Youth Orchestras: A Political minefield?!

November 27, 2006 at 05:52 AM · This year is my second year leading a local youth orchestra, where although the conductor is profesional, and there is a tutor for each section, all the players are under 18.

Yesterday I was speaking with a friend who plays in the orchestra, and he told me that "X", a member of my section, doesn't "enjoy orchestra" because she doesn't like the way I behave as leader. Specifically, she doesn't like it when I make comments or suggestions as to how to do a bowing or fingering. She says it makes her "cringe" when I make suggestions because she thinks I have no right as I am not a profesional musician. I obviously looked a bit shocked at this because he backpedalled a bit and said that everyone else found it helpful, but it hasnt stopped me feeling paranoid.

I dont make many suggestions, and i dont enjoy doing it either, but when something is going consistently wrong and i know there is a simple solution i feel that i have to. When I play in other orchestras im grateful when the first desk lend a hand in making life easier for us to play something as a section, proffesional or no.

Next rehearsal I will appproach the conductor to check that i havent been behaving innapropriately, but i still feel that my confidence as leader has been undermined, and I dont like section politics when it creates a bad atmosphere!

What is the advice from tutours/young players/orchestral musicians on this site? Should I keep trying to solve problems, or just shut up and let them pass?

Do you think that the leader's job as a medium between conductor and section is different when the conductor is a proffesional and the section are kids? Help!

Replies (15)

November 27, 2006 at 06:31 AM · Hi Ella,

there's no silver bullet in this issue. Talk to your parents once about daily life mobbing in their jobs: it's a firm part. And maybe an orchestra is like a melting pot (envy, frustration, hybris etc.), which makes it even harder.

Basic rule against mobbing is: don't act passively! If you "let them pass" you won't have any benefits of it, you'll still feel like under attack or observed. But your goal is to play as free as before in your orchestra, right?

Keep in mind, how a team works, and talk to "X", maybe she has some interesting points as well.

Could be also a misunderstanding, couldn't it? Most issues are just imagination. A psychologist named Watzlawick wrote a classic about it, "The Pursuit of Unhappiness" (funny book):

A man wants to hang a painting. He has the nails, but not the hammer. Therefore it occurs to him to go over to the neighbor and ask him to lend him his hammer. But at this point, doubt sets in. What if he doesn't want to lend me the hammer? Yesterday he barely spoke to me. Maybe he was in a hurry. Well. Or, perhaps, he holds something against me. But why? I didn't do anything to him. I was always an helping hand to him! If he would ask me to lend him something, I would, at once. How can he refuse to lend me his hammer? People like him make other people's life miserable. What a sad person! Worst, he thinks that I need him because he has a hammer. This is got to stop! And suddenly the guy runs to the neighbor's door, rings, and before letting him say anything, he screams: "YOU CAN KEEP YOUR HAMMER, YOU BASTARD!!!"

When you talked to her (and you know, it's no misunderstanding) and she can't stop, talk to her again with your conductor during a break and try to encircle, what her arguments are. Invalidate her points in a fair way with the conductor (different approaches, many ways to Rome, team work etc.).

A rehearsal is no talk show, so you don't have to defend every decision you make during the rehearsal. It's up to the conductor and the section to render you assistance.

Attack is the best defense: ask "X" to sit next to you at the first stand (Getting rid of that bad "Now-I'll-have-to-turn-back-to-the-group-and-talk-to-X's-visage"-feeling might be a good idea). Keep in mind, that the conductor has other things to do and that "X" won't be able to play the game there in front of him. Start deactivating the mines in a fair & cool way, I bet the issue is an ex-issue the day you talked to her.

Pob lwc!

P.S.: Alternatively: shoot "X".

November 27, 2006 at 08:15 AM · You are the section leader, and thus I assume you are charged with the responsibility of coming up with bowings and fingerings as necessary (perhaps in consultation with your section coach, so you can learn more and improve your skills in this regard).

Not to be overly harsh, but why do you even care what this single person thinks? Support your section by being a humble and responsible leader, and let the whiners be. You'll meet them all throughout your life, on all corners of this planet.

They just don't get it. :P

November 27, 2006 at 12:23 PM · welcome to the real world:) can't please all the people all the time, so don't even bother trying. you and your immediate responsibility are the most important issues facing you; everything else is secondary.

being nice is nice, being helpful is helpful, but no point being too nice and helpful. you are to positively lead and influence the entire team, not to specifically line up everyone to your side.

in any team, you will have couple good ones, some ok ones and couple that are not easy to deal with.

good ones don't really need your help. focus on the ok ones who are workable and don't worry about the ones that are not easy to deal with. not your responsibility. they need to do some growing up on their own.

continue to speak your mind when called for and let the quality of your work speak to everyone.

if people have problems with your approach, well, unless they come up to you directly, you don't hear them!:)

November 27, 2006 at 02:58 PM · Being a professional (in anything) is NOT a function of how you are perceived or treated by others. It IS a function of how you behave. And the most important time to behave like a professional is when you are NOT being treated like one.

