…Leadership in Music

Few jobs involve leadership skills as obviously as that of an orchestral conductor.  As I write these words, I’m sitting in the back of the rehearsal room while one of my children plays the violin with the discipline and concentration that about thirty other musicians need to exert in order to play classical music well enough for a future public performance.


This is both a stirring and a humbling experience.  In the background, I’ve been grading homework submitted by my Leadership students while the conductor works intensely to create the harmony that I have enjoyed so many times in the hall, from a seat in the audience.  As I read and evaluate the concepts that my students are applying, I become increasingly aware of how practical Leadership classes can be if we apply them to contexts as different as business, volunteer work, family life, and even musical performances!

I don’t think I had ever fully realized the time, knowledge, skills, and energy needed to make so many talented, individual performers work for their shared objective of executing a piece flawlessly.  It just is so delightful when you spend an hour or more enjoying music considered classic because it has endured the test of time.  Some of the compositions evoke places, moods, emotions, and so many other human experiences even when the listener doesn’t know much about the hours of training that brought them about, but even more when we know a bit of it.

The level of knowledge that the conductor requires is evident whenever he (or, more often in recent times she!) explains what is needed to better interpret a particular classical author in a given segment of the piece.  Also, whenever they recognize that a particular performer or set of instruments is not joining at the precisely right time that is required.  Their skills are also put to the test whenever the group just “naturally” changes its cadence because the piece itself “suggests” it --but it wasn’t the composer’s original intent!

The way conductors have to be both task and relationship oriented is also shown whenever they have to give feedback in a way that is perceived as neither impersonal nor caustic.  At times, they focus on the music pitch, the rhythm, the chords, and a myriad other details that can be considered predominantly technical.  But often, they also have to work on the interpersonal dynamics, such as the time that a trombone player who momentarily left the room found his instrument filled with water when he tried to start playing!  Fortunately, by the most part this group knows each other well and they seem to have a friendly camaraderie.  But I am sure that at times, jokes, personal preferences, differing levels of ability may be upsetting to some of the performers and the conductor’s implicit job description surely includes defusing conflict and creating an esprit de corps that will eventually translate into a stirring performance.

My child is the youngest performer, but I can see that this is an experience that is paying off by way of providing the most challenging experience so far.  I’m already looking forward not just to the concert in a few weeks, but to share these thoughts with the entire family as well as my students --and with you, kind reader!

What do you think?  Have you experienced “Obvious Leadership” in a particular context that you’d like to mention?  I look forward to reading your ideas and examples.  Please send me your comments via email to drolivaslujan_at_gmail.com or by posting a comment on my facebook profile. 

¡Hasta la prĂ³xima!