On the Other Side
By Nicole Lamartine, WY State President

Ilamartinen an ensemble, the conductor is the conduit through which the music flows from the ensemble to the audience.  This responsibility of being the one on the podium can be draining year after year, and to refuel creativity and awareness, it is fulfilling to be on the other side – whether as listener, ensemble member, or learner.

We as conductors are trained to listen, most importantly for things to fix.  We hear what is wrong to make it right… because we care – for the music, the students, and the quality of experience.  It is sometimes extremely difficult to turn off the critical ear and simply listen to the beauty. 

Last November when I sat in a church listening to my top choir being conducted by mquote1y graduate students, I realized that it is so very important – and affirming—occasionally to turn off that part of our musicianship that searches for glitches.  Only then was I able to step back and realize how proud I was of the quality, attention to detail, commitment, emotion, and beautiful tone my students offered.  It was a gift that I had never allowed myself to receive before that moment. 

We have a very strong ability to take in an enormous amount of sound and process it in a real and human way that allows us to hear the beauty and all of the things that the choir is doing right.  By letting go, we allow ourselves in.

The same holds true for ourselves as singing musicians.  It is so important to be on the singing side of the podium every once and a while.  By singing in an ensemble we are reminded of what it feels like to work through a rehearsal, and what our students may be experiencing on a daily basis.  I have recently sung in the Colorado Bach Ensemble and with Howard Meharg’s Chor Anno.  Both experiences allowed me to open my ears in new ways, learn new repertoire, experience different rehearsal styles, and create music with my own human sound – rather than my hands.  Actively participating in an ensemble allows us to reconnect with our own vocal instruments.  By following, we learn to be better leaders.

We can also explore the other side by actively learning something new. 

Every student who steps into one of our ensembles is learning something for the first time, and we see the pattern of learning phases very clearly:  intimidation of the task, excitement to try, embarrassment at failure, willingness to try again, success, and finally, mastery and subsequent ability to pass on the information.  It is only when we put ourselves in the learner’s seat can we be reminded of all of the emotion that is inherent in the learning process. 

I realize that unless I am actively learning something new, I have difficulty relating to the phases of understanding, accomplishment, and assessment of the learning process.  So, I chose to learn mandolin, to tag cattle at a local branding, and to be certified as a fitness trainer.  If we find ourselves on the learning phase journey, we are more able to recognize what our students need during each point in the learning process to motivate and encourage, ultimately garnering commitment to excellence.  By learning, we strengthen our teaching.

I hope that we may all be inspired to take our leadership to the other side.  Isn’t it our goal to be “in” the music, to lead with confidence and integrity, and to be committed stewards of this thing we call music?  Good luck on your journey.