Monday, January 31, 2011


"Between stimulus and response, man has the freedom to choose."
-Viktor Frankl

Another quote from Steven Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People". This one comes from a man who was held in the Nazi death camps during World War II. Frankl came to the realization amongst the terror that surrounded him that he could decide how this would affect him. He had the freedom to choose what kind of person he would be if he came out on the other side. HE got to CHOOSE.

There is no argument against that. If a man in that situation can still say, "I'm am in control of who I am as a person. My environment will not determine my destiny" then who of us can argue against it. Covey uses this quote to get across the idea that as humans, we are self aware. We can see and access ourselves. We can improve by thinking things through, and changing. With us it isn't simply STIMULUS and then RESPONSE. We have THOUGHT between the two. We can choose to ignore it if we wish, but even then we CHOOSE to simply respond to the stimulus without thinking it through. This is how Covey encourages his readers to begin making effective and positive change in their lives. Take a step back. Look at yourself, and your actions. Look at the things you value, the things you need and want. This empowers us to align our actions with the goals we have.

As a conductor, there is an abundance of stimulus in our professional lives. A flat note, the student who forgot their music, the student who is consistently disrespectful, the possibly tone deaf singer on the front row. The list could go on for days. Covey tells us that we can take a second, and choose how we respond to each of these different stimuli. We can align the action we take with the principles that we hold for ourselves and our ensembles. By doing this we can respond in the most appropriate and effective way.

A New Level of Thinking

Albert Einstein observed, "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."

In Steven Covey's "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" He talks about a paradigm shift that is critical to our success as human beings. First, what is a paradigm shift? Covey uses the term "paradigm" to describe the lens through which we see and perceive our world. It's the mold we use to reason thinks out. It's how we make sense of our lives and the lives of those around us. Why we do what we do. Why others do what they do. Why things are the way they are. Get it?

So then a paradigm shift... It's when we change our paradigm. Our perception transforms. We see the world a different way. We change the way we think. There you have it, PARADIGM SHIFT.

So this vital paradigm shift that covey talks about is focused on an approach he's labeled "inside-out". Inside-out suggests that if there is a problem that you wish to see resolved, you should become the solution. Covey gives a couple of different examples: "If you want to have a happy marriage, be the kind of person that generates positive energy and sidesteps negative energy rather than empowering it. If you want to have a more pleasant, cooperative teenager, be a more understanding, empathetic, consistent, loving parent."

Ghandi also had a take on this idea, "Be the change you want to see in the world."

Instead of trying to force things to change, we must first change ourselves. I think after we change ourselves into the kind of person that promotes the result we wish to see, achieving that result would be much easier.

So, let's put that into terms for conductors. What can we do with this "inside-out" approach. How can we be the change we wish to see in our ensembles. As the conductor, we set the standard. How ridiculous would it be for me to ask a group of musicians to know their music if I do not know mine inside and out, like the back of my hand? We must be the kind of conductors that promotes the behavior, sound, performance, etc in our ensembles.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Social Mirror

In "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" Stephen Covey describes a concept he refers to as "The Social Mirror". This is our reflection on the face of society. It involves how we are perceived by other people. The way they define us, our actions, our goals, etc.

I believe it's good to be aware of what people think of you. Obviously their feedback can be a very useful thing at times in terms of personal and professional growth. However, you cannot allow who you are to be determined by these people. The book says "If the only vision we have of ourselves comes from the social mirror–from the current social paradigm and from the opinions, perceptions, and paradigms of the people around us–our view of ourselves is like the reflection in the crazy mirror at the carnival."

Covey suggests that instead of allowing ourselves to be defined by this ever changing, distorted mirror, we should seek to define ourselves by our principles. Our principles do not vary. They are a constant. Therefore, if we define ourselves by our principles and we hold fast to them, then we are without a doubt successful.

This applies to being a conductor in that, you cannot allow the flawed views of your peers, choir or orchestra members, or anyone to define you. If you draw a hard line then you more oft than not be perceived as "mean". The same goes for any other decisions you might make as a conductor. People will always have their view of how life works, which normally has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them and their own problems. So as conductors, we should define ourselves by our principles. Through this method we can become successful as professionals and successful at making beautiful music.