Leading Or Performing

Mike McGough
July 2017

Just like the folks in River City, Iowa, as featured in the Meredith Willson musical Music Man (Warner Bros. Pictures, 1962), folks in a similar small town decided that a town band was what they needed. It didn’t have to be a large band to fit their needs. They just wanted a band.

There were enough musicians in the town to build a band, but they lacked a leader. They needed someone who could bring their local musicians together and create a band. They advertised for such a person, and after numerous interviews they felt that they had found their man. He was musically talented, and he was appealingly enthusiastic and exuberant. They were pleased with their choice for a bandleader.

As with any organization, the band needed guidance, direction, and someone willing to focus the group on working together. After all they’re a band, and to be successful a band must play together. There were also managerial issues such as equipment purchase and maintenance, creating the musical programs, copyright issues, building and adapting practice and performance schedules, and a host of other administrative tasks. In short order, their leader organized the band, and in no time at all they were ready to perform. He too was now ready to perform.

Powered by his musical talents, his desire to perform, and his apparent need to have his musical skills recognized, he did quickly become a leader. He became the lead player. When they performed, his trumpet could be heard above all other instruments. In a parade, he marched in the very front clearly showcasing his musical prowess. When they were on stage, the microphone nearest him was tuned the loudest, and at all times he played at the very top of his energy level making it obvious that every decibel he could muster was being used. He had the lead in every song, and even to a casual onlooker, he proverbially played second-fiddle to no one in that band. He had indeed assumed a leadership role. That role was as the band’s lead player.

Stroked by the praise that the band received, he continued on as such week in and week out. He assumed that he had found and was fulfilling his leadership role, and he was going to play it for all it was worth. What he failed to realize was that the band he thought he was leading was shrinking. New members were not coming out, and those who were still there were less and less enthusiastic. He, on the other hand, was perfectly content with the lead role he had carved out for himself. That was until Mrs. Preston asked to speak to him after one of their Sunday concerts.

Mrs. Elizabeth Preston had been giving music lessons in the town for decades. Even after she retired as a music teacher she continued offering private lessons, often at no charge. She loved music!

In addition to teaching her students how to play their individual instruments, she always tried to instill in them a sense of what it means to play together and an appreciation for being part of a performing group. She was always quick to remind them that solos do indeed have a place in the realm of musical performances. She also made it clear that when a member of a band, orchestra, or other musical group constantly tries to solo to the chagrin of the others in the group, they are engaging in an acceptable performance style.

Assuming that he was going to get some more praise for the band’s performance that evening, he was shocked when she asked him how he felt about solo performances. A bit taken aback, he said he thought they were fine, but that he preferred playing in a band. She replied, “Well, you don’t show that. Your dominating style is weakening your band a little more every time you perform. You may feel that you are currently leading and playing in a band, but it appears to me that you’re performing and only allowing the others to accompany you in your weekly recitals. If you don’t start sharing the stage with the other players, you better resolve yourself to the reality that your solos are about all you’re going to have left.”

Dumbfounded he didn’t know what to say. Sensing that she had his attention, she ended the conversation with a simple piece of advice. “Leading a musical group, or leading any group for that matter, requires that you be a part of the group. It also demands that you respect the other players and their individual roles, and allow them to be part of the group as well.”

Are you a solo performer or a leader? The choice is yours!