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Monday, December 12, 2005

Business Lessons from the Metrowest Symphony

I have written previously on business lessons from the Patriots, the Red Sox and the Revolution. Three teams based here in New England whose exploits on the athletic fields can provide lessons on what to do to be successful in business. Yesterday's holiday concert performance by the Metrowest Symphony provides another source for lessons that can be easily applied to business.

The MSO's mission is to provide high quality program of established symphonic repertoire, enriched by contemporary works and other artistic endeavors for the enjoyment and education of its members and a wide spectrum of our greater community. This talented blend of professional and volunteer musicians is dedicated to engaging and entertaining the audience of today and educating and encouraging the audience of tomorrow.

For 25 years the MSO was known as the Greater Marlborough Symphony Orchestra (GMSO). Over the last several years, the Orchestra has started to draw an audience and orchestra members from the larger MetroWest area. In 2001, the organization decided to change the name to the MetroWest Symphony Orchestra. Marlborough continues to be homebase for the Orchestra as well as the center for our rehearsals and concerts.

As a lifelong observer of teams and performances, both in the working as well as athletic world, it is much easier to see where success comes from in athletics. The performance has a time or distance associated with it and the winner is ultimately determined, even if it goes down to a coin flip to determine offensive possession, or a penalty shoot-out. Music also benefits from the live performance. The audience hears that it either sounds good or not. That much said, can we learn from the Metrowest Symphony some things that can be applied to business? Yes, I think we can.

What is my connection to Metrowest?
Sometime in Feb/Mar, Carolyn's viola teacher received a call from Metrowest's conductor, Peter Cokkinias, who was looking to see if she knew of some viola musicians to add to the string section. She did and Carolyn joined with three others from Franklin High School (1 other viola, a cello, and a trombone) to venture to Marlboro on Tuesday evenings for rehearsal from 7:30 to 9:30 PM. They were welcomed by the group and eventually performed in the spring concert. After the concert, Peter called Carolyn's teacher to thank her for sending such wonderful musicians to them. That was a nice touch and according to the teacher, that had not happened to her before. The contact established by Peter with the initial call to solicit some help was followed through to provide the "thank you". Perfect protocol.

How do you know they like music?
Traveling to Marlboro, negotiating the car pool to do so, rehearsing for a couple of hours on a school night which means coordinating to do their home work before they go; all this, at least, for the four high schoolers. For the fund raising concert to open the 2005-2006 season in October, the kids had a real challenge. Friday night was dress rehearsal for 2.5 hours. Then 3 of the four took their SAT tests early that Saturday morning. A different mix but still 3 of the 4 played in the pep band at the half-time of the high school football home game that afternoon. Immediately as the halftime ended, the fourth (Carolyn) was ready with the car to help them drive directly to their dress rehearsal, where during one of their breaks, they managed to change from their pep band uniforms to the standard black concert attire, and then perform. A long day, a hectic day, but ultimately a wonderful performance.

The musicians are actively involved
During this fund raising performance, some members of the orchestra spoke to the audience to introduce each piece. They provided some background on the composer, the time it was set in, something important about the piece and some key elements to listen for during the performance. This technique, involving "regular" members of the company, to do the introduction was simple and effective. It provided some exposure to members that we, in the audience, would only see or hear with their instrument. It provided additional involvement by the company in the overall performance.

The symphony is one of the key places where a bad musician can not hide. It can be very obvious if the wrong note is placed at the wrong time. It is imperative that each member play their role properly. Each note has its place in the overall sound that the composer had in mind. The conductor becomes visible in coordinating the efforts of the whole group as they seek to recreate this sound.

To summarize the lessons:

1 - Good leadership

The conductor, Peter Cokkinias, and associate conductor, Walter M. Pavasaris, are both on the faculty at Berklee School of Music. Both are worthy musicians and from observing a few of the concerts, excellent leaders.

2 - Good people
The symphony is a rather diverse group of musicians that span several age and experience categories. The common item is that they all love to play.

3 - Common goal
Each season is planned, each concert has a theme, each rehearsal is structured to bring the group together in preparation for the next performance. The planning and execution is evident in their excellent sound.

4 - Fun
This is classical music but it is not all work. These folks clearly have some fun and the audience gets to be part of it!

You can turn to Peter Drucker, Jim Collins, or Tom Peters amongst the many business authors and they would agree on many of these points. Sometimes, it is easier to see a lesson that can be applied to business outside the normal world of business.

Yes, I hear some of you already saying that there is a business to the Metrowest Symphony. I agree but that will be the subject of another posting for another day.

What do you think?

Do you have another area that you can draw some business lessons from?

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