Thursday, December 03, 2009

Day 62 (Round IV) "In the trenches": telegraphic command edition

Still no time, but hanging in there as we can.

Arrived at the first iteration (of four) of the annual Madrigal Dinners for which the Celtic Ensemble and the Collegium have historically provided pleasant unobtrusive noise in the lobby before hand. We have learned over the years that our involvement is nearly as useful for public outreach, and about one-tenth as time-consuming and demeaning, if we provide such noise before hand, and then clear out. Otherwise, if you get roped into being part of the whole gaudy dinner-theatre production, which makes the W Texan patrons very happy but which is very complicated and demands a lot, you're likely to have to commit about six times as much time, and subject yourself to about twelve times as much frustration. So we just play and split.

This year, it's four dances from the Celtic Ensemble and a collection of short little instrumentals from the Collegium. Pretty quiet music, and on this opening evening, with the entire ballroom, dancers, singers, jesters, jugglers, open bar, and catering bought-out by the Dean of the Business College for his faculty and staff, and all of them elbowing their way toward the bar and ignoring us, it was actually very useful for our kiddos to play their tunes 2 or 3 or 4 times in a row, having to concentrate past the noise and distraction. They can get all their screwups out of their systems and have the very valuable experience of making errors and then fixing the errors on the fly. And that's good practice for the real world--and not just in music.

Of course, it was complicated this opening evening by the fact that the local Symphony's music director had summarily switched the start time of the orchestra's evening rehearsal (which all of my guys who also play for him could have made) to 1/2 hour earlier--which meant that those three guys had to rush to get to our Madrigal Dinner gig, and then rush off 10 minutes before we were done. I'd be a lot (or at least a bit) more tolerant of this particular kind of behavior if I hadn't had to deal with it before: going hat-in-hand to himself two months in advance of a rehearsal to try to persuade him to release these same three kids so that they could play one of our concerts. And here's this summary change of rehearsal to start 30 minutes earlier, preemptorily, at mid-afternoon of the gig we're supposed to start to 6:00.

So, my three guys who were caught in this impossible bind arrived at our gig massively stressed-out, and knowing that they'd have to leave 10 minutes early, in the midst of the gig. And afraid that they'd be in trouble with somebody.

In a circumstance like that, when it is so totally not the fault of the players, and so transparently the fault of high-handed egocentricity, the wrong thing to do is to lose your temper. The right thing to do is to model for the kids the coping mechanisms you want them to have and to share with each other.

So, after we'd got the first tune out of the way, and we were on break while the Collegium played, I pulled the Celtic kids aside and said, "guys, you ever heard the term from the armed services, FUBAR? You know what that means? It's an acronym: for a situation that is mmmhh'd Up Beyond All Recognition."

They all laughed, and then I said, "but that's not what we do in our band. In our band, we keep our heads up, we suck it up, we hang tough, and we look out for each other." Being kids, and good, earnest kids, they all nod vigorously and perk up. And then I say, "besides, we have a hell of a lot more fun. And there are cookies."

And then they laugh, and play their last piece grinning, and then the three run off to the other rehearsal feeling OK, and positive about their musical experiences.

You want to know the fundamental definition of leadership? The clear-eyed, objective, no-rose-colored-glasses conviction that no system is so perfected that it cannot be improved and that no situation is so FUBAR that nothing constructive can be done.

If you don't believe that, then you can't command.


Kyle said...

well put closing comment

I'm sure its more a rule of thumb at many places than anything an orchestra director would ever be ego-less to cave to, but when my undergrads come to me or my professor, etc with a similar problem, concert ALWAYS trumps rehearsal, even if it means we (perc department) lose in the end. Gig always goes before practice.

I'm willing to be Maestro Assclown isn't a very good ensemble musician, since he obviously has not ability to function as a member of a team.

that is all.

coyotebanjo said...

Agreed. Unfortunately, in such situations, Ego always trumps BOTH Gig and Rehearsal.