A sister and a brother
Six years old
Prepare for the visit of good friends
I listen to their conversation
And enjoy the moment
I find myself thinking “how well they get along”
And realise that I just jinxed it…
About two times a year I participate in concert productions in the philharmonic choir of Southern Jutland Symphony orchestra where I sing alto.
Last week, it was the production of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio which was up on schedule. A Christmas production usually mean three nights of rehearsals followed by three concert performances. That means a busy week – headed by an orchestra conductor who flies in to Sønderborg to conduct the orchestra, the choir and the soloists. This time, we had the pleasure to sing under the competent baton (or actually – he used a pencil J) of a British conductor who is well-known and distinguished in choir circles. It was the second time we had the pleasure to work with him – the last time was two years ago when he conducted us in GF Handels “The Messiah”.
I do these concerts because I love to sing – it is as simple as that. But during the years, I have realized that there are actually two other, important aspects of creating these concert performances which pushes my buttons to find time for it in a busy schedule:
- The process of bringing the choral work from static musical score to dynamical music
- Experience and get inspired by a different kind of leadership
These aspects add fuel to both my personal experience, but also to my role as an IT project manager. Although there are many differences between the project of creating a concert performance compared to managing an IT project (someday I will sit down and try to elaborate more on those differencesJ) there are also several similarities – where I think that us as persons working in a business environment definitely could learn from.
The process of bringing the choral work from static musical score to dynamical music:
When you start up a concert performance project, you will always have a basis to work with in terms of a score. Someone have composed the music, it has been replicated and distributed. A concert or a series of concerts have already been announced in good advance. My preparation as a singer is that I get a score and I rehearse on what is in the score (the notes and the text).
What the conductor brings into play is the interpretation. His or hers view of, how this score should be played. Which feelings are to be put into it and when, which tempo should it be played and sung in, which dynamics should there be, how should the cooperation be with the choir, the orchestra and the soloists.
So one of the most important tasks the conductor have, is to bring these ideas into life by explaining to the performers how they should act in order to convert the static score into dynamical music.
Here, I think that we as “conductors” in a business environment should look at the orchestra conductor and learn, learn, learn. Because conductors are really good in stating what they want – and they communicate this very cleverly using metaphors and body language. Taking my last week of experience into account, this was something that our British conductor was really good at. First of all, you could feel that he actually had given it a lot of thought what his aim with these performances should be and the feelings he wanted to show in which movement. Then, explaining it in words so you get an idea of how to sing it. “This movement is for the little baby Jesus – so sing this like you are singing to the baby Jesus” (one of the slow and passionate chorals) or “this movement is the shepherds going to Bethlehem – they are so eager to meet the baby and are gathering around and talking intensely about that they should go and see him – sing this attentively and energetic” (one of the fugue parts “Lasset uns nun gehen gen Bethlehem”). Basically, what he did was translating the music into normal, daily feelings which we all can relate to. When you are in the process, it can feel really “nitty-gritty” that you just cannot sing “himmel” like you are pronouncing it when you talk, but should sing it like “Himmmmmmmmmmmel” – where the mmmmm’s are pronounced with a closed mouth. But when you listen to the sound it makes when following the directions, it really brings a “lullybyish” feeling to it – which was exactly what he was looking for.
Besides this “up-front” direction-givings, the conductor is also present with constant feedback during the performance. He shows you the tempo and translates the same kind of directions into the body language used for the conduction. In this case, our British conductor was very present body-wise. He was very clear about what he wanted more of and what he wanted less of, and used more or less himself as an instrument to give us those directions.
Experience and get inspired by a different kind of leadership
I have experienced that some people find it quite provoking of me to say, that I actually think that I as a project manager in the private sector can learn something from an orchestra conductor. This provocation comes from the fact, that the hierarchy in an orchestra is, that when you are on stage, there is only one boss – and that is the conductor. What the conductor wants is what you are supposed to deliver. You are not supposed to deliver what you as a person think would be a good idea to deliver.
The very simple rationale behind this hierarchy is that when you are performing 60-100 persons at once, there needs to be a very strong discipline and hierarchy build up around the performance in order to bring it together. Here, there is no room for individual interpretations.
So in this kind of leadership, much is already given by the role the conductor has. There are many decisions you don’t need to spend time arguing about – because it is like it is. Period. But when that is said, there are more or less clever ways to fill this role – which ultimately has the goal of delivering a great performance. This can only be done if you have the people performing in the production behind you in what you as conductor want to deliver with the performance.
And this is a question of gaining peoples trust and commitment to the interpretation the conduction would like to deliver.
