“A deeply human interaction.”

Posted by jlubans on September 29, 2014

Caption: St. Paul Chamber Orchestra Cellist Joshua Koestenbaum talks with his new stand partner, Julie Albers.

As readers of my book and blog know, I am a fan of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra; they play without a conductor and do so with a unique sound and verve, performing equal to or better than if led by a conductor. Full disclosure, as they say, I am only an “I Know What I Like” music listener but I do have some expertise in observing groups and identifying teamwork and collaboration and translating those observations into other realms. A musical performance – for all to see, out in the open, the organization in the same room as the “customers” - is a sharply focused, 1-2 hour look at how humans work together toward achieving a goal. And, the partnerships on display in musical sections (wind, string, brass, etc) present us with additional organizational microcosms.
Also, as part of my “creds”, I’ve explored the conductor’s role more than once. Among my favorites is Simone Young, the Australian maestro, now conducting in Hamburg, Germany. She invited me to sit in the Sydney Opera orchestra pit while she conducted a performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore opera and I got to see her as musicians see her. I marvel at her joy and “boots and all” commitment to orchestral music - in rehearsal and in performance - and how she brings her musicians along. You can read about her in Leading from the Middle.
And, while I was in Riga as a Fulbrighter in 2011, one of my Fulbright partners was the saxophonist Chris Beaty who now teaches saxophone at Texas A&M University - Commerce. He’s given me numerous insights into how jazz players interact.

Tik un tā (anyway), Chris’ wife, Eileen MacNaughton, an accomplished violinist, and their three musically gifted children were also in Riga. So, I took notice when Eileen linked on Facebook to a story about musical “stand partners” written by Max Raimi, a violist at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Mr. Raimi tells us that string partners are the only musicians to share a stand - and the musical score - with a partner. You may think that is interesting but … well, inconsequential. Yet, how it plays out offers us numerous insights about our relationships with partners at work, how well we get along or not or why. Who turns the pages, who gives up a few notes while turning the pages, how far or near is the stand, how supportive are we of each other are just a few of the pieces of the stand partner relationship that can easily apply to us. There is, according to Mr. Raimi, a protocol to be followed between stand partners, just like there may be an evolved protocol between work colleagues. Do we defer to our partner or go solo, like the timpanist, or do we share in the music and the “how” of playing it - the tone, the color, the sound, and the interpretation - or do we dominate?
The best stand partners display these qualities:
1. Make sacrifices for the good of the partnership. “Page turning is an acquired skill. Turn too soon, and your partner may miss a few notes at the end of the page. Too late, and the notes on the next page aren’t visible in time. A good page turner may have to sacrifice a few notes to make sure that the stand partner doesn’t miss any.”
2. Be diplomatic in all you do. “When stand partners don’t get along, life can be miserable.” Just like in the 9-5 work realm, “you will be ‘sitting together’” – working together - “again and again in the course of your careers. If issues are not settled peaceably, they may result in an exhausting feud….” Amen.
3. Ask permission, a simple courtesy, before marking up the score or to trying a new technique in your playing. Don’t leave your partner in the dark.
4. Be supportive, not judgmental. “(O)n occasion there can be an acoustic quirk whereby you hear your stand partner’s playing more clearly than you hear your own. If you play a passage particularly well, often your stand partner is the only person who knows it. And if you miscount, or play a wrong note, or play something dreadfully out of tune, your shameful little secret is entrusted to your stand partner.” So, offer your support, not your judgment. Your partner knows full well she could have done better.
5. Listen well and give feedback to your partner. If he or she has played a part especially well, let them know it. “Etiquette usually requires that your stand partner acknowledge your artistry with subtle applause,” like a light tap on the music or a faint foot shuffle. What variations on “subtle applause” can you bring to the workplace?
6. Be in tune with your partner. “Good stand partners are very sensitive to each other’s playing. But still, you each have your own musical styles. If you are both attentive,” – listening to each other – “you find yourselves in a wordless conversation about how the music should go.”
7. Understand the partnership’s role in contributing to the success of the overall organization. “I particularly enjoy passages in which we play different lines in harmony. We are at once blending together in our own little duet and contributing to the whole orchestral texture.”
8. Problem solve with your partner. “It is one thing to work out a difficult passage on your own. But if the two of you can play it together, …, you approach it with far more confidence at the concert.”
9. Be a companion to your partner. “It may seem strange, but to play in an orchestra can at times be a lonely endeavor…. A sympathetic stand partner can be a lifeline.” Through companionship, “(e)ven without a word being exchanged, you enjoy a deeply human interaction.”

@Copyright John Lubans 2014

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