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I’d like to request a break from sports ball analogies re: leaders and teams. Can we try musical ensembles instead?

Recently, I presented my journey line to a women’s leadership group. A theme from my younger years that impacted my leadership was participating in large group music ensembles. 

Yeah, I was a choir and band geek. And I was lucky to be one.

  • My favorite high school activities were the madrigal choir and marching band. 
  • At Luther College, I was a vocal music major, and in total, studied classical voice for 8 years. I graduated with a music minor.
  • I sang with the Luther College Nordic Choir, one of the most prestigious collegiate choir ensembles in the world, for 3 years.

In each ensemble, we worked our tails off to make incredible music and have an impact on the audience. 

As an adult, I recognize that the most important lessons I learned about leadership and teams came from those experiences. 

Lessons like–

  • The payoff of hard work in challenging circumstances (i.e. marching band summer camp, 90F with 60% humidity).
  • The recognition that sometimes you need someone to solo, but they also need to blend into the team. Showoffs ruin the experience for everyone.
  • The importance of each section in bringing music to life. It’s not up to one voice part in a choir or one instrument in a band–it’s all of the sections together, and they need to find balance and blend.
  • The value of different leadership styles, from intense and charismatic to quiet and of-service. What they all had in common was a passion for the work, team members, and audience experience.
  • The feeling of a team achieving something incredible together is incomparable.

The most memorable lesson relates to the power of quiet leadership. At the time, Nordic Choir was led by the world-renowned Weston Noble. This incredible man, small in stature and voice, yet huge in presence, could bring an 80-voice choir to the pinnacle of musical brilliance. And he could do so by standing in front of us, our eyes unwaveringly locked onto him, while he made only the slightest of movements with his hands. We never doubted him. We never wavered.

That, my friends, is leadership.

I didn’t play sports ball and don’t like sports ball. I know all the sports ball analogies and even use some. But can we maybe for a moment appreciate the leadership and team lessons that come from elsewhere?

As for me, I don’t participate in musical ensembles anymore. But with enough wine, I might break into Danny Boy, Crazy, an aria from The Messiah, or The Boar’s Head Carol. Depends on my mood.

BTW, this is my senior year Madrigal photo below. Can you find me? My husband says Madrigal is the dorkiest thing ever, but I loved it. And to my work big brother, Blake Herring, I know you’ll appreciate my sharing it here.

This post was inspired by Erin Humpal, and I’d like to raise up her and Erin Jorgensen for being part of my Nordic experience.

Musical Ensemble Analogies | Cynthia Farrell | 110 West Group

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