Our British friend started this journey by making a quite provoking statement on our first rehearsal night. He said that we would be able to nail this performance even better without having our scores with us. If it was up to him we should not look into the score at all (which actually violates what I have just stated above about the conductor being the one who decides, but there are some exceptions to this rule J). That translates to, that he believed in our ability to sing this choral work by heart, and that he had trust in us to be able to deliver without the score.
Releasing ourselves from the score would mean more surplus energy to have contact with him and the audience – and also to give our singing a more free and pure timbre.
I quite quickly decided with myself, that this statement meant that he was willing to sacrifice getting 97% of the notes right and only 70-80% attention – for the prospect of getting 80% of the notes right and 97% attention.
Actually, I think we ended up with delivering him 95% right notes and 97% attention – at least the ones of us who decided to be bold enough to follow his request.
The point is, that he took a decision based on what he wanted to get out of the performance, and we were able to stick to it because he showed the necessary faith in us to let us go with the flow and actually becoming part of the performance. He took the responsibility and acted upon the leadership given by his role.
So – to sum up:
- Consider your goal and communicate it clearly
- Use words or metaphors that make it easier for people to understand what your goal is and how you want to achieve it
- Show who you are – not who you think people would like you to be
- Fill the space you are given as a part of your role – don’t be afraid to take the lead
- Consider which things that are not up for discussion
- Take risks – you might get more what you bargained for
- Show people that you have faith in what they deliver
In December I am going to participate in a production of Johann Sebastian Bachs’ famouns Christmas Oratorio. It is going to be a three-concert production – conducted by quite famous and accomplished the British condutor.
I have had the privilege to work with him before – in Handels “The Messiah”. It was a couple of years ago, and the third time I was to sing “The Messiah”. So I had looked forward to the prospect of being able to free myself from the score, invest some more energy in being present in the moment and in line with the conductor.
Then, as rehearsals started, we recevied a completely new and updated interpretation of Messiah score. The Messiah was composed by GF Handel in England 1741, and the score we received was describing the interpretation that this British conductor wanted to us to perform – somewhat 269 years later. It was a huge score – and the notations the conductor had done was mostly related to text, dynamics and accentuations.
When I first looked at it, it was quite shocking. I quickly realized that my dream of a performace with excess energy to invest in a more intense contact to the conductor was about to go down the drain. In his interpretation, there were tons of places where we were not allowed to sing certain tones, where the text to accompany certain tones had been removed – and how and when to pronounce T, S, K was elaborated on to almost eights of beats. There were one place, where we were not allowed to sing “prince of peace” as in the original score, but where to sing “prince of pea”. All of that nitty-gritty business really annoyed me, and I felt too attached to this new score to let go. But as we worked with the score, many of the alterations done actually made sense. There was a reason behind why I should avoid singing “prince of peace” but sing “prince of pea” in stead. Because immediatly after finalizing “peace” – I were to sing “unto us a child is born”. And it beacame “prince of peassssunto us a child is born”. So in order to make it easier for me to accentuate “unto us a child is born” - which is the phrase that actually brings the music forward - I should not focus on singing the “s” sound in “peace” – because about 40 other chorists are doing that. So why use energy on an “s” that removes the attention from the more important phrase “unto”.
And even though some of the other alternations did not make sense to me at all, I was really impressed about the ones that did. The man had a vision and an idea behind asking us to avoid singing the sound of “s” – even though Handel apparently composed the oratorio with the “s”. The idea was to create a more clear flow in the text and in the music, and I am sure that Handel would not mind that – looking down at us 269 years later from his divine restingplace.
So even though the composed score gives us the notes, the texts and some of the dynamics – the applied performance is created by the conductor who possesses the vision and act upon it – and the musicians who know their instruments and can translate the written score to feelings and flow. You can have a great conductor with musicians that don’t pay attention and don’t want to follow the conductors ideas. You can have splendid musicias who know their craft – but a conductor who fails to engage them and utilize their knowledge and special skills. You can have a conductor who sticks to the original score – but does not make it his owm performance.
The same goes for projects. Good project models which gives us the guiding lines for how to act does not make a good project. A project model can explain what to do — and to some extend also how to do it – but the real value and beauty is in the artistic processess of the persons who applies the projectmodel - and the persons it is applied to. Remove a less important ”s” in one place to give room to accentuate an”unto” somewhere else proves, that thoughts have been but into how the energy of the team is best spent to achieve a great end product. But how to spot where it is allowed or makes sense to do such an alternation is the tricky part.
