Are you a leader who is ‘on the side of the players’?

Business and music leaders face similar issues when working. Both have to be effective in enabling employees/musicians to perform their best. How do music leaders gain trust, respect so essential to achieving performance excellence? Here are the thoughts of an orchestral player as to the orchestral player – conductor relationship. Beecham, Boult, Barbirolli, Sargent and Karajan are considered the top world conductors of the 20th century.

“There is a very subtle aspect of the relationship between a conductor and an orchestra. We can tell if we are sitting as an assembled orchestra when a conductor takes one step towards us whether he is on the side of the players, whether he associates himself with us or not. We don’t even need him to reach the podium and say ‘Good morning’. We can tell. It’s something in the manner. Beecham had this quality, supremely, as did Boult and Barbirolli. Sargent not at all. And Karajan’s manner? Well, it was very pleasant. It’s a stupid word, I know, but it’s true. He was very pleasant. For all his celebrity and charisma, “when he walked out, we felt he was one of us.’

Are you a leader who is ‘on the side of the players’?


A Sense of Humour.

Successful music leaders are known for their sense of  humour which comes from a deeper understanding of life and people. It is a skill that often seperates them from the rest. Recently I came upon this delightful anectode, featuring the famous pianist Arthur Rubinstein. To give it a title, I am sure we could name it The Lesson of Life.

A friend of Arthur Rubinstein recalls:

We . . . awaited him in the restaurant. He entered, sat down at the table, ordered drinks in Italian (from the eight languages he speaks he selects one as an ordinary man would a tie), and started to apologize: ‘So sorry to be late. For two hours I have been at my lawyer’s, making a testament, What a nuisance, this business of a testament. One figures, one schemes, one arranges, and in the end—what? It is practically impossible to leave anything for yourself!

Is humour a leadership skill you possess? Do you think it would make you a better leader?

Arthur Rubinstein was a Polish-born pianist, considered one of the greatest pianists of all times. He is renowned for his interpretation of Chopin but also for his unique sense of humor!

The Fine Points of our Profession

My father used to tell me that a good book is read every 10 – 15 years. The reason he gave was that with time we read the book with ‘new eyes’. Our life experiences make us read further into the book, see elements we may have overlooked before.

After many years I am currently reading a book by Leopold Auer, the foremost violin pedagogue at the turn of the 19th-20th century. He raised a whole new generation of violinists, Jascha Heifetz, Mischa Elman who defined violin playing and are up to today looked up to by most violinists.

In his book,’Violin Playing As i Teach It’, Auer in his own words, ‘gives the serious teacher and violin student the practical benefit of t he knowlwdge acquired during a long life devoted to playing and teaching the violin’. As a student this book was my Bible. I analysed, reread the chapters on how to develop violin technique, learn new music etc.
But now, I discovered a chapter in the book that at the time seemed superfluous. Auer writes about ‘the feeling of the professional man for the detail of his profession. Not only is it necessary to know the technical aspects, details but grasp the fine points of his/her art and comprehend all the shades.’

Looking around me, I realized that those of us who do possess this feeling make the difference, take the step from ordinary to extraordinary.

Do you think this can make the difference in your professional life? Do you grasp the fine points of your profession?

Haydn or Mozart – How do you face challenges?

The names Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn foremost evoke in us the greatness of music. When we listen to their sublime music, little do we think of their daily lives or challenges they faced in their profession. Being a musician in the 18th century was not easy. Both Haydn and Mozart were mere servants in an aristocratic household. What differed them were their very diverse communication skills.

Haydn was a good-natured, easy-going person who enjoyed an amicable relationship with his employer,Prince Esterhazy. However, a serious rift between them happened when on vacation at the Prince’s hunting lodge. The Prince wanted to prolong the vacation and ordered that all musicians must stay, even though they were seperated from their families for a long time. Haydn decided to challenge the Prince with composing a symphony whereby one by one the musicians ceased to play and left the stage. The Prince was not offended, took the hint and said ‘If they all leave, we must leave too!’

