The First Rehearsal . . .

“…how absurd human beings are and how magnificent.”  ― Benjamin Zander

The other night I had an extraordinary experience.  I sat in on the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra’s first rehearsal for their upcoming performance of Mahler’s 7th Symphony. I am so overwhelmed by what I learned that it is hard to find a place to begin this blog.

My daughter, Stephanie, was the guest of Conductor Maestro Benjamin Zander, one of the world’s experts on Mahler’s work.  She was observing Maestro Zander in the art of conducting and sat, score on her lap, riveted for the full three hours.  I sat up in the balcony of the rehearsal hall, equally enthralled.

First lesson:  The leadership principles of Ben Zander, Master Conductor and Educator.  Contrary to the popularised view of the conductor as the wise, all-knowing, stern, authoritative and commanding figure on the podium, barking orders and bending the musicians to his will with force of character, I was watching a back and forth flow of human emotions, open communications, laughter, suggestions from all corners.  Definitely not your typical conductor.

For those of you not familiar with Benjamin Zander, he was a protegé of the famous English composer Benjamin Britten, who took him under his wing at an early age. Maestro Zander is now 74 years young and engages both musicians and the audience with fire and an enthusiasm for music.  And Ben is also the co-author, along with his wife, Rosamund, of the celebrated self-improvement and leadership book, The Art of Possibility.  And Ben lives the lessons in his book.  When one of the violinists made a mistake during the rehearsal, he stopped the orchestra, looked around and said, “How Interesting!”, to which everyone laughed, since it is his standard way of calling attention to something that needs correcting.  Point taken, lesson learned, mistake fixed, moving on.  All in one effortless flow.

Lesson Two:  Even professionals need to practice together.  This is obvious with groups of professionals like an orchestra, a professional basketball or baseball team.  In fact all teams of professionals must practice together in order to blend their unique skills, capabilities and talents into a unified force.  Yet in business, the senior team doesn’t think they need to practice!  They consider themselves “already excellent” at their jobs and don’t need to practice together.  Then I attend a typical senior staff meeting and I understand why practice, feedback, coaching each other, understanding the rules and playbook are so important.  Most senior staff meetings are disasters!  Clear rules, feedback and practice would do a world of good for most business teams.

Lesson Three:  The highest levels of performance come from those who “love” what they are doing.   The symphonies of Gustav Mahler are difficult works, full of technical challenges for the players and musical difficulties for the audience.  You can’t make Mahler sound beautiful by just going through the motions.  Many times I have watched professional athletes just going through the motions, getting by, doing their job, but without hustle or passion.  When I watched this orchestra rehearsing, I could feel the thrill of playing together, of getting it right, of making great music.  Many are professional musicians, some music students and a few amateurs, but the BPO is a labor of love, and they give it their all.

If you have never seen Ben Zander speaking about passion and possibility, here is one of his classic TED talks.  Benjamin Zander on music and passion

It’s one of the characteristics of a leader that he not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he’s leading to realize whatever he’s dreaming.   -Benjamin Zander

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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1 Response to The First Rehearsal . . .

  1. Steve Borek says:

    I love Zander! I utilize his thoughts throughout my process in coaching business clients. His book “The Art of Possibility” is a must read for everyone.


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