Issues with conductor...PLEASE HELP!

December 3, 2007 at 04:53 AM · This story is a big lengthy, but bear with me!

I have known my orchestra director for 6 years now, and through the course of time, he has seen my playing level grow and seen me flourish. I am a senior in high school, and am at the top of the first violin section. I want to be concertmaster, and feel I would do a much better job than the girl currently sitting in this seat. She is lazy, apathetic about orchestra (I've even heard her complaining about the "hassles" of being first chair) and just doesn't care! He realized this and got so fed up with her that he pulled me out of one of my classes and had me learn her solo for the very next day, and led me to believe that I would be taking over for her. Two weeks later, he has her sitting up there again, and myself deducted a few seats. I understand that I may not be as skilled as her, but I care 100% more than she does and feel that I would do a better job.

I've given up, I really want to help out and be as generous, but I feel as though I am taken advantage of too often (different cases like this have happened before). I want to lead and take charge, and I know I can. But I am never given the chance, and the orchestra is suffering. Do I talk to my director, or just bite my tongue and let the chips fall where they may.

Replies (29)

December 3, 2007 at 05:18 AM · Well, I suppose you could talk to the conductor if you really are concerned, but I doubt you'll change his mind. Conductors put people where they put them quite deliberately and for a reason. (Also, fair warning, and speaking from my own current experience, being concertmaster is more trouble and stress than it's worth.)

December 3, 2007 at 05:32 AM · I'd bite my tongue and look forward to college. Trust me, the politics only get worse as you move on up.

December 3, 2007 at 06:34 AM · One of the 'most difficult' things in life is learning to turn negatives into positives. If there was no reason for your musical chairs, that makes it tougher, and I'd feel used too.

But, if there may have been a 'slight' reason, let it make you tougher and more determined to get better and better. Even if it appears there was no reason, still turn the drama into something good for yourself. No, life is not fair. So it's a good chance to learn to advocate for yourself in every circumstance. And if it appears the tables are turned on you, turn them back on the circumstance again--persistence..

The fact that the conductor felt comfortable enough to get you to help also says something positive on your behalf. Did you see that table just turn?

December 3, 2007 at 01:36 PM · I wish your director had read some of the excellent articles in the professional mags for teachers. (I'm presuming this is a school orchestra.) At that JH/HS level there are many good reasons for constantly rotating the seating and using a planned scheme that mixes in leaders/followers, good sight-readers/by-ear players, etc.,etc. This requires forethought and planning he may unfortunately not be willing to put in. You won't be there much longer, and if you are headed for college music, or will play in college even if not a music major, you'll have something different to find your way through. Sue

December 3, 2007 at 02:06 PM · Hi Amber,

The bottom line is that if she plays better than you do, she gets the seat and gets to do the job the way she wants to do it. Mostly, nobody in life is going to care how much more you want it or care about it if you don't have the skill to back up the caring part.

Keep in mind too that the other girl has ALREADY shown how much she cares by practicing really hard for a long time, and honing her technique and understanding of music to a higher level than you have. (by your own admission, she has more skill than you have. So, (and I don't mean this to be harsh) rather than plot the death of this girl or worry about how lazy she is, why don't you go spend that time, energy and "caring" practicing and improving your skills? Then you can have the skills AND the heart for the position!

Also, I agree with other posters here that the high school orchestra and you seating in it are completely unimportant. Believe me, nobody at Eastman cared where I sat in my stupid high school orchestra!

Good luck!

December 3, 2007 at 02:24 PM · Great comments above. To that I would add only that W. Clement Stone, the famous insurance tycoon, said that every time he had a problem or a setback or a disappointment, the first thing he would ask of himself was, "OK, what's good about it?" There are indeed two sides to every coin. The more you learn to look for the positive side of the coin, the more you'll not only gain in other ways, but also the more likely you'll find a solution to the problem itself.

