Thursday, March 12, 2015

Frustration (Working Under Difficult Conductors)

It's admittedly been a bit of a challenge to work with this conductor this week.  There is a pacing and a method in his rehearsals and conducting that many in the orchestra find a bit difficult.  That being said, today was an improvement, so perhaps there is a method to the madness.

But it seems to happen quite often in life that we have to work with people that may have authority over us but who we don't easily respect.  I think one can learn to respect anyone and everyone on some level, but there are those characteristics of individuals which can rub one's ideals the wrong way.  What does one do in those situations?  I think it's an unanswerable question in the general sense, but one that is important to consider in all the many manifestations in which the conflict can arise.

This morning as I prepared to go into rehearsal I thought about the boundary that one can create between oneself and the rest of the world.  It's a difficult thing to do, to leave work at work and to claim one's space at home, or on break; to make one's voice be the center of our lives rather the one that seems dictates our time.  One's life does not need to be caught up in the frustrating matter at hand.  If there is something that can be done, then perhaps reflection and action are best, but in the situation of working under a conductor that one doesn't enjoy as much as others, there is no action.  He is a dictator.  We must start where he wants, take his comments, start and stop on his command.  There is no discussion, there is no suggestion box.  And so in that situation, it can perhaps be easiest to acknowledge the paucity of control that one has and to accept it and create one's space as needed.

This doesn't mean disengaging, but rather engaging differently.  And in this situation the other ways to engage are with one's colleagues on the stage, with one's imagination of the score, with curiosity of orchestration and form.  It doesn't mean cutting oneself out of the picture, but rather gerrymandering the perception of what is happening.

And another thing that I remembered today as I sat in rehearsal, was something that a professor of mine and fellow string player in the Lexington Philharmonic told me several years ago.  It's something I respected but didn't quite fully understand.  She said that years ago, when she first started playing in orchestras, she made a rule for herself that before the first rehearsal she would try to prepare it as a conductor, to see what she would do with the music.  She was also a music theory professor and I thought it was probably just an exercise in fusing theory with practice, but I now see another motivation.  Certainly it would make the rehearsals more engaging, but I think also it would allow one to better understand the perspective and challenges of the conductor as well as to be empowered to need them less.  We think we need the conductor and it's easy to hold this against them.  And we think we know better, but if we were to actually try to do the same, I'm sure we would be humbled.

Frustration can become habitual.  It can become a friend, a guidepost that lets us know that we are alive.  But there are better ways to live.  We can choose to improve upon the situation either through internal readjustments or external actions.  Perhaps it means finding a better understanding of the people or things that cause frustration.  Perhaps we can do something to work towards some change; or if not, perhaps it means allowing ourselves and what is important to us to have a bigger piece of our picture.

I think this conductor is going to be ok in the end.  Perhaps not my favorite, but all-in-all fairly harmless.  And along the way has incited some reflection for times when that might not be the case.  Not a bad week.

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