Mozart, a child prodigy was employed by the Archbishop of Salzburg. Their relationship was far from idyllic. As Mozart wrote to his father, he was not allowed to sit at the dining table with the archbishop and his friends, but with the cooks and valets! When he asked for permission to play at a charity concert, he was flatly refused. Mozart’s answer to the archbishop was if kicked hard, he would kick back harder. Their relationship rapidly deteriorated with the outcome that Mozart was expelled from the archbishop’s service very soon.
These two stories show us different management styles and different reactions.

As a leader, are you more Prince Esterhazy or the Archbishop of Salzburg? When challenged are you more Mozart or Haydn?

How to Overcome the Last Stumbling Block to Excellence

Working on a new project we often come to a point where it just doesn’t seem to move forward. We work hard, do all the steps but we feel it’s just not ‘it’. Have you been in such a situation? What’s that last necessary step to make it the ‘it’?

As an ambitious, aspiring violin student I practiced 8 hours a day to achieve my violinistic dreams. I had a great professor at the Academy, one of the foremost violin pedagogues in the world. Two years into my studies I could boast of an excellent violin technique, good musical knowledge but somehow I wasn’t happy with my playing. It just wasn’t ‘it’. I started practicing more, studied harder but I still seemed to be missing that last step to performance excellence.

At the time my father visited me and went to my professor to inform himself of how my studies were continuing. My professor told him I was diligent, hardworking and that I had made a huge progress. However, I was still not reaching top level performance.

‘What should she do? Practice more?’ asked my father.

‘No, Bibi should just go for regular walks, let her mind go and excellence in performance will follow’ answered my professor.

He was right. Reflecting now, it was the most valuable information he had given me and for me this method works up to today. If you are facing a similar situation, go for a walk, jog or do some activity that, as my professor said, ‘lets the mind go’. The stumbling block will fall and excellence will follow.

3 tips to how Music conductors motivate their orchestral players

Conductors lead highly trained artists toward a unified end product.  They have independent minds and are likely to resent authority, while at the same time they recognize that some form of leadership is necessary for them to perform together effectively. Frequently they know each other better than they know their conductor. It is important for a conductor to remember this as he leads the orchestra. The ability to motivate the musicians in an orchestra is one of the most important skills a music conductor must possess.

Here are 3 tips on motivation from the conductor’s handbook:

1. Immediate performance appraisal. As Napoleon said “A man wouldn’t sell his life to you, but he will give it to you for a piece of colored ribbon”. A word of praise, or even just a  thumbs up is a major motivator. Performance, appraisal and feedback are interwoven to improve output on a second by second, minute-by-minute basis so immediate improvement is achieved.

2.Consider every musician a member of your family.Know all your members by name, address their concerns. When you walk out among the orchestra know that you are one of them.  A famous conductor came for a rehearsal, turned to one of the bass players and asked: ‘ How is your kid doing today – recovered from the flu?’ The bass player was from then onwards  ready to give out his very best for every rehearsal and performance.

3. Never critize or correct. After a viola player missed his entry, great conductor Herbert von Karajan looked over, as if to say, “I know my job, I hope you know yours. I won’t say anything now, but when we come to the recapitulation you’ll know what I am doing, and we’ll see what you do.” When the recapitulation came, of course, the player was ready and played it.  Karajan just glanced over again, as if to say OK, but not a word was spoken.

3 tips to Leadership – Lessons from Music for the Businessperson

What leadership skills can a businessperson learn from a music conductor?  The conductor’s handbook includes a list of necessary/required leadership skills. Here are 3 tips:

1. Full command of resources/excellent musical knowledge

A music conductor is considered the most knowledgable musician in the music world:  deep insight, understanding  and command of the music work performed (let’s translate it to ‘business plan’), as well as of the orchestra/team he is leading.

2. Confidence in the art of gesture

Standing and leading in front of sometimes over a 100 people is not an easy task. The music conductor must project confidence, determination, power of will to be able to lead musicians towards a unified  product.

