The choral conductor by definition has stepped into a highly visible|
position of leadership. A worthy leader is not satisfied with doing only
good work--it is our desire to move from good to great. In Jim Collins'
writing on moving good organizations to great organizations, he offers
key ideas for moving in this direction.
• Leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and
into a larger goal of building a great organization.
The goal of every conductor must be to create a performance
representing a composer's intentions, that brings inspiration to
performing musicians and audience, and that contributes to the vitality
and continuity of the artistic mission. The conductor's personality must
disappear into the desired goal of a worthy performance in which the
music can be truly heard and experienced. Within the boundary of a
composer's intentions, performance practice, and refined musicianship,
there is indeed room for interpretation on the part of the
conductor--that is without question. Collins' definition of great
leaders is reserved for those that channel their own ego needs.
• Leaders first ask Who, and then What, by getting the
right people doing the right job.
Leaders are primarily motivated by the why of our
work. To Collins' point, the conductor must build an ensemble of good
musicians, and must choose quality and appropriate musical literature
for the ensemble to perform their best. Both who and what
are integrally related to best performance. Who for the conductor
means sopranos, altos, tenors, basses, string players, wind players,
brass players, and percussionists. What for the conductor means
the musical score, the musical program, and the acoustic space.
• Leaders are brutally honest about the situation and
The conductor must first analyze and identify every potential problem,
every weakness, and every flaw, which determines the course of action
that will follow. Every detail must be analyzed, and a proper course of
action identified that leads to correction, improvement, and finally
• Leaders realize that they are the best at what they do,
and are doing what they are best at doing, doing what they are deeply
passionate about, and doing what is best to move their organization
It is easy to identify the conductor-she or he is the person in front,
and standing upright. They are there because they have the preparation
and skills to lead, and they are best at conducting the ensemble. In my
book on conducting (Precision Conducting, Roger Dean/Lorenz), as a
forward I quote words from the Hebrew scripture book of I Chronicles
15:19 that I believe speak to this topic of choral leadership: "The
musicians Heman, Asaph and Ethan were to sound the bronze cymbals;
Zechariah, Aziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maaseiah and Benaiah
were to play the lyres according to alamoth, and Mattithiah,
Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obed-Edom, Jeiel and Azaziah were to play the
harps, directing according to sheminith. Kenaniah the head Levite was in
charge of the singing; that was his responsibility because
he was skillful at it." (my bold italics).
• Leaders build the vision for the organization.
The conductor is the artistic director for the ensemble, charting a
course for the performances by the organization. The conductor develops a
direction for the organization. Our performers are focused on the
present, as they should be. The conductor is working in the present, but
focused on the future.
• Leaders create and affirm a core ideology and an
The conductor not only gives a faithful and inspired interpretation of
the musical score, but also participates in sustaining the mission of
the ensemble as it remains relevant in concert seasons yet to come.
These are the qualities we want to embrace as we move our choral
organizations from good to great.