Sunday, June 13, 2010

Don’t stress about things you can’t control

I’ve just finished reading a remarkable book called The Art of Possibility. It’s jointly authored by Rosamund Stone Zander and her husband, Benjamin Zander, who is an orchestral conductor.

Zander possibility

Ben Zander by p_c_w

In the book, Ben Zander tells an anecdote about absenteeism in a community orchestra. It certainly rang bells for me!

Zander writes:

“While the early days of rehearsing for a concert with a community or semi-professional orchestra are easy-going, with the full performance only a light on the distant horizon, absenteeism is initially taken in stride. ... [but] as the concert approaches, the pressure mounts ...”

He goes on to describe the penultimate rehearsal before a concert where many of the viola section were absent. To top it all, the assistant principal viola player wasn’t there and had failed to notify anybody.

At some point he stumbles across the woman and loses his temper big time.

No doubt his loss of temper was due to the enormous pressure he felt and the responsibility to present a high-quality performance with lots of important elements missing. He realised this afterwards and apologised.

This incident reminded me of the many times in rehearsal when people are late or don’t turn up or haven’t done the preparation. I begin to feel angry and tense and sometimes (despite myself) it leaks out.

It’s most evident when working with a small group. If you have a singing ensemble with eight singers and both altos are absent at a vital rehearsal, it feels like everything is falling apart and you just won’t be able to do the performance.

In a small theatre company you plan to rehearse a vital scene just before the show opens, but the two principal actors are away that week and you just can’t do it without them.

It’s very easy to forget that people have a life outside art. That most people have jobs, families, other hobbies, illnesses, etc. If it’s our job to lead a choir or run a theatre group, we can end up thinking it’s the most important thing in the world. We are so focused on it that we forget that it might not have the same priority for other people.

At the end of Zander’s story, he writes a letter to the woman he lost his temper with:

“I see that in a volunteer orchestra where players have many other commitments, I cannot assume that everyone’s priorities are exactly the same as mine.

I have come to realise that people will do what they want to do – which means the sometimes they will come to rehearsals and sometimes they won’t – and I must respect their decisions.”

We cannot control everything in our work. If something unexpected happens, we need to accept it and find a way of working with it. Getting stressed about it doesn’t make the problem go away and can result in tempers getting frayed.

I remember hearing about a film director who always rose to the challenge. For instance, arriving on set to be told that the 100 extras he was expecting for the battle scene weren’t coming, would exclaim: “Great! No extras! Now we can film an excellent battle scene.”

We have a big summer concert coming up soon, my last ever with Woven Chords. I promise that I will try my hardest to take these lessons on board and not get too stressed!


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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