Lessons from the Orchestra

Can we learn team building from a junior high orchestra?

Well… let me start by bragging: my child made the All State Junior Orchestra this fall. He got nominated, selected and given some music to practice both at home and with the fellow nominees at school.

The cello parts presented themselves as a series of sounds, sometimes forming a melody, but, more often than not, remaining a contextual mystery to the ear. Yet, my son, with his Beethoven hair and A-type determination, scaled the sheets, committing the lines to his fingers.

We are, by no means, strangers to orchestral work. With six years of Des Moines Youth Orchestra under his belt, Lucas has the process down. …Except for this time it was different: the All-State kids don’t get the luxury of a weekly meeting. What they have is a lot of independent work followed by a delivery date, where, with only a few hours of collaboration, they are tasked with putting together a show for hundreds of people. They only got one shot to showcase their work. No pressure there.

The show was fabulous. Conductor talked about the challenges and discoveries, the conversations they had throughout the day about the reading and intent of the music. The ad-hoc soloists stood up (or, really, sat down) to the challenge. The string sections communicated seamlessly. Together, they navigated the complicated terrain of Shostakovich’s Second Waltz and arrived to the overwhelmingly warm applause of the appreciative audience.

As I was taking in the experience, with fascination and pride, I also thought about the question someone asked me just a few days before: What is an ideal team?

The answer was in front of my eyes, this very orchestra, it had all the parts:

  1. A group of experts, highly trained in their respective areas;
  2. Each member able and excited to contribute to the common goal;
  3. Existing opportunities for growth, and budding leaders to take them on;
  4. Benevolent and supporting peers;
  5. Love of a job and a sense of purpose;
  6. Unified, shared vision;
  7. And – a leader, communicating the vision and fostering their people.

It is in such make-up, that extraordinary things can happen. And, while not all of life is music, we can all play as if it is.

P.S. Enjoy the illustration: Iowa Junior Honors Orchestra playing Second Waltz

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