Wanna Inspire your Artists?

HMG Logo 01Wanna help your students, ensemble, or cast perform beyond their current potential?  Tired of working so hard to get everyone on board.  Try going back to the 80/20 rule.

When it comes to leadership,
if you inspire 80%
you will perspire 20%.

I’ve never stood before a group that didn’t want to do their best on the project at hand. Truth.  And with that truth I have two choices:  inspire them to greatness, or be silent and thawart their creative energy.  It is a fact of human interaction…

When you acknowledge a behavior
you encourage that behavior to continue.

That’s true in both the positive and the negative.  I know directors who tell their group repeatedly that they are flat. Guess what? They continue to sing flat.

So instead, watch for the things in your rehearsal that are going right and call them out!  Verbalize how you are feeling about their creative efforts at every moment.  If you don’t, human nature is such that your cast will likely assume they are doing something wrong.

Silence is never interpreted as affirmation.

Yesterday was my first meet up with Nic, a new student.  Talented students like Nic are rare. Natural voice. Good Technique. Great style. Impeccable intonation. Yet behind all this talent was a steamer trunk of poor musical self-esteem.

Nic talked about high school. He was the only “non-reader” allowed into his concert choir. The director frequently bounced him from part to part. He was called on to sing in front of the rest of the class at a moment’s notice.

No wonder he had lead weights in his steamer trunk.

Nic was convinced his teacher hated his voice.  In his mind, she bounced him from part to part because she couldn’t find the right place to hide him.  She singled him out for solos because she was hoping he would sing it correctly in front of the class.

As a long-time choral conductor, I recognize the pattern. Nic’s teacher realized she had a gold mine here.  Nic’s amazing ear and vocal flexibility made him a choral chameleon.  He could float an alto line. He had basso profundo pipes, rare in the under 18 crowd. And who doesn’t love a tenor with the musicianship to lead his section? No wonder he was the go-to guy when it came time to demo a difficult passage.

What a tragic miscommunication.  Nic never understood the magnitude of his contributions. He learned his music quickly and accurately, even without reading skills.  He was bounced from part to part, an affirmation of his amazing flexibility.  He was used for demos because he was among the first to get it right.  I’m sure the director was thinking all these things.  But they never came out of her mouth, at least not in a way that Nic was able to hear.

What kind of leader might Nic have been if he had heard affirmation rather than silence?

There is an adage among actors that you must earn every pause in a production.  The same is true for directors.  You must earn the right to critique your performers.

It takes SEVEN positive comments
to balance ONE negative comment.

So inspire your people…Always…And then do it again!  Call them to their best artistic and creative selves.  Find what you like in their performances and affirm it.  It will grow.  Tell them often when they are doing it right. You will be amazed as they do even more things right.

Enthusiasm is contagious.
Let’s start an epidemic!

Inspire them with your affirmation and positive leadership and they will rise to every challenge you put before them.  I promise!

Badgers and Eagles: Using the Creative Moment

HMG Logo 01As A Creative, especially A Creative in leadership, how do you approach the development process of your project.  How do you rehearse your team, musicians, cast, and other artists to ensure the best possible performance? It comes down to one basic question:

Are you a Badger, or an Eagle?

It comes down to two things: perspective and motivation.

Badgers live in holes.  They identify the threat outside their den.  Badgers respond quickly and decisively. Threat averted. Sometimes, there is blood on the ground.

A badger perspective is limited to the threat.  The motivation is to eliminate the problem.

Eagles live in the sky with an aerial view of the landscape below.  Their goal is a tasty morsel. And from a mile up, they have a clear view of what lies below. Trees, landscape, other animals, even rocks in the water.  They circle, planning their best route.  Eventually they swoop in on their goal.  Dinner is served.

(Aside: Eagles have the visual acuity to be able to count the dots on a ladybug from a mile up! – drop that fact at your next cocktail party!)

An Eagle’s perspective is broad.  The motivation is to navigate the landscape in the most efficient manner possible to achieve their objective.

Badgers easily identify the problem at hand, but their solution often relies on intimidation and brute force.

