I attended the Singapore Symphony Orchestra 35th Anniversary Concert recently. Conducting the SSO was Choo Huey, the founding Music Director and Resident Conductor of the SSO, appointments he held until 1996 when he became Conductor Emeritus of the SSO.  He started the SSO with 41 musicians in 1979 and laid the foundations for today’s excellent orchestra with just about 100 musicians.

Choo Huey is 80 years old this year. I was amazed at the agility and vibrancy he displayed as he conducted through the evening. Conducting is hard work!  We all should wish to be able to retain such energy in our old age.

Two thoughts struck me as I enjoyed the evening’s programme.

One was how the conductor’s “little stick” – his baton – could integrate a hundred musicians into beautiful music. I mentioned this in “The Leader, The Teacher & You”. There is a whole range of instruments in the orchestra. While each instrument makes its own sound, it is silly to say one is more important than the other. By joining the sounds together, we get wonderful music. Take out any of the instruments, and the orchestra loses something in its music.

There is the conductor. He is the one who brings the instruments together so that every musician plays his part well. The orchestra needs him even though he does not play anything during the performance other than wave his baton. Every player is an expert with regards to his instrument.  But he has to pay attention to the conductor, to see and hear what other members of the orchestra are doing, and to blend his instrument into the total effort.

In similar fashion, we should see our work in the office as though we are players in an orchestra.  Each of us must know what we are doing.  We must have the skills, expertise, and knowledge, and we must be prepared to keep learning and improving our abilities.  At the same time we must know what others are doing, so that we can blend our work with theirs to produce first-class total results.  We must respect others for their abilities

The second thought was recollection of an observation by a Professor of Music from Hong Kong, a relative of mine, who said that it is not necessarily a good idea for children to start learning music on the piano. The piano is a “solo” instrument.  He said it would be much better to start children with an orchestral instrument, like the violin.  Because the child would not only learn music, but also develop awareness of his surroundings, as he has to integrate his work into that of the rest of his orchestra. And if not the violin, then even starting on the recorder is better than starting on the piano. This sensitivity to others and consciousness of what is happening around us is critical not just to music, but to life. It makes for harmony in diversity, other-consciousness in the midst of individual effort.

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