The power of inspiring leadership and classical music comes alive in a talk by Benjamin Zander

The talk is ostensibly about music but what happens by the end of it is that you are holding a tissue to your eyes and wiping away that tear, seeing the whole world as part of your beautiful dream, when it finishes. Benjamin Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and a speaker on leadership. His profile says he uses music to help people open their minds and create joyful harmonies that bring out the best in themselves and their colleagues. The talk is titled “The Transformative Power of Classical Music”. And he says he is about to conduct an experiment — it cannot be really called one for he knows the outcome — and that is the mark of a leader. He never doubts the capacity of the people he is leading to realise whatever he’s dreaming! If that sounds pompous, he adds with the required amount of drama, “What if Martin Luther King were to say, .‘I have a dream,’ and then rub his chin and wonder how many would be up to it!”

If that is an introduction to leadership, the introduction to music comes with the play between the notes B and C. C makes B sad, he says, and you can feel that heaviness in your heart as he touches on the notes. Zander then goes on to describe the progression in the way a seven, eight, nine and 10-year-old would play the piano and “then they generally give up,” declares the speaker. But the progression in music is not because of any other reason but the fact that the learner has understood not to give impulses on every note, he has got the idea of flow in music. To understand the flow of life is the secret.

Zander touches on notes to name them and talk of the play that musicians do between these notes. But to ride through all of them in a straightforward manner would be to finish before one has begun and so you go back and forth till you reach the point where you give the final impulse to the notes and stop, much like the storytelling technique of Shakespeare (or anyone else).

Zander suggests to the audience to think of someone they have lost, a dear one, while listening to him playing the Prelude to E minor by Chopin. It is short. It is powerful. It is calming. And as he looks around the audience when he finishes, he says he measures his success by looking into the eyes of his audience; the more pairs of shining eyes he sees, the better he has communicated

Zander says his moment of reckoning came when he realised that as a conductor he made no sound. He was silent. He was just pictured in different postures. “He (a conductor) depends, for his power, on his ability to make other people powerful. And that (realisation) changed everything for me. I realised my job was to awaken the possibility in other people.”

If a leader is one who believes in the power of the others, is able to awaken them, he or she is also the one who can nurture them, and the secret to that is told in the moving experience of a woman who survived Auschwitz. Says Zander, “She was 15 and her brother eight. She said, “We were going in the train and I looked down at my brother’s feet and saw his shoes were missing. And I said, “Why are you so stupid? Can’t you keep your things together for goodness sake?” Unfortunately, it was the last thing she ever said to him. She told me she made a vow when she walked out of Auschwitz, “I will never say anything that couldn’t stand as the last thing I’d ever say.”

“Can we do that? ...It is a possibility to live into,” says the conductor showing you the way through life.

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