December 3, 2007 at 02:40 PM · I agree with part of howard vandersluis' comment that you need to start practicing more.

You need to show your conductor how much you care, not tell him!

Otherwise, I disagree with a lot of the comments above, not all but a lot. Although, as someone mentioned above, I do feel you should try to make the best of any position you are in. And concertmaster is not all it's cooked up to be.

But I was raised differently. I come from a longline of strong women. From Julliard graduates and famous Opera Singers to Business Women with the prowess and gifts of Ghandi to women who marched and were killed in the civil rights movement. So, the idea that you should just sit down and deal with the unfairness is a completely foreign idea to me, especially considering the culture I was raised in. In the real world, people hardly get to where they are going on skills alone, if that were true than you'd have many more famous violinist. (Do not be misled. I am not knocking off practicing.) You need other qualities because America is a business/consumeristic society and almost everything you do or try to accomplish within America will have the theory of business backing it up. So, you need personality (i.e. kindness, respectfulness, assertiveness, and so on...), Creative and Analytical Intelligence, plus skill. I believe Heiftez, Ricci, Chang, Hahn, Mutter, etc... are not only geniuses for their skill but their keen ability to observe the qualities of people around them and play off those qualities for their own success. For example, your conductor is putting a highly skilled young woman in the concertmaster position and keeping more dedicated individuals in the back. What do you do? Do you automatically assume that the young woman is doing something shady to be in her postion? Or do you take action and try to form a business companionship with the young woman concertmaster and ask her quesions about her life, her practice habits, and her ability in comparison with others as a concertmaster? And meanwhile, is there a way you can tell your conductor in a kind and respectful manner your views on how the orchestra could be better. Now, do not complain!!! That is a horrible thing to do in all business environments. If you are going to complain, you better have a good idea of how to fix the problem as well. So, what you should do is tell the conductor your game plans for the orchestra. "Hey, Mr. Conductor. I really care for our orchestra and I would like to see it excel even after I graduate. So, here are some ideas I had...."

I have only been playing 5 years. I am in no way the most skilled girl in the bunch, but I am concertmaster. Why? Because I had the ability to assert order like no other in the orchestra. And my conductor, who is a woman who has had to assert her authority over the years, likes that. I was able to see that she appreciated this quality in her musicians and I worked not only on my violinistic skills but my leadership skills. So, you see, its about observing other people's interest, likes and dislikes, and working on yourself in order to fit those roles. Now, I am not saying that if a conductor likes for women to wear skimpy clothing during rehearsals you should conform to that kind of behavior. You will learn what qualities to hone and which are not worth the time and effort to even consider.

So, the lesson: Show do not tell! Do not complain! Take action in a kind and respectful manner! Make sure you come out of this with people still liking you. There is a way to be assertive and kind!

December 3, 2007 at 03:20 PM · Jasmine,

Do you think the conductor was being unfair? My point was that the girl who is already sitting concertmaster has ALREADY shown dedication and "caring" by actually out-practicing everybody else. She's also, unfortunatly, showing disrespect, and at some point that will be more annoying to the conductor than her skills can overcome. Our poster's best bet is to practice a lot and bring skills as well as dedication to the table.

December 3, 2007 at 06:30 PM · Amber- there is 'NO" question that you are a competent, confident player. And being assighned a solo the day before speaks volumes of not just your capabilities, but your love and devotion! Things may be the way they are percieved and then again, this girl may have issues going on in her life that none of us have all the facts to. You did say that she may be more skilled than you. If true then as previously observed, she put's in her dues. There very well may be some things that you/we do not have all the facts and if the shoe were on the other foot you also would want to keep it between youself and a support network, the Conductor perhaps being part of that support. Oddly, when some people are under a lot of stress and duress they project their emotions on that/those which they love or care about the most. As an illustration: Her parents could be pushing her to the limit of performance everyday to the point of agony! And so she may realy love playing and orchestra, but that which she loves is also being used to stress her out. There are cases like that, it's abuse from my viewpoint. I cannot say that this is what the problem is, it's just an illustration. We may not have all the facts of what goes on in her life outside the classroom. This is hypothetical, but not all that uncommon.

