Monday, October 22, 2007

The Conductor's "Diva" Trap

The other night, I was asked to conduct our city's symphonic choir for 10 minutes at a fund raising charity event staged at our local concert hall. Our hall is fantastic, one of the best in the country. Great acoustics, warm and inviting for classical musicians, especially orchestras and large choruses.

This concert, for which proceeds were going to a very worth cause, had a line-up of mostly pop/folk and blues on the program, interspersed with dancing, drums, and other variety type acts. We were the only "Classical" group on the program.

When I arrived to meet the organizing committee - I was lead to the stage, which was set up to favour the other acts in the show - no risers, curtains everywhere deadening the sound. A sort of carpeted gymnasium type theatre setup - not the usual conditions that we, the nearly 70 of us that volunteered to sing this gig, were used to.

At this very moment, I had to make quick decision. The options were to take the "it is what it is" approach, and just deal with it; or to rant and complain about the poor setup, and to tell tell them that we'd never agree to do this gig again in these conditions. I could have ruined the whole event for the organizers. I looked at my wife, who was singing in the choir and was with me when I saw the set up, and she said something like "we can make this work", and at that moment, I knew what route I had to take - one of support and understanding to the event ... which after all, was going to help a great deal of people - and it wasn't about "ME".

I like to think that I take this approach often in my work as a conductor. Nothing irks me more than a musician, or anyone, who can't deal with what is dealt to them in a given situation, especially when the situation is not about them in the first place. It is usually best to keep your thoughts inside, and vent about it later. Transferring this feeling onto sixty other singers is often a bit more tricky, but possible. It is amazing how much your singers rely on your reaction to a situation to make their own judgment.

I managed to smile through most of the evening - and so did my singers. We did go flat on our unaccompanied piece, however the last piece of the set was better than it had ever been. The hall was full of people, who didn't have a clue about what was going through my mind an hour before, and they showed immense appreciation for what we have given them.

I left the hall feeling a lot better than I did when I first saw the setup. I didn't even feel the need to vent afterwards. Instead, I had a glass of wine with friends who were visiting from out of province, and the went home put another coat of paint on the Kitchen wall.

It was a good day - all because of the split second decision I made on the stage of the performance hall - to do the best I could - with what I was given.


I am Chorus said...

Most excellent messaging for classical (and other) musicians everywhere, who might feel that their talent ALLOWED them to have temper-tantrums, at no cost.

Crimson Rambler said...

...or that temper-tantrums would prove that they really ARE artists (or "artistes")...

liz garnett said...

I think there's an important message here about professionalism too. Complaining about the set-up when it's too late to do anything much about it is just a form of making excuses: 'if we don't sound good, it's not our fault'. But, however true they may be, excuses just make you sound like a loser!

I browsed to this post via your tag of 'choose your attitude' - a philosophy I like very much!