Sep 10, 2013

Just Because People Follow You, That Doesn't Make You A Leader

This summer for doctoral coursework, we were assigned Ramona Wis' book The Conductor As Leader.

It is an amazing book for anyone who stands up in front of people on a daily/weekly basis and attempts to make them better at music.  Period.  I can't endorse it strongly enough, so I'll end my plug there.

It got me thinking, though-- how conscious are we about the leadership aspects of our jobs?  How actively are we working to empower leaders within our own ensembles?  How much control is healthy to share with others?

Over the course of the next few blog posts, I'll discuss various aspects of leadership as they apply to ensemble directors.   

  To start, let's discuss some general attributes of good leaders in any organization.  Tim Lautzenheiser, a noted expert and leader in education, identifies ten things "real leaders" do in his book The Art of Successful Teaching.  I'll also elaborate on each item and how one can apply that to being a musical director.  Real leaders:
  1. Are also doers. That means if students are moving risers, so are you.  If you want students to use healthy posture, model it yourself.  If you want students to be prepared for rehearsal, come with a plan every day. 
  2. Always have time for others. When Brandon needs to talk to you after rehearsal, listen.  If you have another class coming in, tell Brandon exactly when you will meet with him to talk.  Keep an open office policy.  Chat with parents after concerts.
  3. Quickly identify mistakes and move past or fix them.  I make mistakes every day.  It bothers me, but I forget them almost as quickly as I made them.  Great musicians do this, too, by the way.  Active listening as a musician means you are being aggressive about sight reading, articulation, phrasing, dynamics, tone, etc. and immediately adjusting if you miss something.  This is one of my favorite aspects of leadership.
  4. Do not spend time criticizing others.  Like Pandora's Box--- if you open this, it is hard to shut.
  5. Avoid put downs or sarcastic remarks.  This is especially important in front of the entire ensemble. 
  6. Never try to get even.  Moving on is always the best policy.
  7. Share rather than compare.  I'll address competition in the arts in a blog post soon, but I have struggled with this quite a bit.  I am competitive and can't help comparing what I do to others around me.  However, the more I just try and do my best and help others to do the same, the happier I am, the better my choirs are, and the easier I sleep at night.
  8. Do not give into peer pressure
  9. Never attack anyone or hurt someone.  Never.  Ever.  For any reason, no matter what they do or say to you.
  10. Always go the extra mile.  And then run another one.
  Do you have any characteristics not listed here for great leaders?  What hard lessons have you learned in your classroom or rehearsal space?  What challenges have you overcome?


Moving forward,


J.D. Frizzell, a composer, conductor, and educator, is the Director of Fine Arts and Director of Vocal Music at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis, TN. He earned the double Master's in Music Theory/Composition and Conducting from The University of Southern Mississippi, where he also earned the bachelor's degree in Music History and Literature. He is currently a candidate for the Doctorate of Musical Arts in Choral Conducting at the University of Kentucky. He has many published compositions available from and other sheet music retailers.

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