I believe there are enormous similarities between coaching and conducting. In this post I would like to explore these similarities.
Some years ago I sat enchanted whilst I watched Leonard Bernstein‘s The Love of Three Orchestras (1986). It was a ninety-minute video with excerpts from rehearsals and concerts. In it Leonard Bernstein talks about his career as a conductor and his experiences with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. I realised that I had found one of the leading coaching resources available to me.
Only recently did I come across Jamie Bernstein‘s account of his father as a teacher. In that account he notes that:
Leonard Bernstein … could not absorb enough information on the things that interested him: not just music but also Shakespeare, the Renaissance, world religions, Lewis Carroll, biology, Russian literature, the two World Wars, astrophysics, French drama — and any places where these topics overlap. His brain was on fire with curiosity. And what he loved most was to communicate his excitement to others.
In a discussion of Leonard Bernstein as a conductor, Marin Alsop observes that:
One of the greatest gifts Bernstein shared with me was the significance of story; that every piece has an inherent story and that every composer spends his life trying to articulate his own personal story and answer those existential questions that are so consuming for him.
These characteristics of a teacher and conductor are embedded in excellent coaching too. Lifelong involvement in coaching opens you up to the possibilities of stories and the thirst for knowledge. Coaches like conductors transform performance when they have a story to share.
In recent years I have returned to Leonard Bernstein through reflecting on the work of Michael Tilson Thomas and in the immediate past week listening to Yannick Nezet Seguin. Yannick was a guest of Margaret Throsby on Classic FM. This is the MP3 audio file of his conversation with her. On Yannick’s own web site there is a recording of a delightful acceptance speech.
If you do have time to listen to the interview file as it has all the elements of performance a coach addresses: precocious talent; commitment to practice and improvement; performing in front of an audience; transforming performance; becoming successful and dealing with success; working hard to improve; and humility.
I got back to Leonard Bernstein via Carlo Maria Giulini. Carlo was Yannick’s mentor. You can hear about their relationship in the interview tape. Their fascination with music gave them an opportunity to explore ideas and develop Yannick’s skills as a conductor. I believe we grow as coaches because we can share and explore ideas with other coaches. Rather than coaching being a lonely profession it can be a wonderfully shared experience. A Times article about Carlo observed:
On the podium Giulini was the least flamboyant of men. He maintained the balance of an athlete, moving little and conveying his demands with his long, tapering fingers and above all his eyes. A glance fixed on an individual player conveyed exactly what he wanted. If things were going well he would even close his eyes, as if communing privately with the composer.
Michael Tilson Thomas’s conversation with James Brown highlights how two people with shared knowledge can amplify each other’s understanding. This discussion about teachers and students has enormous relevance to coaches too.
I wondered at the end of this journey how coaches might work with these two athletes.
I wondered too what kinds of performances we give as coaches and whether we have these rhetorical skills. And most of all I wondered how we developed our own story as a coach.
24 August 2009
Ailsa Haxell has shared this Itay Talgam video with me.
Hi Keith, heres a beautifully portrayal of conducting and leadership,
Ailsa, thank you for a delightful link.
There are films of Bernstein conducting West Side Story with Carreras and Te Kanawa in the principal roles and Zubin Mehta conducting the original three tenors concert. Both these films show the issues involved in constructing the performance.
[…] year I wrote a post about Coaching, Conducting and Performing. At that time I was fascinated by Leonard Bernstein’s work with three orchestras (New York […]