Life Lessons from a Classical Music Festival . . .

YV 14

The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.  ~Denis Waitley

While the audience has the opportunity to enjoy a spirited evening of classical music in small medieval churches for six days, the Young Virtuosi Classical Music Festival we sponsor each July in the south of France is much more than just evening performances.  The logistics rival the military invasion of a small country and the coordination of volunteers is a daunting task.

Yet somehow, it all comes together and everyone seems to enjoy themselves; the audience, volunteers, sponsors, festival leaders, and of course the musicians. But every massive project of this size and calibre presents numerous learning opportunities, especially for young musicians.  They have the opportunity to not only play some of the world’s best-loved classical music (Mozart, Schubert, Strauss, Paganini, Ravel, Debussy), but to also learn about the art of performance (how to engage the audience, where to stand for solos, the use of facial expressions, and most importantly bringing the notes on a page to life).

Here’s an example of excellent music and great audience engagement in a violin and viola duo of Johan Halvorsen’s Passacaglia.

This year we all agreed that tour goal of each concert would be for the audience to feel better going out than they did coming in! In other words, it’s not about the musicians, it’s all about the audience.

Lessons in Responsibility

The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That’s the day we truly grow up.  ~John C. Maxwell

This year we have two different age groups at our festival, 23-28 year old semi-professional musicians desperately seeking full-time employment opportunities, and 15-17 year olds dealing with music lessons and practice, high school studies, and “teenage social disorientation”.

What is fascinating to watch (and difficult to deal with) is the different levels of responsibility displayed by the different groups. The semi-professional musicians are disciplined and dedicated to their craft.  They eat quickly in order to get back to practicing before the concerts.  They only drink after the concert, never before, unless it’s a day off! The seem to enjoy the entire process, practice, being in each other’s company, performing on stage, mingling with the audience after the performances.  And they are extremely open to feedback and suggestions for improvement, especially tips and tricks on “stage presence” and performing.

It’s amazing how sharp your focus and commitment to succeed when your stomach is empty and you don’t know where your next meal is coming from!

The younger group, on the other hand, is not quite certain how to behave.  Is this a holiday, social time, a festival, a time to show off my stuff? Their personal “responsibility meter” is set on low; they show up late for rehearsals, oversleep in the morning, leave music and clothes scattered about, are last on the bus to leave for the concerts, and seem to have a very valid excuse for everything that goes wrong.

One of our strategies is to get the older musicians to share some life lessons so we encourage lots of stories around the lunch and dinner table.  It seems that young people tend to listen and accept suggestions and input from these older musicians.  Certainly more than they do from parents or adults. Having such a mixed group is good for peer-to-peer learning and having role models to learn from.

And when they get on stage, the younger ones put their learning to good use and perform brilliantly.  Here’s a trio performance of a piece by Luigi Boccherini:


I just wish I had this level of training, performance opportunities and coaching when I was a teenager.

John R. ChildressN2Growth: President, Europe and Chair, Culture Transformation Practice

Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution, available from Amazon in paperback and eBook formats.

See the review of LEVERAGE in The Economist (January 9, 2014).

John also writes thriller novels:


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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2 Responses to Life Lessons from a Classical Music Festival . . .

  1. Frank Tempesta says:


    I forwarded this blog to Ben, He asked if there were any recordings available from any of the performances.


    Sent from my iPhone



  2. Music is the language of emotional intelligence


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