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A symphony of learning…

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This blog is by UFA National Manager, Jan Polack.

Music conductor pointing

If you know me, you’ll know that music plays a really important part in my life. I play with a local amateur orchestra and recently we tried out a new conductor.

The experience of a different style of leadership had a dramatic effect on the band.

The new guy was knowledgeable, experienced and musical but his style was dictatorial, quite critical and to be honest, a bit demeaning.

And what was the reaction of the players? We became sullen, uncommunicative and resistant to what he wanted. It was difficult to cut through the style of leadership to discover his vision for the music underneath. There were mutterings between players, frustration within sections and some sarcastic comments back to the conductor in rehearsals. What had happened to my fellow musicians?

The atmosphere within the group was uncomfortable and generally a lot of people were not happy with the situation.

The concert came and went and then it was time to start rehearsing for the next one.

Fortunately have been working with our old conductor again. In anticipation I certainly put in more practice than usual and when the rehearsals started it was great – people played really well, appreciated each other and there was a lot of laughter and enjoyment.

So what made the difference? We are very familiar with this guy but it is his leadership I think that has the greatest influence. Obviously working for UFA I was wondering if I could match what he does in action against our 9 Leadership Characteristics?

  1. Resilient – he doesn’t give up, he tries things and finds better ways to communicate what he wants to get the results from the band.
  2. Curious – he always does his homework on the music before the rehearsal period starts and often shares what he has found out about the circumstances around the writing of the music.
  3. Resourceful – he is creative in his way of describing what he wants from the music, by using metaphor, phrases and different gestures and movements. My favourite by a long shot is seeing him gallop across the church hall to indicate bouncy and driving pace!
  4. Optimistic – not always! But he will model optimistic thinking by not criticising when the violins or clarinets don’t play a passage in tune, he will encourage “a bit of private practice at home before next rehearsal”.
  5. Reflective – this aspect has developed over the years and he sometimes records rehearsals and concerts and reviews them in between times learning from reflecting on how he has led.
  6. Responsible – he is never late and has, in nearly 14 years, missed only one rehearsal! He is always well prepared.
  7. Ethical – I often talk to him in the break as we both disappear outside the hall for a nicotine break. He never gossips about players or puts people down. He’s quite good at name dropping though!
  8. Confident – he is pretty confident in himself – conductors need this or at least pretend to be like this. Players can smell fear! He has got better at self-depreciation over the years which has helped people to respect him more.
  9. Respectful – this is probably at the heart of why our orchestra plays so well for this conductor. We’re an amateur group made up of a wide range of people aged 20-75 and with a wide range of backgrounds and jobs. What unites us is wanting to make great music together. Our conductor respects us for that and helps us make it as good as it can be.

So, even though we know our esteemed Maestro needs to move to bigger and better things (including conducting the London Philharmonic last week) we are reluctant to let him go unless we can find another skilled and inspirational leader!

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