Coaching, Conducting and Performing

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Postcript

24 August 2009

Ailsa Haxell has shared this Itay Talgam video with me.

Understanding Music Inside Out

After finishing my post on writing I had the opportunity to listen to an interview with Judy Carmichael.

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Judy is the host of the Jazz Inspired radio program. This program explores creativity and each week in the program  “celebrated artists discuss their creative process and how their passion for jazz has inspired their work. They share their favorite recordings with the listener as well as insight into their life and art.”

Her interview explored virtuosity and creativity. This is the MP3 audio of the interview.

Listening to Judy’s ease with discussing Jazz I was reminded of another marvellous music interview I heard two years ago. That was between Michael Tilson Thomas and James Brown in We Were Playing Boulez, But We Were Listening To James Brown! The trail for the program reads:

As a university student, Michael Tilson Thomas and his colleagues were on the cutting edge of modern classical music. One day, while he was driving on the LA freeway, a song by James Brown came on the radio. That song, and the many that followed, changed MTT’s views about how to perform the music of Boulez, Stravinsky, and the like. The level of energy, the precision, the sense of time, the angularity — all gave the young conductor insight into the music he was performing.

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The confidence with which Judy Carmichael and Michael Tilson Thomas spoke about music reminded me of Maureen Pope‘s discussion of the personal contruction of formal knowledge and her link to Arthur Koestler‘s articulation of the vision that links poet, scientist and artist.

After listening to both interviews I revisited Howard Gardner’s discussion of multiple intelligences. He suggests that musical intelligence involves skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns. It encompasses the capacity to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms. (Mark Smith)

This reminded me of two quotes:

Music expresses that which can not be said and on which it is impossible to be silent (Victor Hugo)

Music is the silence between the notes (Claude Debussy)

Overall my writing about writing and about music has amplified my interest in performances of understanding and the forms this understanding can take. Lee Gutkind, Judy Carmichael and Michael Tilson Thomas have a great deal in common.

Postscript

Classic FM’s Keys to Music has broadcast (May 2009) four programs about Music Education.

1: The Body
In Part 1 of the series Graham Abbott and Richard Gill discuss the importance of dance and movement in a child’s musical experiences. In this program they are joined by Dr Micheal Giddens, a leading exponent of Dalcroze Eurhythmics.

2: The Voice
Graham and Richard discuss the importance of singing in a child’s life. They are joined by Kathryn Sadler, one of Melbourne’s leading singing teachers and choir directors.

3: Instruments Download
In Part 3 Graham and Richard discuss why learning an instrument is good for children. They are joined by Alastair McKean, Director of Border Music Camp in Albury, NSW.

4: The Mind Download
Graham and Richard conclude their discussion on the importance of Music Education for children. In this program they focus on the proven benefits of musical experiences for a child’s intellectual and social development.

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Each week I become more and more fascinated by what we can share. Twitter has accelerated this process for me although this week I have not participated at all.

Earlier this year I intiated some posts entitled Food for Thought and aspired to write a weekly alphabet update of blogs. I managed two editions of the post. I realised that despite my best intentions my divergent thinking sent me off on journeys that were hard to stop. I found them to be wonderful vectors of discovery.

I started this post in a workshop on Educating the Net Generation whilst managing to ignore Yammer, TweetDeck and Facebook!

Recently this TED video of Pattie Maes sent me off on another learning journey:

Such journeys are framed by many of the links Stephen Downes shares in OLDaily. I really enjoyed his most recent discussion of networks. I wondered if I had become an accidental connectivist after hearing a marvellous interview with David Kilcullen on Radio National. I had previously linked Stephen with Jeanette Winterson in an early post in this blog. I think Stephen and David would have a great deal to share too!

I found this presentation by David Wiley via Mike Bogle‘s Facebook post. It provided a great adjunct to Stephen’s presentation and explored openness and disaggregation in higher education.

YouTube had some fascinating action this week and the YouTube Symphony received a great deal of publicity. This is a link to one of the Australian contestants. I thought it was entirely appropriate that Michael Tilson Thomas was involved in this event.

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I thought this much publicised YouTube video (17 million plus viewers 93,000 comments, 84,000 ratings) of Susan Boyle put the whole week in perspective for me … dreams do come true!