3. A good physique and good temper

To get the best out of the orchestral players, the music leader must possess skills to be admired, respected – someone you look up to.

Can you apply these skills to your leadership? Look out for the next blog on the next leadership tips!

3 Tips to better communication – Lessons from Music for the Businessperson

Effective communication is the key to success and is made of many qualities: speaking, observing, watching, sensing, understanding, paying attention, and most importantly listening. Let us identify  some of the essential tools to effective teamwork within a music ensemble.

  1. Listening and paying attention.  Listening is an art and is the first essential tool.  It is not only listening to the words spoken but also to the manner, tone, body language. Listening within the team in music is also achieved throgh eye contact. An important part of listening is silence too. Silence gives us the time to think and process what is said around us. By paying attention to our colleague we not only listen but learn more about the person and the work being done.
  2. Talking to each other.  Another essential tool is learning to talk to each other. One must  accept  critisicm, find ways of commenting on each other, point out if one is late or not playing correctly.  Keeping the tone positive and constructive and giving immediate appraisal if someone is working well is needed. One values the other’s opinion.
  3. Watching, observing, sensing each other. It is surprising how  we tend to be in our little worlds, turned away from the others in the group without realizing it. Musicians very easily tend to hide behind their music stands. Working with business teams teambuilding exercises through music, participants were surprised how initially they were turned away from each other and how establishing constant eye contact team performance improved.

I believe the most valuable lesson we can learn from music is that each of us in a team has something special to give, that we must become aware and have joy in other people’s achievements and strengths.  The result can only be a successful, winning and empowering team.

The ultimate goal of teamwork from the music perspective is to achieve an “upper, outer voice”, a corporate personality that is more than the sum of it’s parts. As Steve Jobs who used the Beatles, a quartet,  as a model for business pointed out “4 guys who kept each other’s negative tendencies in check, they balanced each other, and the sum was greater, the total was greater than the sum of it’s parts. “And that’s how I see business.”

Lessons from Music for the businessperson (The Businessperson’s Guide to Music)

Essential tips for working together

Communication between people is of the highest priority in today’s and future management.   We search to understand the qualities of teamwork and look to all resources as how to enhance communication at our workplace as well as in our personal lives.

Executives and musicians face common issues at their workplace, in dealing with teamwork, change, achieving performance value, competing to succeed.  The world of music provides many examples of people working together to create great things in time of change. In that way we can  consider it a valuable metaphor to understand leadership and teamwork.

I would like to share with you essential tips of teamwork based on music from my own experience as well as from other musicians I have worked with or have heard of.

As a musician from very early childhood playing with other musicians was the most natural thing. My first collaboration was with my sister, a pianist, 3 years older than me. My first lesson was that I was not the leader and my sister the accompanist who would obediently listen to me, but that we were equals working together to perform our very best for our teachers, family and friends. We had to learn how to match our tone (our ideas) and at the same time be able to lead or quickly switch to accompany the other.

One of the first essential tools one had to learn as a musician were good manners: when one player gets lost, the others have to stop or give immediate support to continue, not just carry on because they can and they know where they are. And then be ready to restart playing at anytime.

These first lessons set up the principals by which all my further collaboration with other musicians up to this day is based on, whether it is playing together with my pianist or guitar player or with a larger chamber music ensemble.

When a music group starts to work, the initial A is played at the beginning to “tune” in the ensemble/team. It expresses a vision of partnership, teamwork, and relationship. In giving the A “the tone”, the manager and employee become a team for accomplishing the extraordinary.

Looking into a music team each member knows his part, is highly trained in his skills and is responsible to deliver his best. You must know how you fit within the whole, what your role is in the picture.  Flexibility is needed as various situations can arise where there will be the need to improvise, cover up for someone, restart and play on. Depending on the music score (business plan) you have to be ready at any time to take over leadership, pass it on or share it. It is a constant give and take situation. Working extensively together one learns each other’s moves and in that way creates the platform for a successful and empowering team. When I come to think of it, my long-time music partners and I have more of a silent dialogue taking place during our rehearsals.

  • June 2019
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