Lead the leader

Maebh Martin
Wednesday 1 July 2015

My project – Musical leadership in opera, concert and recording: an observation of period instrument performers – has been a whirlwind of activity from the word go. The first four weeks of my internship made up my ‘observation period’. I was involved with three different projects during the month of June: Byre Opera’s production of Iphigénie en Tauride; a concert by Ars Eloquentiae, a period ensemble from London; and a CD recording with St Salvator’s Chapel Choir. There was significant overlap within the three events, not only in terms of when they were happening – four performances and seven recording sessions all took place within the space of eight days – but also with regard to the musicians involved. The Fitzwilliam String Quartet joined forces with Ars Eloquentiae to record the CD, and the opera orchestra was also comprised of players from both groups.

Definition of observer in English:
1 A person who watches or notices something.

My role as an ‘observer’, however, has been far from passive! During the opera rehearsals in particular, I became involved in more aspects of the production than I had ever thought would be possible; from stand-in stunt body to prop holder, note-taker to rehearsal pianist, I gained insights into the process from all imaginable angles.

I was lucky enough to be asked to play in the final opera performance and one of the CD recording sessions, as one of the Baroque violists was unavailable due to a prior commitment. To be able to join an orchestra comprising some of the best players in their field, and be amongst the players in the pit during a live performance, really brought home the attributes of leadership I had been observing and learning in the weeks prior.

Definition of leader in English:
1 The person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.
2 The principal player in a music group.
2.1 British The principal first violinist in an orchestra.
2.2 North American A conductor of a small musical group.

I’m now in the sixth week of my internship, and I can’t believe the time has gone in so quickly. The musical leadership I have seen and been a part of has been multi-faceted and eye-opening. I’m now more aware than ever that communication is key to all aspects of rehearsal and performance; whether verbal or non-verbal, through facial expressions, breathing or body language, the transmission of one’s intentions, both musical and otherwise, is fundamental. Leadership does not have a concrete set of rules – it is as varied as the definitions above, and more. Its is not about being a dictator, nor is it always about being an individual; without the support and, in a sense, joint leadership of every member of the team, be it a 22-piece orchestra, a small chamber ensemble or an opera chorus, you cannot hope to achieve the full potential of the group. A leader is also a problem-solver, as I’ve seen for myself throughout this process. They must have the skills to compromise and to see things through in order to achieve the end result; the essential compromise of collaboration is a very valuable lesson to be learnt.

The next few weeks, though perhaps not as action-packed as the last few have been, will be a chance for me to deepen my knowledge of period performance and musical leadership through my own academic research; I plan to now build on my background reading to gain a wider perspective on the history and performance practice of Baroque music. Indeed, I’m looking forward to putting what I’ve learnt into practice in August, when I’ll be playing viola in Scotland’s only pre-professional Baroque ensemble, the Kellie Consort.

Good luck to all the other interns for the remainder of your projects!

Yours truly, Baroque viola in hand, at the final performance of Byre Opera's 'Iphigénie en Tauride'
Yours truly, Baroque viola in hand, at the final performance of Byre Opera’s ‘Iphigénie en Tauride’


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