Keeping a group positive

August 31, 2019, 2:01 PM · How does your amateur volunteer group stay enthusiastic and positive?
If you were pressed into a leadership role, how would you turn around a negative vibe?

Replies (28)

August 31, 2019, 2:02 PM · By pointing out good things that are happening. Sort of like teaching and changing someones attitude
August 31, 2019, 3:26 PM · Thanks Jake. For a group of 60 plus, perhaps that we are all able to participate.
August 31, 2019, 3:58 PM · Define success in rational terms instead of having to solve all the problems of the universe.

Get some poets to tell the stories of how successful your group has been. (From my perspective we have too many engineers trying to explain success in highly technical terms that simply bore people.)

Celebrate every success.

No finger pointing when something "goes pear-shaped" and focus on lessons learned. Not succeeding is not the End Of The Universe - it's just another tuition payment in the school of learning by doing.

August 31, 2019, 4:21 PM · Great points George. I think this will be our 15th season with one or two original members. It's great that we have entertained nursing home residents for that long and are capable of continuing.
Edited: September 1, 2019, 7:33 AM · It is well know from the group psychology that emotions and preferences in a small group (less than 20) are mutual. I have been a member of big, medium and small music groups and have experienced different emotions and levels of enthusiasm in each of them. Chamber music is a highly democratic group with a minimum of respect and preferably also some sort of special kind of friendship through mutual love for music. If respect for each other and enthusiasm are not there, I am afraid that nothing could be done to improve it. This especially in a small group.
Life is too short. Move on and find like-minded people who will appreciate time spent and have awareness that playing music with other human beings is a privilege.
August 31, 2019, 5:37 PM · Thanks Rocky, respect and privilege are good positive points.
August 31, 2019, 6:06 PM · Usually, by having a positive person, who is able to infect all of you with his/her optimism.

It is not a leader's role to do something about an amateur volunteer group stays enthusiastic and positive.

If you do not have him/her, you can take the task on your shoulders, but if it is not your inner feeling- everyone notice, that your enthusiasm is fake.

You can report 100 years of playing for the nursery home is a big thing, but if it is not big for yourself, none believe you. It could have an opposite effect.

What is your own joy and value of being in that particular group?

August 31, 2019, 8:25 PM · I think it is important for a group leader to promote a positive atmosphere.
August 31, 2019, 9:26 PM · With my choir the group tends to reflect back at me the energy I'm putting out.

If I'm not 'on' at a given rehearsal then it's just not as productive and there is less energy from the choir. When I've had my coffee and brought my A game, smiles abound, then that is what tends to be reflected back at me.

August 31, 2019, 10:00 PM · Good point. Also applies with the audience.
September 1, 2019, 12:48 AM · What is the negativity exactly?

I’ve been in groups that were eager to show contempt for other players’ mistakes - looks of contempt, snides of derision, shared amusement at the kerfluffle of another. A sort of pattern of trying to establish that you are better than the next person or something to that effect.

In other groups, there has been a sort of atmosphere of “well, what’s the point? We can’t play well anyway” kind of negative attitude. Not specifically blaming anyone, but being generally defeatist.

In other groups, there has been the habit of being exclusionary, clique-ish, and unkind to one another, which resulted in hurt feelings in many corners and a lack of trust and unification.

I would think the solutions would very much depend on what kind of negativity is actually going on. Can it be traced strongly to one person or is it more pervasive? Solutions would vary profoundly accordingly.

September 1, 2019, 4:24 AM · Anita makes a salient point, about the source of the negative feeling. I have only been in two groups and both were afflicted with one dominant, ‘leader’ who uses the other musicians to achieve their own personal agenda. I felt negative about both after time, as the sheer joy of playing with others became secondary to a feeling of being voiceless, the underlings of the group would never get to play any meaningful part outside of being a violin with arms and legs, working very hard to interpret the desires of others. In the end, you feel it doesn’t matter whether you are there or not, and the group splinters.

You sound like you really care, David, so that’s great. I suppose my conclusion is that success and positive outcome might rely on creating an inclusive culture in the group.

Edited: September 1, 2019, 8:33 AM · Thanks Anita. An amateur group can have players who can carry the group and players who are comfortable thinking that they are not being heard. That's fine. Everyone fulfills their needs. When attendance or other circumstances challenge this model, dedication can turn into defeatism.

Hi Janice. Sometimes circumstances such as low attendance is viewed as a glass half empty situation and some vote to dump the rest out.

