I am a firm believer that there is room at the table for everyone. That stated, I must also allow that not everyone should likely be at the table at the same time, especially if their underlying reason to be there is to spoil everyone else’s meal. Sometimes, people need a timeout. Other times, they simply need to go hit the drive thru for a solitary meal until they are ready to rejoin the feast.
What if we took responsibility for the energy we bring into a space — any space? (Room, neighborhood, city, state, nation, continent, planet, universe…cyberspace). I’m not suggesting being one-dimensional, and I’m certainly not implying that we do not have valid emotions nor should suppress them. We have the right to feel happy, sad, angry, etc. We have a right to express how we feel. But we also have a responsibility towards others, as well as ourselves, not to endanger, suppress, or infringe upon the rights of others.
Energy, if I may use such a loaded concept, is more about the rhetoric and responsibility towards others that we inject into any situation or relationship. I’ve seen poisonous relationships that have been allowed to continue in the workplace. I’ve seen personal relationships crumble due to a lack of understanding this concept. On more than one occasion, I’ve had to step in to protect others by insisting that the destructive behavior stop. I’ve played a role in removals for those who insist on being toxic. I’m proud, not of the conflict, but rather for the fact that I played a role in protecting others. In every case, it makes me sad to think things had to escalate that far. I’ll add that I’ve done so at no small price to me on a personal level. Collateral damage in these situations is a very real thing.
But speak up we must when people blatantly cross the line. People cannot be allowed to run roughshod over other people, processes, and common decency. Oh, how many times have I seen how people bow their heads and not want to become involved (and how many times has that been me?) I ask myself this often in the “wee hours” of the morning. Again, a personal cost is exacted in many ways when we fail to insist on decency and respect.
An orchestra (or band, or choir) is in many ways a microcosm of society. I may have had some success as the conductor of such groups by trying to remain open as a leader. It is a difficult philosophy, not the easiest of roads to choose. Being open and vulnerable while maintaining one’s own principles is also potentially risky, both personally and professionally. But, true and honest communication occurs in no other way, and the rewards are great when they come. So while I am frequently required to convince my colleagues to change their mind about a certain musical passage, to align with others while maintaining their individuality, they may also adjust MY mindset if we are all open and honest. This applies across the board—from the length of a solo quarter-note to the blending in and working together with 100 other musicians.
So, why am I writing this?
Bringing an energy that is constructive and open is important, no matter the underlying emotion. This did not happen last week in our nation’s seat of government. This idea was, in fact, the very opposite, effectively discouraged over a period of years, even predating the current “dissenter-in-chief.” But what to do now?
First we must deal with the damage that was done. The physical damage must be healed. That part is easy, and includes both patching holes and meaningful prosecution for anyone involved in leading the insurrection (on any level). Fix the gashes and remove the disease. Only then, once the physical wounds have knitted and the collective soul begins its healing process, must we begin to listen, and listen better we must. We must demand respect. But we must also demand those who refuse to do so are removed from the conversation. Being closed and continually combative, they bring the wrong energy for progress. This goes all the way to the top.
One might think that we, as individuals, cannot make effective change. After all, I’m just a country doctor…well, musical doctor in a mid-sized city located in the western. U.S.A. But let’s consider what symphony orchestras have accomplished now for hundreds of years. E Pluribus Unum. Out of one, many. Also translatable as: ONE from many.
Now one question remains: do we have the fortitude to make it through the personal practice, group rehearsals and be worthy of getting dressed up for the concert?
I think we do. Let’s get to work. I hope to see you at rehearsal.
Copyright, 2021. Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat.