Be Free and Lose Control

This idea of being free and losing control has turned up repeatedly in the past few weeks, and I have been thinking more and more about it. It started with my reading of The Inner Game of Tennis, which discussed, among other things, the importance of freeing the natural, childish learning processes of my unconscious self and not allowing my conscious self to interfere. It was then Ms. R, my English teacher, who introduced our class to the idea of losing control when we write, to be unafraid to pour our hearts out. Ms. K emphasized that our orchestra be able to “sound awesome” even without a conductor, and I am sure Mr. C would agree. I wonder if I am able to take pride in myself today because my parents did not try to channel me in any direction; I was free to strike out based on my own whims.

I recently watched a TED speech by Itay Talgam titled, “Lead like the great conductors.” Talgam’s point was that it was important for the conductor not to conduct, but to let the musicians create their own music. Music is the telling of stories, not that of the conductor but those of the musicians, of the audience members, and of the composers. Control extinguishes individuality. Riccardo Muti was a good conductor, but his hand was too heavy. He was too authoritative and did not let his musicians develop.

Now take Herbert von Karajan, my favorite. He has the music in his head but forces his musicians to add their own interpretation. The musicians look up for instruction but, seeing closed eyes, are prompted to look back at each other. The section leaders instead lead the group and in doing so, the music becomes their collective own.

And Carlos Kleiber. It is so satisfying to watch him conduct! Boisterous, dynamic, hyperactive, he has firm authority, but at a different level than that of the musicians. I love how he connects so well with the orchestra yet leaves it free to guide itself. He is dancing to the orchestra rather than having the orchestra follow him.

Benjamin Zander, brilliant conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, points out that “a conductor… depends, for his power, in his ability to make other people powerful… to awaken possibility in other people.” I think this holds true not just for these maestros but for the many inspiring people in my life, including my parents, my friends, and my teachers—thank you for awakening possibility in me.

Robotics season will soon start for real and I will guide the incoming freshmen. This year we are also starting five FIRST Lego League Teams at the local Boys & Girls Club, and I hope to mentor middle schoolers there, as well. I can’t wait! I will have to remember not to be an ideological authoritarian but serve simply as a guiding example. These kids have their own stories to tell. These kids will be awesome. Besides the occasional, encouraging push, there will be little for me to do except sit back and watch them find themselves. Maybe I will find myself again.

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    • Charles Kwong
    • October 22nd, 2010

    In your second paragraph, you remarked how Talgam strove to show the importance of musical interpretation, that the conductor’s job was to let his/her orchestra develop a mood for the piece. Nonetheless, the overall and most important role of a conductor is to keep the group together as a whole, is it not? If everyone is to develop their own mood, eg one giddy and one filled with despair, what has the conductor accomplished? A total amuck of disgruntled persons whom have no bond. Although it is important for the head to foster its young, it also needs to keep those punks in line, ya feel me? For them to develop, they need that iron fist (merely in moderation).

    van Karajan could pass this concept by because of his strong princi…ples/pals. And lastly, yeah, Kleiber, good balance, and that last dude, good stuff.

    Reading back on this I sound silly. Meh.

  1. Yes, the conductor has to keep the orchestra together, but Talgam’s not denying that; there should be just enough control to keep the orchestra from falling apart, but nothing more. It’s not that each musician should interpret the music differently, but the conductor should let everyone feel the music for themselves instead of demanding stiff precision.

    Of course, more control is necessary for orchestras with more immature musicians and/or immature section leaders, so I agree they need a soft iron fist (?) to develop. Once they have, however, they shouldn’t be so tightly leashed.

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