Eagles, on the other hand, bring a larger perspective to the problem.  They analyze the landscape, circumvent obstacles, and soar toward their goal.

So hear is the same question in a different form:

Are you a Problem Identifier? or a Problem Solver?

I see this all the time as I observe rehearsals.

Some leaders focus on identifying problems.  You’re flat.  It’s out of tune. The lights aren’t up. The curtain should be open. You missed your entrance. That prop is in the wrong place.  The microphone isn’t on. You’re not standing in the right place.

Notice that these are all statements. Badgers use statements to identify a threat outside the den. Unfortunately, statements generally stagnate creativity.

More effective leadership will turn the focus to creative solutions by asking questions.  Do my gestures cue the singers to support the sound? Is there confusion regarding the notes they are singing? Does the lighting team have the cue written correctly in their script? What didn’t I see that caused the curtain to open late? What backstage traffic snafu caused that late entrance? What caused the prop to be in the wrong place?

This is a true statement:  I have NEVER had a cast member who intentionally wanted to do things wrongly.  Never.  Hasn’t happened.

But like the eagle, as A Creative and The Director, I have the unique tools of perspective, training, and a laser vision.  One of my rehearsal disciplines is to lead with questions that evoke solutions.

Many of the questions are not heard except in my head. “I don’t like that sound.  What instruction can I give that will solve the singer’s technical problem and improve the sound.“

When I question the cast, chorus, or orchestra, I’m always fishing for answers that will lead to problems. There is no blame, only information. “Well that was interesting.  What do we need smooth out that transition?” Notice, I didn’t ask what caused the problem. That just invites blaming statements.

If you really want to kick your next project up to the next level, video tape your next rehearsal. On a piece of paper make two columns, “Identifing” and “Solving.”   Then grab a cup of your favorite beverage and make a game of it.  Analyze each statement you make ad put a tic in one of the two columns.  I guarantee the results will be enlightening.

So what is my goal as a director and conductor of the Creatives I work with?

To help performers rise above their obstacles,
freeing them to perform at their highest level.

That, my friends, is the wind beneath my wings.

Today, give yourself permission to soar!


Lawyers. Braille. DaVinci.

HMG Logo 01I ordered my tea and settled in my favorite writing corner at Three Friends Coffeehouse. True to last week’s title, I was salivating post my next blog.

Serendipity!  Deborah walked in with her guide dog. While exchanging Good Morning! ‘s I discovered Deborah is law school graduate with a passion for legal issues that impact the blind community.

So, as the conversation progressed, I asked about her experience of  the availability of legal treatises in Braille.  Hey! Inquiring minds want to know.

She chuckled and added a dismissive, “My Braille skills suck!”

Conversation then turned to speech-to-text and text-to-speech technologies.  Duh! Why didn’t I see that one coming?

It was the perfect set up for today’s question.

Do you believe in hire education?

 No that is not a typo! Higher education teaches you answers.  Hire education teaches you to ask questions. A Creative’s best leadership skill is the commitment to be a lifelong learner!

A few years ago I realized that nearly everything I do at work involves skills I learned after I left college.  Digital audio. Computers. “The cloud.” FaceBook. Social networking/marketing.  Even ancient technology like MIDI was invented after I graduated (and no! you may not go there!).  It is amazing to stop and think how many regular features of both my work and my daily life didn’t exist ten years ago.

(Aside:  Yesterday, I saw a clip of a recent interview with the ‘N Sync.  The host played a file clip from a 1999 interview. There, on camera, ‘N Sync discussed the Internet and it’s potential to change communication and the entertainment industry. LOL. ROFL.)

A Creative ask questions.

Lots of questions!  Leonardo DaVinci had notebook after notebook of questions?  Answers to questions served as springboards for more questions.

Yesterday, my friend Kyle and I spent four hours recording five minutes of video for my new series, “77-Second Piano.”  Last night, I spent three hours trying to bring three camera angles into one editing suite, line up the audio, add titles, and find the “magic” to finalize the first video.  I went to bed with nothing to show for my efforts.

I have not failed.
I just found 10,000 ways it won’t work.
–Thomas Edison.

Failure?  Hardly.  Today, I approach my afternoon a bit wiser.  Will my software allow me to match audio tracks before I edit the video feed? Can I do cutaways with this software? Last night was a tutorial on the lexicon of video editors.  Today I will ask better questions, based on answers to last night’s questions.

All together, it is a lesson affirmed by KevMoKeys three years ago—

No creative endeavor is ever wasted.

Tenacity counts.  As a life-long learner, I love it when a task takes too long, and requires too much on-the-job training.  Each new skill learned opens my eyes to new possibilities.

As A Creative, what challenge do you face today?

What questions will you ask of your questions
to help you see your project in a new light?

Embrace your Creative Questioner!


Does the name “Pavlov” ring a bell?

HMG Logo 01Two years ago, I accepted a writing project that would take about a year to complete Complexity wasn’t an issue. Consistency would be the key to success. I would need to write about four hours each week. So, I went back to a lesson I learned in college.

 Do the same work,
in the same place,
at the same time.

 The suggestion that we are “creatures of habit,” it is often pejorative, a critique of thoughtless repetitions.  Creative habits, however, are powerful tools in the hands of the creative leader!  With them we get more work done in less time.  Creative habits release us to refine our artistic expression and relish the creative moment at hand.

Creative people harness helpful habits
to accomplish more in less time.

So my helpful habit came in the form of “Three Friends Coffeehouse” at SE 12th and Ash.  Every Monday morning of 2013 I left the dishes and the clutter of my walk up on Hawthorne and started my week at Three Friends.  I would sit at a table by the front window, sip a cup of “Paris at Midnight” tea, and open my laptop.

The first few weeks I struggled to begin writing. I had trouble focusing and being in the zone. But by the third week, the magic had begun. This became my place, my time, and writing from 8 am to noon Monday mornings became a healthy, productive and invigorating habit. It wasn’t always perfect, but it did work.  Most weeks, I was writing in my head before I even arrived at the coffee shop. In fact many weeks all I had to do was catch the ideas as they flowed and help them land on paper.

I had become Pavlov’s dog.  Three Friends served as the bell.  Soon I was salivating to get something on paper each Monday morning.  These leadership skills—doing the same work, at the same time, and in the same place—worked their magic. I was “behaviorally conditioned” to be in “writer mode” before I arrived each week. I wasn’t wasting energy trying to “get focused” when I sat down at that table by the window.  I built a habit that let me jump into the task quickly.  I consistently and quickly harnessed my best creative mojo. In fact, I finished the project in mid-August, 4 months early.

What task do you have that would benefit from consistent attention? What project would you enjoy more if it could be completed and more quickly and creatively?

This morning I am launching “Musings on Creative Leadership,” my new blog project.

So where did I go to write?

Three guesses…

…and the first two don’t count!



Up a Lazy River with David — August 19

queenlogoIt’s summer!

How about a trip “up a lazy river” aboard  The Willamette Queen?

Docked at Salem’s River Front Park, The Willamette Queen is an old-fashioned, twin stern-wheeler, paddle boat. Toss in a gourmet dinner and entertainment by David Hastings, “The Honky Tonk King,” and you have a memorable summer evening reminiscent of Huck Finn’s adventures on the mighty Mississippi.

The cruise leaves the Salem River Front Park at 6:00 pm and sails up and down the Willamette river with a historical, and often hysterical commentary by Captain Richard Chesbrough.

While you enjoy the cool breeze and the wildlife along the river, David will fill the air with his unique mix of ragtime, honky tonk, and New Orleans jazz piano.  Expect to hear such favorites as “The Maple Leaf Rag,” “Waitin’ for the Robert E. Lee,” and “By the Light of the Silvery Moon”.

“The Honky Tonk King” is a moniker David earned when he played 20-hours a week at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor to finance his college education. (This has also been an ace up David’s sleeve when the grocery budget had too much month left at the end of the money.  Find a pizza parlor and play for an hour.  Eventually a manager  would offer him a pizza…probably to shut him up!)

For information and to book tickets for this exclusive dinner cruise, call (503) 371-1103 or visit The Willamette Queen.

Come on!  Let’s get “Rollin’ on the River!”