Ilosaarirock is the largest summer event in the Finnish city of Joensuu. After a break of a few years, it was organised in Laulurinne, Joensuu, on 15–17 July 2022. At the same time, we were also able to organise the traditional Haallas pre-party, which has been a staple in kicking off the festival weekend for several years.
The keynote speaker at this year’s Haallas event was the artistic director and chief conductor of Joensuu City Orchestra, Eero Lehtimäki, M.Sc. (Tech.), who introduced us to the solid foundation that is required for artistic freedom.
The ideas of freedom and a bohemian lifestyle are often associated with art, but in classical music, in particular, the freedom comes from discipline and a focus on data. How does a conductor lead a large group of artists, and what can any one of us, regardless of profession, learn from this? There are a surprising amount of similarities between music and the technology industry.
I have compiled the highlights from Eero’s presentation on leadership and creativity into this article.
What is data for a musician?
The content of a musician’s work, music, is data – and data is the basis for everything else. The orchestra is obliged to implement the music the way the composer intended. The score is the manual for the conductor that they aim to follow as closely as possible. It shows the parts for all the instruments and voices.
According to Eero, asking questions is one of the greatest tools for creativity for conductors. What is the purpose of this note? What does it mean if a composer advises that a part should be played ‘in a flexible rhythm’? What is flexible rhythm? In the best case, the conductor has already asked themselves all the necessary questions before they start to work on the data with the orchestra. When they do that, working on the music together is as efficient as possible.
Data always contains errors, and music is no exception
Data always contains some degree of errors, as do orchestral scores. Data is just points, samples from reality, and the orchestra tries to get as close to reality as possible. The composer is simply not able to imbue the score with all the data about how they want the piece to sound like.
Over the years, errors may also sneak into the score as publishers type them up, and someone else may arrange another version of the piece. The message goes through several broken telephones along the way. If you compare several data sources for the same score, you may get somewhat close to reality.
Data also needs to be processed, decoded, to achieve the best results. The older the music piece in question is, the more the style, instruments and musical tastes of its time differ from modern times. The music should be examined in terms of its language and context. The better you understand and assimilate the context, the better your creativity and personal story match the score. Eero used the film Memento as an example of knowing where you are going, but not yet knowing how to get there.
Creativity also comes from the ways in which data is being processed. It is good to develop varying methods and keep data processing fresh. In music, you usually start from the big picture and move towards the smaller details: whether a sound is long or short, for example.
Freedom comes from mastering content and technique
The technique of the conductor and the musicians is realising the music. Jazz legend Charlie Parker once said: “Master your instrument. Master the music. And then forget all that bullshit and just play.” Freedom comes from mastering the content and the technique, which gives you the framework to lean on. When that is in place, you can just let go.
The training of conductors in Finland has always been progressive. Jorma Panula is one of the best-known Finnish pioneers in this field. Finland was one of the first countries where videos were used for training conductors. Using video introduced a new point of view: seeing the difference in how a gesture or technique feels for the conductor and how it looks to the orchestra.
In a conductor’s technique, everything starts with gestures and how natural they are. Many gestures come naturally in non-verbal communication, such as pointing your finger and expecting a reaction from the person you are pointing to. However, people also interpret things differently, which is why you should ensure that your gestures are understandable. The predictability of gestures is also based on them feeling natural. When a conductor presents their instructions predictably, the orchestra is able to react to them in time.
The predictability and naturalness of gestures are universal, regardless of industry. In business, empathy and listening are often emphasised when talking about leadership. The highly appreciated qualities of a good leader include authenticity, openness, fairness, and the ability to trust others. Such qualities are ideal for building a psychologically safe workplace, the benefits of which have become increasingly important, especially during the pandemic.
Leading music is leading people
In addition to the content (music) and implementation (technique), the third and, perhaps, the most interesting area is a psychological one: leadership. Directing music is leading people. How a conductor uses words and what their manner is like also influences the orchestra that is being directed. A conductor may lead an individual orchestra for only a few weeks, which is why they need to strike the right note rather quickly. Then again, changing conductors and varying rehearsal techniques bring new perspectives and new energy to the rehearsals.
Each orchestra consists of different personalities, and the ability to read people is key for a conductor. Management by fear is, fortunately, a thing of the past in most fields, including music. Today’s conductors know how to support and lead the orchestra members through an encouraging and positive approach.
Eero described a case where someone was playing too quietly but might not respond when instructed to play louder. In this case, the conductor could ask the entire orchestra to play louder, and after that, ask different instrumental groups to play quieter. This is a way to reach the same result, albeit a little slower.
Even in business, reading people, listening to them and showing empathy to them will take you far. Giving feedback, for example, requires the feedback provider to communicate so that the recipient interprets the message correctly without misunderstandings.
The discipline of creativity
If you fill a piece of music with too many ideas, the song will have no breathing room and lose its logic. As early as the Baroque, the counterpoint has been used in music: you take a small theme and modify it through mathematical algorithms. The same theme is mirrored throughout the piece, only in a different way, which allows for a clear logic that the listener is able to follow.
The simple repeating theme brings logic and sense into the piece and makes it easy for the audience to absorb. One or two good ideas that are then refined are enough for a song. It takes discipline, restraint and mathematical work for the composer to create a sufficiently simple and logical piece – maybe even a hit song.
Five keys to creativity
As we can see, there are many similarities between music and technology. Data and leadership, in particular, are universal themes where the same tips work regardless of industry.
Eero’s keys to creativity are:
- Data and opening it up by asking questions. Asking questions is one of the best tools to boost creativity.
- Fresh working methods. Develop new working methods, find new perspectives, and aim to keep your work fresh.
- Observe yourself from the outside. Try to look at your actions through others’ eyes: things may not seem the same to them as to you.
- Listen and see. Eero emphasised the difference between watching and seeing, and hearing and listening.
- Disciplined technique. Once you manage the technique with discipline, there is room for creativity to blossom.
Nea has 15 years of experience in marketing in international IT companies. She has led Haallas' marketing team since 2022. Nea especially enjoys collaborating with clients, partners, and influencers, as well as creating different contents and research. Nea is a master of economics and business administration, a mother of three daughters, and a passionate sports fan.
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