At the weekend, a group of us were out for a meal and each of us was presented with a heart on which just one word had been written.
Mine said “orchestra”.
Perplexed, I started searching my memory and the words on the plaques of those seated around me for some sort of clue. There was indeed further expansion on this one word proclamation contained within an accompanying card, but the word itself got me thinking about the value of being a team player.
Performing in an orchestra or a choir is the perfect example of all things coming together for good. I have done both. As a young aspiring violin player (read here a note of sarcasm: I don’t remember the violin being my idea – the cello, or better still double bass, would have been more my style) I can’t remember making a single noise on that instrument that might even in politeness have been called pleasant. My embarrassment at the abrasive sound I was producing was such that the weekly lesson held at the back of the school hall was something approaching torture by humiliation. The hall also served as the private study space for ‘A’ level pupils who had free lessons.
One of my strongest memories of school was the occasion when on one summer’s day the violin lesson situation got a bit overwhelming. It wasn’t long before I reached the absolute peak in the creation of excruciating screeching whilst in slow motion I collapsed to the floor in a spectacular faint. I still shudder at the memory of this experience and wonder just how any head teacher thought that space shared between a single 11 year old beginner violinist and scores of sixth form pupils tasked to undertake private study for an hour, was going to suit the purposes of anyone involved.
Contrast this memory with those I have of playing in junior orchestra. Disregarding the most probable quality of the overall sound as the 40 to 50 strong orchestra performed the obligatory twice yearly concert, these occasions rank highly as the most uplifting and life affirming events in my school year. (There is not much competition in that respect, but never the less, let’s not detract from my point). Putting in my very best efforts, with a real desire to contribute something positive to the music making, I marvelled at the rich harmonies that filled the air and that I, with my small contribution as second violin at the back of the pack, was a part of.
Being part of a choir is equally uplifting. An honest self appraisal at an early age left me in no doubt that my singing solo was not going to be an edifying experience for anyone, although I confess to a single brief and uncharacteristic karaoke lapse whilst on holiday with family in Cyprus. I put this down to a touch of sun stroke affecting my ability to think clearly. Either that, or being spurred on by my son’s show stopping performance of ‘stairway to heaven’ I reached the belief that his talent had been acquired from me. Whichever, it was a mistake and will not be repeated. Singing with a choir however is an entirely different matter. Somehow a group of rustic voices (rustic: as in simple, artless, unsophisticated) come together as complex, richly layered powerful choral pieces. This never ceases to amaze and delight me.
The thing is, that all the voices and all the instruments are required to play their part which in isolation doesn’t often amount to anything exciting. They have to show up, pay attention to the conductor, purposefully blend with the other players, and even at times rescue or carry the other players. The result – given commitment, team work and a good leader – can be outstanding and most certainly thrilling to be a part of.
This all serves as an excellent reminder to me that it is perfectly possible to enjoy success, without being at the top of our chosen field. Being a valuable team member and using the skills that we have, to contribute to an overall bigger picture is just as exciting and valuable.
As I thought more about what the word orchestra might have to say to me, I came also to think about how we as individuals can combine each of our own assortment of skills and natural abilities to become like an orchestra with every aspect working together to bring a deliberate tune. Alternatively we can allow these same skills and abilities to work against each other, with no direction or discipline resulting in unresolved harmonies and just a loud noise. After all, our biggest strengths can also be our biggest weaknesses. It is not a matter of wishing we were more skilled at one thing or another but a matter of bringing all that we have together to make our very own unique piece of music.
So that is thought for the day over. I hope to update very shortly on the career progress front.