Everybody Needs Everybody

I run my musical ensembles differently to the norm.

(At least, those I have decision-making authority for.)

Never is it a top-down instructional model, like the dictators of old or like most school music teachers need to be (for discipline and technical reasons, I’ve found).

The Nordstrom Philosophy

The Nordstrom Philosophy, courtesy of Michelle de Haaff at medallia.com

Instead, I run an upside-down pyramid model in which the chief decision-maker (usually me as a Conductor) supports the work of the Section Leaders & Admin committee, whose jobs are to make sure their Performers have everything they need to perform for their Audiences, who have a responsibility to expose the Community to that most precious and generally under-valued fundamental form of human communication of emotions… a.k.a. live [acoustic] music.


Now, how do I accomplish that when standing on the podium?

It has always been my intent to create an environment in which every single performer can grow into the best possible musician they could be.

In other words: every single Performer in every single rehearsal and performance, should leave better off than when they arrived, which usually means learning something about music, performing, or themselves. In my ensembles, even the most skeptical of complainers have made comments such as “I never thought we could accomplish that!” which I take as a compliment. Of sorts.

What’s the motivation behind such an approach?

Because when every individual is doing the best they possible can, then the ensemble as a whole is inevitably – almost as a consequence – going to be quite an awesome thing!

I’ve proved it over and over and over again.

But it still doesn’t answer the question about my motivation.

Well, Margaret Heffernan said it most eloquently when quoting interviewees from her research:

I know I can be at my utmost best when I help everyone around me be the best they can be. It’s been my modus operandi since I can remember. Hopefully it’s been intentional all this time, but I can’t lay claim to that.


I’m human.

And I don’t always live up to my own expectations.


A recent incident reminded me just how fallible I really am, and that although humans are generally expected to make mistakes we really don’t like admitting when we step out of character and far from our own expectations.

Why am I telling you this story?

  • Because my ensembles don’t have a pecking order, which upsets a lot of folk and is very difficult to maintain on a consistent basis (especially when in a stressed mode of conduct).
  • My approach to sharing live music with others is together-focused, not superhero stardom focused.
  • To show that what drives high-achieving ensembles is the social element, not star individuals. Generally society doesn’t know how to deal with that because we grew up in an individualistic, self-focused, “me, myself and I” approach to living.
  • And as Heffernan very cleverly demonstrates with an egg-laying chicken study, when we are in an environment that promotes individuals over a mission, society loses.

Everybody really does need everybody else.

It’s worth watching: