from the communities where the music is made and are communal music-making events because they bind people together through performance and participation.