I like the previous suggestions, keep applying dedicated efforts to your work, and perhaps keep an ear out for an orchestra mate that maybe you could get togeather and help them out with some tips, perhaps they are having it dificult on a peice and you might could help. you know, be a friend to someone who could use a friend. One of the best leadership skills 'any' leader could have.

December 3, 2007 at 06:24 PM · JASMINE- Have you ever read anything by Ayn Rand?

December 3, 2007 at 07:02 PM · In, my opinion, I think that the conductor is trying to put extra pressure on the concertmaster by allowing you to have the music and practice the solo. In return, he is hoping that the girl would get serious and practice the part... knowing that you have it.

However, I would make sure that you do practice the solo, because you never really know what is going to happen... she could fall ill.. he could have enough of her and in class make you play the solo to get her to think about her attitude.

Teachers sometimes use other students to be motivation for others... its unfortunate.

With that being said, you must be a really great player to have him select you for the solo

Best of luck

December 3, 2007 at 07:22 PM · Hey Howard,

Well from Amber's post it seems the conductor was being unfair when he told her that he would make her concertmaster and then took it back. He also had Amber learn the solo part, showing that he obviously had more trust in her skills rather than the current concermaster's. So, yes his actions do seem unfair.

Also, I was not saying Amber should not practice. I think that is the basic thing she should do as skills will carry you very far. But in America, Skills in your trade will only get you so far. Sadly, many talented violinists never obtain certain positions becase they do not possess qualities that assert certain success in a business dominated country. My old violin teacher is very successful, able to support her entire family on Gigs alone, because of her way of dealing with people and secondly, her amazing skills on the violin. People will want to work with interesting and technically good violinists more than solely technically good violinist. It is way more entertaining! I'd take Jack Benny over Heifetz any day (just my opinion, not saying everyone would take Jack benny over heifetz).

Royce Faina, Yes I read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Great book, although I never read a book and agreed with it entirely or automatically assume ther ideaology in the book is what life is really like. Although she had many great facts and beautiful language in her fiction. Some language was pretty harsh!

December 3, 2007 at 07:36 PM · Amber - there is one omission in your post that bothers me because it prevents me from understanding the series of events. From what you say, it sounds like the conductor had you practice some solo to play the next day that the concertmaster should have been playing. Then two weeks later, he put her back as concertmaster. The omission is what happened when you played (or did not play?) the solo the next day. Presumably, whatever happened concerning the solo influenced the conductor's decision. If you explained the missing events, it might help us understand what the conductor did.

Keep in mind that your admission to music school will depend on how you perform during auditions, not on the position you held in the orchestra.

December 3, 2007 at 08:00 PM · Jasmine,

That's a slightly strange thing to say- maybe I misunderstood you. In what other country do you NOT need people skills as well as technical skills to get a job?

December 3, 2007 at 08:31 PM · Howard, I only referred to America because Amber is from America and since I do not know the cultures of other countries, I did not want to generalize what I was saying because as it is, I only have experienced the American concept of business. Where as the American concept of people skills might work here, the American concept of people skills might not work in India, Japan, Turkey, or Russia. I am sure people skills are a great standard in many cultures, but people skills are defined by each countries customs and it would be wrong for me to assume the American WAY is another country's WAY. So, I will not comment on how other countries do things since I do not know.

December 3, 2007 at 08:42 PM · It's a tough call. It shouldn't matter if the current concertmaster has put in her practice time already if she's not leading well. But if the problem is getting you to the point where you have "given up", then that's no good, either. It would be good if you could find a way to express to your conductor your frustration without it seeming like an attack on his decision-making abilities or your own self-promotion. Also ask him why--honestly--you were moved up and moved back again. He should be able to give you a satisfactory answer. If he doesn't offer some system of challenges or a way for others to promote themselves, then you may have to let him know that you think you're ready for more leadership, instead of hoping that he'll notice.

