Conducting the Choir image

Conducting the Choir

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Last night Mrs Hosier and I took a fifteen minute stroll from our house across the park to a performance by the wonderful Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at their home concert hall in the Poole Lighthouse. Yes, things really are that civilised in Poole: it’s a tough life – but it was an experience that reminded me of a leadership lesson.

The BSO is an excellent orchestra and last night was an excellent programme: Falla’s Three Cornered Hat – much amusement with castanets; Rachmaninov’s sublime second piano concerto – soloist Boris Giltburg, interestingly playing a Fazioli rather than the typical concert hall Steinway; and Stravinsky’s Petrushka.

We sat where we normally try to sit, in the choir immediately behind the orchestra. These are the cheap seats, but for my money also the best, as it feels like being part of the band. There was a lot of percussion involved last night, with seven percussionists kept busy by the Falla (those castanets), and the full toolkit of cymbals, drums, triangles and other gizmos employed throughout the evening. The percussionists are the naughty schoolboys of the orchestra: they have to be incredibly precise when called upon to play, but tend to spend a lot of time waiting for that moment. While not actually playing on gameboys or smoking illicit cigarettes, sitting directly behind them you get the sense that is what they are doing metaphorically.

The occupants of the choir stalls tend to have something of a percussionists mentality too. Maybe it’s because we’re the cheapskates, or because we cross normal ‘personal space’ taboos, being squashed together in a manner not experienced by less impecunious concert-goers – but there is a certain amount of joshing that goes on. A rather surreal moment occurred just as we were re-gathering after the interval and a woman two or three decades my senior leant forward to tell me how much she liked my haircut. I was glad to have my wife sitting close by, for protection.

There is no denying that the audience for these concerts is generally ‘mature’. While we’re Bournemouth (slash Poole) it’s not exactly ‘Close to the Edge’ but the age of the crowd does provide its moments. It certainly makes getting to the bar in the interval a slow process, and the whining of hearing aids being tuned in rather complements the orchestra tuning up.

Leading last nights proceedings was the Mexican conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto – and this brings me to my leadership lesson. One advantage of sitting in the choir is being able to see the conductor face on, and follow more closely what he is doing. It must take some chutzpah to be a conductor. In front of you are eighty or so musicians, all experts in their field, all more than capable of following a score, and you expect them to bow to your direction?

Church leadership is somewhat like that. Sure, the BSO needs a conductor, but probably not so much as a conductor needs the BSO. Forget that dynamic and it won’t be long before the percussionists are banging their timpani in all the wrong places.

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