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Have you ever conducted a string quarter? No? If you ever have the chance, take it!  I’ve had the privilege and it is amazing. To stand in the middle of those experts and feel like I am part of their music is a powerful feeling.

You’re thinking, “Michelle, you aren’t a musician, you’re making this up.”  I really did get to conduct musicians in training exercise. We each took our turn; some stood within the circle of talent, some stood outside. Some let the musicians all take the lead simultaneously, feeling bold; some kept them all playing slowly, quietly and controlled because of their own discomfort.

This experience was years ago but it is like a rose in my mind, every year it blooms anew and I learn something more. As a director, I’ve conducted from within and conducted from without. I’ve experienced what happens when leaders don’t lead, all the musicians jockeying for the spotlight. I’ve experienced heavy handed leadership that suppresses any expression from the talent.

When I conducted in the middle of the group, I thought I “won” by leading while being side by side with “my team”. But does a team appreciate that? Not always. I’ve learned there are times to be one of the team (my favorite place) but I need to know when to trust my team to reach the goal on their own (their favorite). I’ve learned that my “musicians” each have their unique talents that deserve the spotlight. And I’ve learned that some of my “musicians” prefer to stay out of the spotlight.

Listen to the music of your team, assess what type of conductor they need today to give their best performance. Today they may need you among them, tomorrow they may want to show you they can do it on their own. Building this understanding and unspoken dialogue develops loyalty and appreciation between you and your musicians. A conductor without loyal musicians is just a person with a little white stick.

-Michelle Catucci

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