A conductor also sees and hears different things than you see and hear, so if he is not picking up on her attitude, and if she is still playing well and leading well enough, then he probably doesn't want the headache of demoting her.

The next time she complains in front of you, you ought to tell her you'd be happy to take over for her if she's really that dissatisfied with the leadership position.

December 4, 2007 at 12:51 AM · Rule one: the conductor is always right.

Rule two: even when the conductor is wrong, s/he is right. Follow these two rules, and you'll go far :)

December 4, 2007 at 05:31 AM · Jasmine,

Interesting... well, here's something to consider - Many if not most countries have their own stock markets, they have trade relationships with us, use some sort of currency, have laws that govern their economic life, etc., etc. So, since so much of the economic life of the world looks like the WAY we do it here in the states, isn't it possible that other countries' WAYS aren't so different after all?

Bottom line, whether in Peru or Paris or even my hometown of Washington, DC, you have to have people skills as well as be qualified to do the job. It isn't any different anywhere else.

December 4, 2007 at 02:12 PM · Andrew, the general rule is what is called the Second Gold Rule: They who have the gold make the rules.

:) Sandy

December 4, 2007 at 02:23 PM · I don't think Jasmine ever said that a person doesn't need people skills to get jobs in other countries. Or implied it, really.

December 4, 2007 at 02:40 PM · I may have misunderstood what she was saying but... She said in an earlier post that, "You need other qualities because America is a business/consumeristic society and almost everything you do or try to accomplish within America will have the theory of business backing it up.", which struck me as an odd thing to say, since it's not like that doesn't apply everywhere in the world. She also said that there are not more famous violinists because of this "consumeristic" approach to business here in the states. The implication, I thought, was that we're just somehow to shallow to appreciate the violin, which is nonsense, IMHO. I just think that the creative efforts of our society have gone into other pursuits, such as the sciences, architecture, medicine,and movies. So the pool of money and talent left over for classical music is corrospondingly smaller.

December 4, 2007 at 05:01 PM · Hey Howard,

In the quote you used above, I said other qualities besides the ability to play the instrument well. Not other qualities that other countries do not have! I did not wawnt to generalize because excitingly enough, other countries are different from us. Diversity is what makes our world great! In Turkey, personal space is not the same space that we tend to have in America. Turkish people are closer knit and tend to speak to eachother with less space in between eachother, as my Turkish professor explained to me. So, whereas great people skills here would be to give people the appropriate space, people skills in Turkey would be to lessen the space at which you speak to someone. So, yes small things such as that make a big difference of your success business-wise in America and your success in Turkey. I think it is a beautiful thing to know that with each country I go to I will have the opportunity to learn a new culture and new customs.

Otherwise, my previous comments were talking specifically about America's customs and the skills that you need besides playing the violin extremely well.

I hope that explains, because I was in no way implying anything about other countries.

December 4, 2007 at 09:50 PM · oh forget it...

December 5, 2007 at 01:38 AM · Okay... :)

December 5, 2007 at 01:52 AM · So anyway--

Conductors are not like other people. You should never expect a conductor to behave like a normal, decent person (however you choose to define "normal" and "decent").

December 5, 2007 at 02:41 AM · No genius is "normal."

December 5, 2007 at 03:37 AM · ...and not all conductors are geniuses. ;-)

December 5, 2007 at 03:52 AM · rudely play the tchaikovsky concerto during times of no playing as to piss the director off.

December 5, 2007 at 04:05 AM · Major words of advice and counsel: This too shall pass. Life is not fair, get used to it. Look to the future. You'll be fine. What seems like a major problem now will be insignificant down the road.

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