Last time we were rehearsing the Christmas Oratorio, I received one of my old scores to sing from. Knowing who were to conduct, I was really disappointed. I had looked forward to receiving a customized score and see what funny German letters and words I can avoid to pronounce this time (and which consonants I probably almost have to spit to be able to pronounce). But I was told that there most likely were a customized score underway for our next rehearsal which is tomorrow
Yet another week in France to do our second workshop of testing the new SAP R/3 setup. Long days, a lot of work, good food and good company. And when returning to the hotel for some time on my own, I switch on my MP3 player to listen to some really fantastic German music written by Johann Sebastian Bach in 1741 – namely the Harpischord concerto in A major with strings and oboe d’amore. Come to think about it, its really amazing that this music was written 270 years ago – and is still played, listened to and loved all over the world.
It is really strange to think about we are in the crucible of moving from one IT system to another – and yet, what we are doing today most likely won’t matter to anyone in 270 years. I am sure that the core business processes are still going to be there, though – as mankind have been planning, sourcing, making and delivering for centuries. But the IT systems won’t be the same – or even exist in the sense we know them today.
But drawing a parallell to music, what Bach created was something very viable, very powerful and very beutiful and it is amazing to think that his creations are still here – 27o years later – to calm my senses in this period of stress and hard work.
Here’s a clip from the BWV 1055. Actually it is a version without the oboe con’amore – instead the oboe part is played by a quite fantastic French pianist called David Fray. He’s is quite eccentric and sit and hum while he plays – but wow – what an interpretation of Bach!!
Here I am, about 3 months before go-live of an SAP R/3 implementation in France. As my team is busy looking into errors and issues found in first test-workshop in France last week, I enjoy the bliss of preparing the conversion plans for the productive cutover from the factorie’s current systems to SAP R/3.
For some reason, I find it rather therapeutic to do the work of organizing and sequencing the conversion plans. Although I am definetly not the one with the most profound insight in how and what to do practically to convert the data, working with the plans make me feel that I have got an overview and that we have thought as much as we can about what to do before going there for real.
At the same time, I am always hit with the fact there are new issues to consider for each cut-over you do – and that the process is so dependent on people who have knowledge about their business and about the IT systems in sunset and sunrise. It is really makes you grateful to think about all the persons that are going to work hard and well to make this a success. And even though the road still to travel is long – and time feels short – the best starting point is a good planning and a bunch of clever, knowledgeble and motivated people to make an effort.
Today will hopefullly be a good day with a lot of inspiration on one of my favourite project management angles: The project manager as a conductor.
Having participated in many concert productions with different internationally acclaimed conductors, I have been stricken by some of the following topics:
1) The ability of getting +100 persons working together for a common goal
2) The ability to quickly realising what the team - or teams standing in front of you are capable of doing - both individually and as a group
3) Lead in “kairos” (=in the right moment) during a concert and use their own body as an instrument in this process
During the past month I have been working with Vibeke Krogsgaard – opera singer and founder of Voxlab topperformance - to setup a session for my fellow project manager collegues to explore the theme “My company is an orchestra – the role of the conductor”. Basicaly – this is about looking at the role of the project manager in the light of the role of the conductor.
My experience tells me that working with artistic processes might be different then working on IT projects – but many elements of the role is still the same. And my hypothesis is, that even though the fields of operation is different – there are a lot to be learned about the way a conductor go about preparing, rehersing and finally performing at a concert.
What the session today will be about is showing this in a more practical context to my collegues by letting them work their way toward a performance of a musical task – while elaborating on the role of the conductor, on how to handle primadonnas, how to handle kairos-leadership etc.
I look forward to it and hope that it will be a good and inspiring day for my collegues aswell
Raxacoricofallapatorius is actually a planet. Not a real planet (not in any solar system I am aware of at least) – but a planet in the universe of the British Sci-fi series Doctor Who. This planet is the home planet of the alien race Raxacoricofallapatorians – including the criminal families Slitheen, Blathereen and Hostereen.
According to the Urban Dictonary, the word can also be used as a phrase meaning “I have no freakin’ idea”
Besides that, it is a tounge twister and it takes a while to get the hang of pronouncing it correctly.
Here’s a cute clip from an episode of Doctor Who (2006) season 1 where Rose Tyler finally learns how to pronounce the name of the planet:
When I choose to call by blog Raxacoricofallapatorius, it is because to me the phrase also reflect the fun and humorus side of life and is a reminder to me that whatever I do – it has to be have a certain “fun-ness” to it. If it isn’t fun – then make it fun. Life is much easier and enjoyable with a bit of humor – and make sure not to take yourself too seriously