Musician Identity and Leadership

By Professor Anna Reid

 

Like most musicians, the creation of music has simply entranced me from an early age. I loved discovering out how instruments worked, how they could be played for my own pleasure and with others, how manuscript (or the lack of it) enabled me to understand composers’ ideas, and how music could make an impact on everyone around. As I grew older, I came to realise how much music there was, and how different that music could sound. There was the thrilling day that I listened to something ‘new’ and identified that it sounded a bit like Bach (having had the experience of playing something by him earlier). I came to realise that the sounds and forms of music said something about the time and place that it was first made, and that the same music continues to say something even when the era, country, venue and instrument selections change. The more music you encounter, the richer your understanding of individual works, and the entirety of your musical experience. Playing music with others developed an appreciation of the complexity of music, the subtle nuanced sounds that could be made through different acoustic elements, harmony, rhythm and duration. And most excitingly, you could hear  how your friends were also encountering that sound and that it miraculously all worked together. Importantly, it takes time to appreciate the differences in music and also the ability to play different forms of music. Focusing intently on the development of expertise on one instrument is also the key to understanding a whole range of others.  From the perspective of research undertaken by myself and others, all of these experiences comprise musician identity.

Musician identity is hence rather fluid as time passes, as one focuses on the aesthetic of music, and as one has different life and musical experiences. . . Leadership is much the same.

Musician identity has two entwined central components that are also shared across disciplines. They are ‘a sense of being’ and ‘a sense of transformation’. In essence, there is an element of self that totally identifies with the complex attributes that ‘make’ a musician and concurrently these attributes change over time as we learn. Musician identity is hence rather fluid as time passes, as one focuses on the aesthetic of music, and as one has different life and musical experiences.

. . .a leader will provide scope for this level of variation inside their organisation. It seems vitally important to allow complex ideas and relationships to flourish. And our musician identity provides just such an appreciation of complexity that then lends itself to positive and empathetic leadership

Leadership is much the same.  Thinking and working as a musician provides a basis to consider both the point of leadership and its associated activity. A commonality in all workplaces is complexity. Every person’s own professional experience prepares them uniquely for the work that they do. Each workplace has set of internal characteristics and is also subject to external pressures. Within each workplace there are distinct sub-groups that work together on specific problems, and there are also distinct cultural sub-groups (such as those who do Sudoku for relaxation, or those who discuss how to use Fruity Loops in their next digital composition). Each of these groups offers specific enhancements to the group as a whole. These enhancements can be small or large scale in their influence, or they can be positive or challenging, or they can be conservative or innovative… and this diversity is what leaders work with. Making an analogy, my conservatorium recently performed Mahler 2. While the conductor has known the work for a very long time, for most of the students it was the first time they had encountered it as performers and singers. They had to work hard on their individual parts, had to find their own voice inside the parts, had to collaborate to blend sound, had to be aware of the intent of the music, had to concentrate in rehearsals and to respond to instruction, had to understand why that music was created in the first place, and had to communicate all of this social and aesthetic understanding meaningfully to an audience. These students focused on the heritage aspect of music making where sincere homage is payed to the music of the past in order to make it alive for today.  Even more recently, our composition students have made a digital mash-up of the Mahler 2 recording – in essence, re-imagining the music to suit a 21st Century aesthetic using 21st century tools to do so. Each set of students was equally focused on the task and produced valid interpretations of the music. In the end, the communicative and educational objects were the same. Similarly, a leader will provide scope for this level of variation inside their organisation. It seems vitally important to allow complex ideas and relationships to flourish. And our musician identity provides just such an appreciation of complexity that then lends itself to positive and empathetic leadership. Developing expertise in music can be the foundation of expert leadership.


Professor Anna Reid is Head of School and Dean of Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Her practical and research interests in social equity and professional preparation have led to the creation of internship programs, ‘buddy’ relationships with regional conservatoria, freeing up the music curriculum to deliver greater student choice, enhancing student engagement with musical studies, and fostering equity programs for the University’s music faculty. Her academic approach is underpinned by a strong research base in higher education theory and practice, which informs her interactions with academic staff and allows her to develop reflective and flexible teaching practices and curriculum that prepare students for a changing world. She has recently published in the area of leadership and musicians’ identity. Professor Reid is a cellist and viola da gamba player.