Follow the Leader…..

London Arts Orchestra did something rather wonderful recently. They opened up the dress rehearsal of a Mahler concert to the public. For free. Added to which they let us, the audience, sit in the orchestra among the musicians. I sat in the strings section. It was wonderful.

To sit immersed in the music rather than receiving at a distance it was extraordinary. Of course there were loses – sometimes things sounded quite odd because other parts of the music were overpowered by the instruments you were closest too. But what you gained through this unique experience far outweighed those loses: the music surrounded you, it engulfed you, it became a part of you. Or you became a part of it. I’m not sure which.

The biggest revelation for me, though, was sitting facing the conductor. I’d never been able to watch the conductor like this, close enough to see every expression on his face and hear every syllable or count that he uttered.

He was an exceptional leader. He conjured the musicians, beckoned them, guided them. He had humour, passion and humility. Every now and then he’d stop the music and work a section until it was right. A brave decision to make with an audience in the room, but one that earned him respect. He’d made it clear, they meant business and they weren’t going home until they were done. However his manner was gentle, approachable, even waving mid-bar to a little girl who was proudly sat among the horns.

Watching him at work was inspiring. Watching the room at work, guided by him, was incredible.

Neatly, recently I’d been pondering the question of leadership. What are the qualities one should cultivate? As someone moving into directing, it’s a big question for me. But actually, I realised, almost all of us will be asked to be leaders at some point or other in our lives. Whether as director, teacher, manager, team-leader, stag-do-organiser or parent. And without question all of us will be led. Bad leaders are all too common (we all loved David Brent because unfortunately we knew him), but thankfully good leaders are out there too. And then there are those leaders who raise the bar, those who allow individuals to grow and collectives to flourish.

Books are my first port of call when I want to learn something new. So I’ve been reading up on book about directing (In Contact with the Gods), books about management (look up Susan Vinnecombe) and books about teaching (pretty much anything by Ken Robinson). As we all know, though, the best way to learn is through doing. And when you can’t do, watch.

All I want to do now is watch more conductors at work. I guess I’m going to have to blag my way into more orchestras. Perhaps I’ll need to take up an instrument as cover …

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