September 1, 2019, 8:30 AM · Try to use the heart more than the head.
September 1, 2019, 11:00 AM · If this is an orchestra, start with the conductor. Be very honest. You may need to replace the conductor.


September 1, 2019, 11:10 AM · Interesting discussion topic, I would also be interested in hearing positive tips on how you can get people to practice their parts. I am the concertmaster of a casual amateur orchestra. Actually, the atmosphere in our group is very good.
September 1, 2019, 11:53 AM · Hi Frieda. I've never been in a group with a conductor. Some with strong playing leaders.
Jean, practicing is another situation. We've all heard claims of leaving the fiddle in the case for weeks.
September 1, 2019, 3:35 PM · I was principal second of a small orchestra. The seconds were mostly players that were enthusiastic but unsure of themselves. We had a problem with people not practicing their parts. I figured it was probably because they were intimidated instead of lazy or indifferent

A friend and I held completely optional sectionals, and a surprising number of people came. We held them weekly for a while, and developed a safe environment with lots of “Seconds rule!” attitude - with friendship, kindness, and no sense of competition. With this, the seconds started practicing on their own, and after a few surprised and pleased exclamations from the conductor, the practicing train never stopped. People begin to see it as something that would bring good things instead of something to be intimidated by, I think. We also helped with fingerings and showing how to practice certain more difficult things. When they approached it on their own and had no idea how to tackle it, it became unapproachable.

Of course, this isn’t a solution for every situation, but I think you have to try to figure out where the problem is coming from. People will avoid things that they don’t even want to avoid if the psychological barrier is strong enough!

David, it still isn’t clear to me what the problem is exactly…you might get some more helpful advice if you could be more specific... or maybe I’m just not quite understanding…

September 1, 2019, 4:29 PM · Anita, what did you do at the sectionals? I've never played in an orchestra. Where did you have them?
September 1, 2019, 11:07 PM · Good sharing with lots of insights, Anita. Thanks.
September 2, 2019, 5:24 AM · In sectionals, we would focus on the bits everybody found difficult… Play them at a tempo at which everybody could handle them, and slowly speed them up with a metronome. Talk about which fingerings would be best. It was a long time ago, so it’s a bit of a challenge to remember! But I imagine the decision about what to focus on was partly democratic…simply finding out what everyone wanted to work on.

Hope that helps!

September 2, 2019, 7:48 AM · Hmmm ... kind of like practicing. Imagine that. :)

I agree that sectionals are good because it's harder for people to hide, and easier for people to improve because they are only hearing one part -- theirs. So they can hear their section better than they could in the full orchestra. And the peer-pressure is a little more focused as well.

September 2, 2019, 8:19 AM · Haha, yes, I suppose that’s exavtly what it was. Group practice. With lots of encouragement.

But practicing is also a learned skill, and it was beneficial, I think, to demonstrate how to practice. And how to have a little fun doing it. And how it helps!

September 2, 2019, 8:33 AM · Thank you all for your insight. To borrow from an old song, we can't 'eliminate the negative' but we can always 'accentuate the positive'.
Are there any team building activity tips that would apply to a volunteer fiddle group?
Edited: September 2, 2019, 1:56 PM · Have you tried bringing donuts? Seriously my community orchestra has these issues -- wondering if the orchestra can hold itself together, whether our conductor is right for us, etc. But someone brings cookies or something every week and we talk to one another during the break, and that creates a family atmosphere that is very cohesive and positive. Who wants to talk about bad stuff when they're eating home-made cookies?
Edited: September 3, 2019, 9:14 AM · With PBR? Ok serious again, how long and how often does your group rehearse?
September 3, 2019, 8:59 AM · thanks Anita for your tips on practicing together!
September 3, 2019, 11:54 PM · I have a string quartet and I don't recall any negative things in the four years we've been together. Because it's a small group, we can be flexible. We meet weekly but if someone has something else going on, we meet without them and make a point of matching our schedule to theirs the following week. I think we're all humble--no one can be perfect all the time, with every piece. If someone is fed up with practicing something week after week, we'll take a break from the piece for a week or two. And we all have busy lives so we understand if someone hasn't had time to practice something during the week. And sometimes we do something really different. In the spring my SQ and teacher played backup to me playing one of the movements of the Telemann Viola Concerto at my student recital. Currently we're working on two Vivaldi works for two solo violins and preparing to play at an open mic with one of our keyboard friends. When it's just two or three of us at a practice, we dig in and work on the hard parts, similar to what Anita mentioned. We'll play two parts at a time, or slower tempo, or play the piece "backwards" to root out sticking points.


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