An orchestra is a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Through loving collaboration—the characteristic feature of “synergy”—each musician contributes to a complex of sounds beyond the capability of his or her competence with an instrument, even beyond the full realization of their individual potential.
The conductor doesn’t just synchronize the instruments according to the score, he coalesces them into a whole that presents his or her interpretation of the composer’s intent. Having played third saxophone in my high school orchestra, I experienced the significance of the conductor first hand. Mr. Bushley provided the vision and shaped our diverse talents into a unique and stirring performances.
In this image I observe the interplay of the many and the one. At a performance it appears that the musicians are playing the notes on the page, so much so a conductor may appear to be superfluous.
It seems the score could be played without him. Indeed, the musical composition would occur, but it would not “sing.” It would not express a singular vision. Although Mozart wrote the score for each instrument, it was the manner of his interpretation and conducting that gave the notes, tonalities and rhythms a vitality and richness that were frozen on the page. In system’s parlance, the musical notes are lifeless “data.”
So strictly speaking, the musical performance is not the score. Like a recipe for soup, the sound attains quality through a process of combining the right ingredients at the right time and in a certain way. Each conductor produces a unique performance. That’s why an orchestra can have only one conductor, one interpreter.
Whatever the collaborative field—entertainment, business, media, government or military—outstanding performances more often come from systems where the individuals who make it up perform under the leadership of one person, someone who has a vision of the outcome and is authorized to see it manifest. This is even the case in sports where competition is institutionalized. Coaches have both the vision—winning—and the expertise to make it happen.
Collaboration under the direction of a single individual is a challenging dynamic to achieve because the participants have to value and respect the vision in the first place, and then trust that the director or conductor can deliver it, enough to surrender or at least suppress their own desires. In the example of an orchestra, it can appear that musicians organize themselves for the good of the whole—the performance. In system’s theory however, “the whole organizes the parts.”
It’s the music itself, the desired interpretation of the conductor that brings together the musicians capable of producing what she wants to hear. Because thought precedes action, the challenge of individuals not yet in a leadership position in their field is to find the people who are expressing a vision and understand it as much as possible before aligning with it. The challenge of visionaries on the other hand, is to communicate what they envision clearly and with passion to attract the best “players.”
In my Lifestyles and Workplaces in Television and Film classes, I observed that employers in creative fields hire the best players, the most competent and responsible people they can find. They have to in order to insure the realization of their goals—the company vision. Rather than look for jobs, I recommended that students focus on demonstrating both competence and responsibility while researching prospective employers—to understand their mission, values and vision as best they can so they can find work and career paths that are in alignment with their own values and aspirations.
I also pointed out that most of their grandparents didn’t have the luxury of pursuing work that is fulfilling. Of necessity, their choices were limited to earning a living. I wanted college students to appreciate and not take for granted the family, social and political circumstances that allowed them the freedom and opportunity to fulfill their dreams as well as earn a paycheck.
It can be very difficult for creative people to relinquish autonomy to a leader, to play “second fiddle” or assume the role of “player” rather than “star.” Nonetheless we do it for the love of the music, the vision, the whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Individual success depends on environments that trigger the fulfillment of our genetic potential. Environments that motivate through fear literally shut down the potential for growth. Those that motivate through vision, open us up to express unforeseen possibilities.
Bruce Lipton (Biologist)
ABOUT THIS IMAGE
Title: The Conductor
I was documenting the rehearsal of an orchestra. The situation required a “lock-down” shot, so while the 16mm movie camera was rolling I took some stills with a 35mm camera. As it happened, the slide film in the camera was balanced for “daylight,” so the image came out yellow because of the stage lights. Recently I used Photoshop to correct the color balance so the pages of sheet music would be white. But the overall golden tone conveyed a much better sense of the music—we can’t hear—so I stayed with it. Another happy accident.