Trust in Musical Leadership (Conducting)

Conductor Charles Hazlewood sums up his TED talk with these words: “Where there is trust, there is music — by extension life. Where there is no trust, the music quite simply withers away.”


Now in the old days, conducting, music making, was less about trust and more, frankly, about coercion. Up to and around about the Second World War, conductors were invariably dictators –these tyrannical figures who would rehearse, not just the orchestra as a whole, but individuals within it, within an inch of their lives. But I’m happy to say now that the world has moved on, music has moved on with it. We now have a more democratic view and way of making music — a two-way street. I, as the conductor, have to come to the rehearsal with a cast-iron sense of the outer architecture of that music, within which there is then immense personal freedom for the members of the orchestra to shine.

This TED talk pointed to an essential element of music leadership (conducting) — TRUST. Our chorale singers have this amazingly respect and admiration toward our conductor, Ms. Shang as a result of mutual trusts. Through long hours of rehearsal, she understood each singers capacity, painstakingly corrected our voicing and diction, and explained the music passages (She always says that music has logic and structure.),  since we are all amateur singers. She handpicked the orchestra leaders based on her long term relationships with the players so there is the “trust” element.

Charles also quoted British veteran conductor Sir Colin Davis, who said: “Conducting, Charles, is like holding a small bird in your hand. If you hold it too tightly, you crush it. If you hold it too loosely, it flies away.”  My previous company Chairman loved to say the same words to express his admiration to those businessmen have the talent of managing the business to the right point of balancing.

Charles said: “They don’t read music. They trust their ears.” In our rehearsal, Conductor Shang often says to us: “Look at me, don’t look at the scores. Trust your ears.” Of course, we need to memorize the music but most importantly, we need a sense of music in our brain and the trust of ourselves.

I like the comment from Steve Fuller: “Trusting in yourself and your fellow musicians is key to really sinking into a groove, (lo!, if anyone talks like that anymore!) but also there are a TON of musicians that get their confidence shaken by being or playing in the presence of a “better musician”. Confidence and trust are huge issues to overcome for young musicians. He is absolutely correct on this. Young musicians, trust your ears AND yourselves!” 

Our Chamber music group is planning to restart our weekly music practices. Trust is even more important in chamber music since there is no conductor for the group. As for the choir, mutual trusts among the singers are vital for the success of the performance besides the trusts between the conductor and the choir. We frequently organize group activities such as Potluck to improve the bonding among the choir members.

In the closing, the ensemble played the last movement of Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony (No. 45) in F-sharp minor. In Haydn’s music, there is the compassion. With trust, there will be the compassion and the music. In Haydn’s “Creation”, he showed God’s compassion, His trust and love toward His creation.

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