Thursday, October 4, 2012

Musical Education

I've been tasked with developing a theme for a workshop we're holding at work. The workshop topic is how to be a better manager to your team. Great topic. Luckily, my manager is already familiar with the material in the course. :) Then, as a steering team, we decided to thread the theme of being an orchestra conductor into the class.

As someone who absolutely loved music, orchestra and band growing up, I thought this a fantastic theme. Which lead to me being asked to create an exercise in which the class participants would start to think about themselves as conductors and about their direct reports as the people in the band.

Oh, I had a million ideas! My creative juices were definitely flowing. I started brainstorming like crazy.

My first idea was to bring in different instruments to let people try. Or even different mouthpieces. This idea came to me because my daughter and I do this at home. I let her try to play my flute and she lets me try the trumpet. Neither one of us can get sound out of the other's instrument. I thought this might be a nice exercise to illustrate that every person on your team has different skills and abilities; some are agile and can play several instruments (roles), while others specialize in one instrument (mastering a skill).

Some of the steering team members loved the idea, but I could see fear in the eyes of others.

"I get what you're trying to do, but I know nothing about music," one said.

A-ha! I hadn't really thought about that. Except that I had, in an existential sense. I thought that this exercise might bring to life the fact that some people don't really know where their talents lie. I would have bet that this person could have gotten some sound out of at least one of the mouthpieces, even if she didn't know which.

Anyway, I moved on to the next idea.

"We could have a set of common household items on each table and the people in each group would have to figure out how to make music together using them."

They liked that idea. But the more I thought about it, I realized that this exercise seemed geared more toward making them into musicians than teaching them how to be conductors of their departments.

"Or maybe we could have them draw pictures of their department members and build their own orchestras. For instance, you could think Sally is always at the forefront of projects and is involved with almost everything we do, whereas Jon is more of a slow and steady person who takes the time to thoroughly research what he's working on. So maybe Sally could be a woodwind, and Jon could be in the brass section, and we could think about how necessary both are.

Or you could make Sally a melody, and Jon harmony, or bass. Something like that. Because both sounds/people are necessary for a more robust team."

I lost them there. In fact, one person said exactly that. "You lost me. I don't know anything about melody or woodwinds or what they're supposed to do."

I realized how complex my musical theory exercise was becoming.

If it had been me, I would have loved to have categorized the people in my department as instruments or the role they play in music. I would have made my co-worker a bassoon -  often whiny and something that many orchestras can do without. (Oops-did I say that out loud? Nothing against the bassoon, though. I actually like the sound of them.) I would have made my manager the percussionist because she sets the beat and guides us in the pace and tone of our work. I would have made another co-worker a clarinet. She often has the melody on projects, but also plays harmony.

Anyway, I eventually abandoned this idea for the one that we decided to go with. Something much easier and clear-cut that features the class participants as conductors who make a collage with different scraps of sheet music to illustrate the people in their departments.

I like it. It's simple and clear and even those who don't know much about music can see the difference between easy beginner sheet music and classical pieces. We'll expand discussion from there, but this will allow them to begin thinking of the people in their departments and the skill sets they bring and need to develop.

So, I continue to brainstorm and define the musical thread that we're weaving into each of the course modules. Secretly, I hope that it sparks some interest in learning more about concert music, though that's not the real intent. But a renewed interest in music education would be music to my ears. Wish me luck!


  1. Wow, so many great ideas! I actually really liked the one about trying different instruments, and I think maybe it would be worth pushing people out of the comfort zone for that one a little bit.

    This post also reminds me of when I was asked to facilitate my company's teambuilding exercises on our annual retreat. Because I was an RA, I did have some experience to draw from -- both in my own training to BE an RA, and in my community-creating efforts AS an RA -- but it was still intimidating, and also I had to think about how "full-grown" adults would react to the activities versus teenagers (who, despite being know-it-alls sometimes, are still relatively open-minded and pliable).

    1. Thanks, Kristan. I like the different instruments trial, too. We may do that later in the course rather than at the beginning.

      It's fun to get to be creative at work, isn't it? Especially when, like you and I have experienced, icebreaker/teambuilding activities can work so well, or not so well, and we have some say in making sure they are fun.