A StringTrio

Leadership and Strings

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership, 3-LI

One evening this past weekend, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending a musical dinner. It was amazing. The food was wonderful, the wine plentiful and the music personal. I say “personal” because we were right there in the same room with the musicians, or in our case, on the balcony above. The musicians interacted with us. Each spoke about his or her instrument — a little something of the history and how it works. I loved it all; violin, piano, bassoon and was particularly struck by the string trio’s amazing Beethoven pieces.

I’m used to choral and orchestral music complete with wonderful conductors. There was no formal conductor for the trio this evening. After speaking to the audience about the piece the trio was to play, the three musicians (violin, viola and cello) made eye contact and the violinist used his upper body and instrument to indicate the start. I could discern no lagging in the entrances. Each bow began its movement across the strings simultaneously. Leadership at its very best.

As I listened and watched, I made note that the violinist was acknowledged to be the default leader. The others gave him permission to lead and accepted that leadership. Several times during the masterful performance, one of the others would lead. Whichever instrument was to open the movement or be the dominant voice became the leader. There was no discussion, leadership was dictated by the music and each was a leader at appropriate times. There was always eye contact and body language to indicate tempo, pauses, entrances and passion in the movement. Teamwork at its very best.

While these gentlemen had not played together as a trio before, they are all part of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra. They are professionals. They are technically competent. They have a plan and a vision. The plan is the music of course. The vision is to bring Beethoven alive for the audience. They have an understood and acknowledged “why” — to provide audiences with a beautiful, inspiring experience, to play their absolute best and so honor Beethoven and their own instruments with this performance.

Teamwork, leadership, passion and living the “why.” Can we get our teams to perform like this? Can we build an organization where everyone takes an appropriate leadership role? The example I saw at this performance suggests we can. The years of experience, practice and continuous learning represented in that trio means it will be hard work to get to that level of performance. It can be done, and when it is done, it brings tears to the eyes. Great leadership is a gift to the world.