Cordially, Sandy

November 27, 2006 at 03:18 PM · "concertmaster resentment" is a widespread youth-orchestra phenomenon it seems...I was concertmaster of my local youth orchestra for a semester or two and I remember one rehearsal where people in the back of the section were periodically throwing Gobstoppers at me. :)

Being able to take criticism/correction in a setting such as orchestra or chamber music is an essential skill. Of course you as leader should try to be as polite and gracious as possible, but if the other players can't take advice or corrections, that's their problem not yours.

PS Mischa, your hammer story made me laugh! :)

November 27, 2006 at 09:44 PM · Is your conducter not responsable for the bowings?If he/she does not give you bowed parts perhaps you could ask them to annouce during the rehearsal that the section leaders are responsable for the bowings,but surely you would need to liase with the other sections.The string parts should be bowed with the idea of a homogeneus whole so bowing one section without refering to the others could lead to some disharmony among the sections (in a a bowing and articulation sense)

December 2, 2006 at 04:50 PM · Thank you to everyone for their responses. I have consulted two tutours, who tell me I am doing fine, but both agree that I should have a word with the conductor. Some parts are bowed, but all are borrowed so some bowings are innapropriate or too hard for some of the players. The conductor is not a string player, so with the help of the tutours we sometimes start from scratch. We do liase (is that the right spelling?) between sections, but probably not enough. For example, we do not have section leaders meetings. I get the feeling I would be very unpopular if I suggested that...

December 2, 2006 at 06:07 PM · it's not your job to be popular. it is your job to lead your section.

there is no difference between leading professionals and leading kids. if you want to be a professional one day, start by emulating professional behaviour NOW.

section leader meetings to work through bowings for everyone. great idea! speak to your section leaders and conductor immediately about this.

if the problem gets to be too bad with this one individual, have a candid talk with the conductor about the situation and have them sort it out.

if the problem continues, then have another talk with the conductor, and have the conductor place that individual in your chair for a rehearsal or two. that should straighten them out as the conductor singles them out for not having your section in proper alignment, and for ruining the ensemble work with their wayward playing. they'll quickly find out why you give out bowing and fingering suggestions.

December 3, 2006 at 11:59 AM · Ella,

I wanted to tell you this since I first read your message, but haven't had time to respond. I once heard what I am about to tell you and I think it rings very true. When something negative or hurtful is said and it is then told to you by a second party. It is not necessarily the person who said what was uttered, who is in question BUT the person who relayed the negative and hurtful statements. What was his motive for telling you that? He knew it would be hurtful, and it bothered you enough to consult this board. I think his intentions are more "evil" (maybe "evil" is too strong of a word) than the person who made the comments in the first place. I really have to question people who listen to someone say something negative about someone else and then run to that very person and share the negative comment. Your issue is not really with the muscian who made the comments in the first place but the person who felt it was his place to tell you what she said.

December 3, 2006 at 01:07 PM · Terri - Very interesting. It makes it all the more important to have a direct conversation with the other girl. The other girl should be given a chance to clarify herself before being accused for what/how someone else claims she said. The issue may be more in how she said it.


December 7, 2006 at 04:10 PM · Music as in other things...

Your nobody until somebody hates you...!

Just kidding...

It all probably means your pretty good...

Ignore them all and chart your future.

December 7, 2006 at 05:42 PM · If X, felt comfortable enough "as your friend" to pass this on to you, X should feel confident enough in your friendship to discuss the situation in the presence of Y....

Leadership does not mean being wishy-washy or unconfident--it means, though sometimes yes it's a little uncomfortable, to deal with situations directly.

I'm not saying you are either wishy-washy or unconfident, but I would take ownership of intra-communication that has led you to ask about this, somewhat decisively.

And being direct and effective in your growing leadership role seems more important at this point than potentially walking on shells.


December 7, 2006 at 07:29 PM · Terri made a very good point.

December 7, 2006 at 11:41 PM · Greetings,

not only did Terri make a good point, it also raised the question of whetehr it was actually compltely true in the first plac e..



December 8, 2006 at 01:15 PM · and the more we talk about it, the more we are getting into playing politics ourselves. may feel justified in the short run, when in fact nothing of value is built. you cannot control others' jealousy, so move on to a different level. the moment your distractors realize you are responding to their "moves", you have helped escalate the game to a more viscious level. don't go there.

in 5 years, when you look back at this experience, you will shake your head and have a good laugh. possibly at yourself too because how you have wasted your precious time and energy.

to me, to meditate over conjectures is not a sign of a good leader. a good leader leads by example, with positive outlook and energy regardless of the situation. do something that make them speechless.

if you really want to play politics for the better, here is how:

call up the people in question, ask them how they are doing and mean it, invite them to a violin party in your place. have some fun together.

what? you think they won't show? well, this is politicis. you have to find ways to make them feel eager to come over.

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