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Thoughts from a Musician's Heart


One feature of playing in a symphony orchestra is that you have many bosses – particularly as a second trombonist. You’re the bridge between the principal trombonist and the bass trombonist and tuba player. The principal trumpet player and the principal horn player also have input into your playing. And that’s just the brass section. If they wanted to, the other principal players could also make comments that you would have to pay attention to but most of that commentary comes through your principal.

Then there’s the conductor. A good bit of the time this is the music director who of course has much to say and has decision-making power over your continuing in the position. In most cases, the music director is present for around a fourth of the rehearsals and concerts. About another fourth is covered by the assistant or associate conductors. The rest are guest conductors.

When the person on the podium changes so frequently, you might imagine that it’s difficult to avoid comparisons. This led to one of my most impactful lessons on the job. On one occasion, the conductor we were working with had such a distinct air of superiority that it was extremely difficult for me to focus on the task at hand. This was not the music director so perhaps I had nothing to fear, but I was very much aware that these conductors did not live in a vacuum but would communicate with each other as to the quality of the various musicians in the ensembles that they would conduct. A few of my colleagues were seemingly not so aware and encountered some considerable unpleasantries because of this.

So with this particular boss, I had the challenge of what to do about his attitude. It didn’t take me long to realize that there was zero that I could do about his attitude. The only choice I had was what could I possibly do about MY attitude. This was a very difficult question to answer.

However, along came a reading from First Peter:

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority….not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God…To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”

Could I submit? It seemed very clear that it was not an option. After some fairly desperate prayer, “Lord, I’m fairly sure that I cannot do this but could you do this in me?” I would try then to imagine that he was the image of Christ. I don’t know if I sounded any different, but I am positive that my experience changed from challenging to amazing. This was many years ago and I still remember the power and joy that I felt. I’m not sure his attitude ever changed, but my life sure did.


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