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Ceding Control

In the quintet I play in now I am not in charge. This is a new thing for me, and although I've been in the group for nearly four years now it's only recently that I've begun to realize how healthy it is.

In a chamber music group the rehearsal process is basically democratic. Every voice has equal weight, and we discuss our musical and programming ideas and decide as a group how we are going to present ourselves. This is as it should be. In every group, though, there is a leader, tacitly understood to be the go-to person for cues or musical decisions. So when we don't explicitly talk about who is setting the tempo or starting the piece or leading a ritard we all basically look the same direction and the same person generally takes charge. This is not explicitly stated, either - I don't step into a new quintet and ask who the boss is. It just becomes clear over time and as we interact. There's a little bit of a tradition of the flutist being that person, because the flute often has the main melody and usually does sit right in front and has a visible instrument - but in most of my past quintets that person has been me and in my current quintet that person is our clarinetist.

When I started in this group it was definitely an adjustment for me to not start every entrance and to not have the group's eyes on me every time we approached a transition. I wasn't insulted, certainly - it was just a new feeling, and I did step on his toes a few times by cuing without thinking or trying to bull my way through a ritard or make a nuance that wasn't part of the plan the group was playing. Basically, I had to relearn how to follow someone else, and then I was in a position to make my nuances in a more appropriate way and time. And the more we play together the more I like this role. I can still make the musical gestures I hear, but since they have to fit within the context of someone else's vision - or the vision that the group has agreed on - I have a greater responsibility to listen and I have learned a lot about looking at the big picture of a work and about respecting the voices and musical ideas of others.

This keeps sounding like I was a huge bully before, and I don't really think that's the case - these are very subtle things I am talking about. What I really mean to say is that by accepting a more subservient role in the culture of the quintet I have gained a greater appreciation for the contributions of the other members and am beginning to see my own part more as it contributes to the whole and less as it shapes the entire work. And I think that this viewpoint translates to making me a better leader at the times when that role does fall to me.

The correspondence here is that at home since Steve left his job and has been the stay-at-home parent more of the time, he does things differently. It's not news that I am very structured about the way I do things, and it will be no surprise that I struggled at first to accept the way he operates. The way he loads the dishwasher (and how late in the evening he does it). The groceries he buys. The way he feeds the baby and gives the dog his medicine. But you know what? The more he does things his way, the more I see the benefits in his solutions to things. And he is stepping up as household leader. We are much more collaborative now - I find myself asking him what time Zoe's nap should be to keep her on his schedule, which is WORKING and she is sleeping through the night more often than not. I find myself asking about the best method for storing the breast milk and checking with him about when dinner should be for his and her hunger level rather than making dinner at 6 and expecting everyone to show up. And I am able to relax into this collegial role instead of having to be the boss of the world, and I like it so much more!


  1. Loved this post! I rarely think about "who's in charge?" and this makes me ponder ... we did a faculty recital in the fall, and while I was in charge of scheduling (because I'm a control freak) I most certainly didn't want to be "the boss".

    BUT ... I was sort of surprised and I will confess to being even a bit put off that the newest member of the crew frequently kind of took over. I had to learn to accept a new personality. And I think it was very good for me.

    As to taking that into the home ... you sound like you are really making things work! Brava to you.

    Keep blogging! :-)

    Patty (over at


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