Personality necessary to become top player/conductor

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Mesmerist, Sep 7, 2015.

  1. Mesmerist

    Mesmerist Well-Known Member

    A recent book on psychopathic personalities and success in life talks about ruthlessness, fearlessness, self-confidence and a lack of conscience and empathy. No disrespect or insult intended here but it made me wonder if these attributes (along with talent and hard work) are essential to be at the very top of banding. What do you think?
  2. cjwood555

    cjwood555 Member

    Those characteristics get you to the top of government or stockbroking firms, not a career as a performer.

    Arts management positions maybe, but as a performer you only get to be a diva after you've 'made it'!
    Accidental likes this.
  3. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    To be a top class conductor or performer, you do need to be ruthless and willing to take chances, but I've always worked with the idea that I don't damage other people on the way up. I think the best performers have high levels of empathy which helps them to understand that the music is more than just the notes on a page. It also helps them to link together with the band they are playing with - at whatever level that may be - so they can play as a unit. Unless you are a pianist, music is rarely a solitary activity.
  4. DS2014

    DS2014 Active Member

    Regarding conductors and MDs, empathy, as Mike says above, seems to be very important. Check out the adjudicators' remarks on 4BR for the British Open last weekend: the top three conductors are all commended for the way they understood the music and brought it to life. Away from the contest stage, they are all seemingly willing to do what is needed in order to put the best band on stage: they're willing to sack players who are either not performing or whose attitude isn't conducive to allowing the other members of the band to perform to the best of their ability, and they're willing to bring in players who will do what they need. I don't think that's ruthlessness, actually; I think it is a combination of self-confidence (believing that you are right) and courage (willing to do what it takes (within limits) to make your vision a reality). Just look at how Bob Childs changed 50% of his front row, including the principal, on the eve of the contest...and just look at the result he got!

    Regarding players, a whole different set of virtues are needed, I think, than those mentioned for conductors, and that's why the best players don't always make the best conductors. The most important virtues are probably single-mindedness and dedication with regards to practice, and an ability to work with people you may not like (or may not even know) and still perform to your best both as an individual and as a team.
  5. Accidental

    Accidental Supporting Member

    Based on my experience of players at the top of the game, I would say absolutely not.
    A small number may have these characteristics, but its no way essential imho.

    (just out of curiosity, what do you class as "the very top"?)

    ^ This.
    And a big dollop of natural talent helps too ;)
  6. Euphonium Lite

    Euphonium Lite Active Member

    As with a lot of things in life those seen as "top" conductors are usually former "top" players. People percieve them therefore as being the best in the middle.
    Whilst being a great player undoubtedly helps - would members of Black Dyke have the same respect for someone that had only played in Section 4 for example - it doesnt necessarily mean they are the best at what they do. There are plenty of very good, very successful conductors and MDs that have "only" played in the lower reaches of the top section or even below that.

    Any conductor that has a good track record I would suggest is at the top of their game.

    In terms of techniques, it really depends on your band. You can perhaps afford to be ruthless and replace half your band 2 weeks before a contest if you're Grimethorpe. If you're Lindisfarne Colliery Band (Yes, I know Ive made that name up before anyone tries to tell me they don't exist lol) competing in section 4 areas, having a "ruthless streak" probably doesnt work. But you can still win National Finals and be successful - by building a big team ethic and comradeship between all players be they Principal Cornet or 2nd Baritone

    What I'm really saying in response to the posts above is that to be a really top class conductor - at whatever level - you should be able to do whatever is needed for the band to progress and / or enjoy their musicmaking, and to use whatever techniques you feel are best to achieve that. What ANY conductor of any level needs to be however I would suggest is a bit of a showoff
    BrassBander87 likes this.
  7. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    Them, Dyke, Cory, maybe Fodens - I suspect almost no other band can get away with that level of ruthlessness these days. I've seen it tried only slightly lower down the food chain and it just results in half a band, very quickly.

    You have to have a decent sized ego to conduct well, I think - there's a balance to be struck to avoid obstinate arrogance, but you have to be confident enough in your own ability and musical ideas to be able to hold your own if challenged. A 'lack of empathy' can work and even be a good thing in an entrepreneurial context, but I suspect that in any artistic endeavour, especially one that involves the strong man-management element that conducting amateur musicians does, such a lack would find you out very quickly indeed.

