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Leadership Lessons in Music

Last week, I was in the Sydney Opera House for two amazing concerts, featuring the legendary Wynton Marsalis, the Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conductor Ben Northey, soloists, and our choir, the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs. Together, we performed Marsalis’ brilliant composition, “All Rise.”.

The sold-out audiences at the Sydney Opera House concerts loved the musical magic that was created on stage. Yet, what made this experience exceptional was not only the music itself but learning from Wynton Marsalis behind the scenes. He is an inspiring and generous leader, who shared his passion for connection, performance, and his great sense of joy.

🎵 Purpose and vision. Wynton talked passionately about the reason we are on stage, which is to share a story with our audience. When we started working on this music, he had shared notes on the background of All Rise. It outlined the context, vision and the meaning of the different movements in this work. During the rehearsals he gave clear direction on the sound and emotional connection that he wanted to hear. The notes in our score like ‘playful and teasing’, ‘operatic’ and ‘with deep soul and determination’ now all made sense. He educated, demonstrated and shared funny anecdotes on how words should be pronounced and how we could sound more like a didgeridoo. He emphasized how every note matters. It challenged us to showcase these amazing and at times tricky harmonies and to connect with the audience to share the story of All Rise.

🎵 Synergy and teams. Wynton once described music as “the art of the invisible things that are real.” This really resonates with me. I often use the example of an orchestra or choir to illustrate high performing teams. Each instrument or voice plays a unique role, and our success depends on our ability to listen, balance, keep course, and appreciate the diversity of parts. The magic and synergy that you get when those parts are put together well – that’s when you move from playing notes to creating music. Or as the smh review said: “the ultimate achievement is not to just have blended orchestra, choir and jaz band, but to have united them”.

🎵 Providing space to thrive. At the start of the concerts, we could see the audience trying to find Wynton. He wasn’t in front of the stage. He sat humbly in the middle of the orchestra, creating magic on his trumpet, often grooving in his seat and encouraging the amazing conductor and musicians to give it their all. The mutual respect from everyone on stage was palpable. Whilst Wynton Marsalis was the star, he created space for everyone to shine.

An inspiring example of leadership in action.

#lessonsinleadership #music

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