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Interdependent Relationships

February 13, 2016

In his book,  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Steven Covey states as the first sentence of his Acknowledgements: “Interdependence is a higher value than dependence.”

Further into the book, opening Part Three, Covey explains his statement from the Acknowledgements with a chapter heading entitled “Paradigms of Independence.”

To sum up briefly the three categories of dependence:

Co-dependence: Two interlocking parties in a relationship, one unable to function at most times with autonomy.

Independence: Two parties in a relationship that rarely communicate; both operate with little consultation with one another.

Interdependence: Both parties bring qualities to the relationship that encourage a balance of dependence and independence. The main goal is balance.

A concise, but thorough essay can be found here.

When I teach conducting to undergraduates or graduate students I frame this paradigm for them:  To have a musically effective ensemble, the relationship must be interdependent. Both parties must bring qualities to “the table.”  (In this case “the table” means musical performance – both in rehearsal and concert.)

A conductor who has a codependent relationship world-view with an ensemble behaves in a manner wherein he/she cannot act in a way that brings out the best qualities of the group in spite of the sound the group produces.  If the ensemble is remedial, or of a low musical quality, the conductor continues to conduct and rehearse “down” to the group. Similarly, if the ensemble is codependent, they will not take responsibility for their own music-making.  (I once conducted an orchestra that would not play piano unless I told them to. Not showed them with my gesture, mind you, but TOLD them to. That same group offered a couple of members from the cello section who told me “we don’t count our blocks of rests because we know you’ll cue us.” While that sounds like a compliment, it also meant that in their mind I was responsible for their entrance at ALL TIMES or they wouldn’t play. Which was right. They wouldn’t.)

Conductors and orchestras, particularly at the professional level, often enter an independent relationship. Each party does their own thing – the conductor conducts the soundtrack in his head, evokes gestures from his favorite Carlos Kleiber video, while the orchestra ignores him and does what they have to do in order to sound like the professionals they are. At the amateur level it becomes more egregious. I have been in the audience watching the conductor leaping, spitting, gesturing wildly, pointing at the sky, and engaging in all sort of histrionics while the ensemble cannot play even the simplest of passages in time together.

The interdependent relationship allows both parties to be involved and accountable for the process that produces the most effective musical product and facilitates growth. In the interdependent relationship both parties are capable of growing.  A primary requisite of this mindset is that the conductor must be willing to admit that he/she is not a finished product and willing to grow. Therefore, the conductor is responsible for creating the environment which encourages an interdependent relationship.

How is this possible?  The conductor must have honest eyes and ears that are open to the collective personality of the ensemble and its creative process. Their musical behavior will tell you, but their physical behavior will as well.  Through the process of conducting the conductor gets to listen and watch the ensemble in rehearsal.  After the conductor has some basic understand of the group’s musical level and collective personality, he/she can begin to frame the rehearsal process to allow for (and encourage) the need for the group’s input on the musical process. This healthy flexibility will often communicate to the group the collaborative process that is effective music-making.

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