On a sunny Saturday morning, 15 TEDxVienna Adventure attendees muted their phones and walked down the stairs into the cool basement of Mozarthaus. While they did not know exactly what was awaiting them, they had all in advance been asked to prepare their own interpretations of a piece of music: 3 attendees could choose between Mozart or Elgar, while the others had been asked to work with Bach.
Leading by conducting
The adventurous participants were greeted by Florian Schönwiese, who introduced them to the art of conducting. And to the art of leadership. As it turns out, conducting is leading and leadership skills can be practiced by conducting.
The role of a conductor is to get the music alive by making a classical piece of music interesting. To achieve this, he or she needs to get all musicians to play the piece according to the same interpretation. So, just like any leader, a conductor has to unite his or her team (of musicians) and convince them to work together towards a common goal or a common interpretation of a musical piece. How does the conductor do that? It is not only about waving the arms around, but rather about conveying emotions and a vision to the orchestra.
Just like it is important for many leading roles, a conductor needs to react fast and solve problems immediately during a performance, as mistakes are immediately apparent. Moreover, just like any leader, the conductor needs to focus on the whole and keep all units together, rather than get lost in details, such as one particular instrument or musician.
Let’s play, maestro
After a short introduction of different styles of conducting, the first attendees were called on stage. One at a time, the attendees positioned themselves in front of a quartette consisting of Christian Eisenberger (1st violin), Florian Schönwiese (2nd violin), Tscho Theissing (viola) and Andrea Traxler (violoncello). Excited but slightly nervous and out of their comfort zone, the attendees explained how they interpreted their chosen piece of music. Then, they faced the challenge of conveying their interpretation to the musicians without words, since “conducting is speaking with your hands” as Florian explained. After initial insecurities such as “How do I start to conduct?”, “How do I get the musicians to play faster? Slower? Softer?” the attendees quickly realized what worked and what did not. It was fascinating to see the musicians directly responding to the conductor, who thereby received instant feedback on his or her leadership. After a while, the quartette paused and the conductor received more feedback from the musicians and could then try to improve the conducting.
Later in the workshop, everyone listened to Bach’s “Air” and all participants were given a chance to share their own interpretation of it. It was very interesting to experience the different interpretations that the attendees had and how they in many cases really managed to convey those to the musicians through conducting. In other words, it is remarkable how a piece of music sounds different depending on who leads the musicians.
2.5 hours flew by in a heartbeat and the workshop ended with a group picture. The attendees climbed the stairs back up and as they resurfaced on ground level, their phones could be unmuted. Excited after the workshop, with new perspectives on leadership, the attendees started their walk back to Palais Eschenbach, eager to share their experience with each other as well as on social media. I mean, how often do you really have a chance to be a conductor?
This way of working on leadership through conducting was developed by Florian Schönwiese, who usually hosts longer workshops with fewer participants. His approach on combining conducting and leadership is called “Pratobello” and if you want to learn more about it, you can visit Florian’s homepage. To learn more about leading like great conductors, the TED talk by Itay Talgam gives a nice overview.
Photos 1-3 by Natalia Sander,
Photos in photo gallery by Serban Metes and Monika Abramczuk