When I first thought about what content I might want to explore on a blog about learning by challenging ourselves, I immediately thought about my friend and colleague, Chris. He’s a renaissance man, who has a very demanding job, the scope of which is broad due its unique requirements, and his many talents. In the off season Chris sails, which sounds idyllic, but it also demands tremendous skill and knowledge. It’s no week at an all-inclusive.
I asked Chris if he’d be willing to talk to me about how he has experienced challenge as a learning opportunity and what follows is Part 1 of his response:
“My challenge. After twenty years working in a variety of genres within the performing arts I made what at the time seemed like a major career shift and became, almost overnight, the Production Manager of a major orchestra. Classical music has always been a part of my life as an unenlightened listener, but I have no formal musical training, unlike most of my colleagues on staff. The simple fact that I am still here sixteen years later leads me to conclude that I had some success meeting the challenges of this career shift. What I think was, and still is, important in making this transition a success follows.
My first break was when my predecessor gave me two solid pieces of advice: “Learn Score Order” and “The conductor is always right”.
Learn the lingo. Every industry has its own jargon. In the theatre we have upstage (towards the back) and downstage (the front). A holdover from the early raked stages where the back was higher in order to improve sightlines. We have stage left and stage right (always from the actors perspective) when facing the audience. To this orchestras add inside and outside to denote which player in a pair or “desk” of strings is closer to the audience. Since the conductor is “boss”, orchestral forces are always discussed in “Score Order” — the order from top down in which the instruments appear in the conductor’s score. If I were to ask what the forces were for Bernstein: Candide Overture my colleagues would say 3233 4231 T + 4 Hp Str = 14 & Down. Translated that is 3 Flute, 2 Oboe, 3 Clarinet, 3 Bassoon, 4 French Horn, 2 Trumpet, 3 Trombone, 1 Tuba, Timpani 4 Percussion, Harp, (no keyboards) and Orchestral Strings (14 Violins 1, 12 Violins 2, 10 Viola, 8 Cello, 6 Bass). Job one for me was rote memorization of Score Order so that I knew how many players were required.
Know who the boss is. “The conductor is always right.” Put another way, what we do as an orchestra is to achieve the conductor’s artistic interpretation of the composer’s original intent. The conductor has the role that in theatre would be given to the director: absolute artistic and creative control. Every aspect of the product offering is under their supervision. Their direct or tacit approval is required.
More important to long term success is identifying who your customer is. My theory is that everyone has customers. In my job the primary customers are the musicians of the orchestra. My mandate is to provide the best possible resources and environment for them to do what they do best. Secondary for me are the conductor and guest artists who deserve equal best efforts, but have other staff assigned to manage aspects of their requirements.
Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of Chris’s story.