    Pro orchestral conductors, on the other hand, who these days never spend much more than 10 weeks a year with their 'home' orchestra, don't generally need to have 'made it' as a player before embarking on a conducting career, don't need to deal with day-to-day management of holidays, maternity leave or dep booking and are sequestered well away from their players in five-star accommodation even on tours - I've certainly seen all of the 'psycopathic' tendencies in some of those. Read Norman Lebrecht's 'The Maestro Myth' for some top notch examples - Artur Rodzinsky sacked fourteen of the NY Phil, including the Leader, and used to conduct with a loaded revolver in his back pocket.
  8. BrassBander87

    BrassBander87 New Member

    I would agree with the above and add from my personal experience working with lower section bands is a totally different animal from the higher sections. If I treated my band in the same way that conductors treated individual players in the higher sections then suffice to say I wouldn't have a band by the time the areas came around. I'm not knocking the higher sections by the way as I have played in them myself and understand that it takes a hard person to motivate talented players sometimes. The fact is in section 3 & 4 a lot of them do it for personal enjoyment and don't want any hassle.
    mikelyons and Euphonium Lite like this.
  9. Mesmerist

    Mesmerist Well-Known Member

    Did he ever use the revolver? Definitely going on my reading list! Thank you
  10. GordonH

    GordonH Member

    1. You need to be able to play/conduct.
    2. You need to be able to persuade other people that you can play/conduct.

    This means that you have to be good at getting other people to advocate for you. If you are good at this you can get further than others who have greater playing ability than you.

    An important part of that advocacy is impressing conductors (if you are a player) or adjudicators (if you are a conductor). For players this means being a very good sight reader and being consistent (even if your consistent is at a lower level than some other people's peak).

    So, if you want to make it as a top player:
    1. Be very competent on your instrument and play consistently.
    2. Learn to sight read perfectly.
    3. Do lots of networking, identify key influencers and get them to advocate for you.
    This will get you playing opportunities which, if you keep doing these things will snowball into a career at the top level.
    whitewitch and mikelyons like this.
  11. Mello

    Mello Member

    "ruthlessness, fearlessness, self-confidence and a lack of conscience" etc;

    For what it is worth, I would suggest to forget trying to develop such things as being necessary attributes yourself above all and try to treat others as you would yourself like to be treated.
    Listen, Learn, work hard , and with luck you will get there ....remember it is for others to decide when you are a top player.....not you .......from my limited experience I well know there is always someone better .....and that person may be the one you are talking to in the bar ( or where ever ) . I do recommend strongly to never dismiss anyone may need them someday. ...and no one loves a Bigheaded Know it all
  12. GordonH

    GordonH Member

    Indeed, if you look at top players outside brass banding like Maurice Andre, Arturo Sandoval, John Wallace, Derek Watkins. All of them incredibly nice guys. Having played professionally I might be able to explain the difference. In the pro world there is great competition to get a seat in a band or orchestra, but once you have it the way to keep it is to all work together to produce good music. In brass bands there is always internal competition for seats or the feeling that you need to justify your position and bands often don't gel in the way they do in the professional world.
  13. marksmith

    marksmith Active Member

    I think that personality is the no.1 attribute, the ability a close second.
    Being likeable as a conductor, is far more important now, than it was 20 years ago.
    Players are more aware of how they expect to be spoken to/treated (as society as a whole is) and some of the old 'characters' could not succeed in today's climate.
    Being shouted at, sworn at, humiliated in public, were things regularly seen in some bandrooms.
    I have personal experience of some 'respected' MDs over-stepping the mark, though I must confess to them only ever doing it to me, on single occasions ;-).
    We expect mutual respect in today's 'aware' environment and rightly so, the days of the Tyrant are long past.
    To become a successful unit, both conductor and players need to aiming for the same outcomes, not competing for status within their cohort.
    An MD is an employee of the band, he/she should be mindful of it's previous and continued existence before and after their tenure and not treat the facilities or players, as expendable objects in their 'career' progression.
    Some become too confident/comfortable in their post and ignore the expectations of their employers, for their own personal goals.
    It is the band cohort, from which their representative committees are chosen, that should be the driving force for any band organisation.
    Ruthless, self-serving dictators are nothing but distant memories for most of us, though those who do remain within the realms of our hobby, will soon enough find themselves unemployable in modern banding.
    Mesmerist likes this.
  14. x9ret

    x9ret Member

    I can't see why banding would be any different from any other walk of life, so the book's probably right.
  15. GordonH

    GordonH Member

    I think it could be wrong in this context as its something where specific skills are required. Most of this research relates to business and entrepreneurship where you hire people with skills. Your main skill is the ability to get people to buy into your vision. y own experience of the business world is that there is a lot of undiagnosed narcissistic personality disorder amongst entrepreneurs. You usually see a sense of personal invincibility and often a habit of firing people more talented than yourself. This ultimately leads to business failures. I don't think we get this in music so much as people need to have the core skills. Its the peripheral social skills that make the difference between a very good player who plays in the house and a good player who is well known.
    2nd tenor likes this.

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