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Tiffany Chang conductor 


Here are some of my favorite posts:

What's your mission? - I examined mission statements from 71 U.S. orchestras

Empathy in relationships - we know empathy is hard, and we should also know what it is not

Why don't we talk about it? - how organizations may encourage performers to be advocates

Note: New and existing posts will be hosted at

Below you'll only find archived posts from before June 24, 2021.


Why don't we talk about it?

Posted by Tiffany Chang on 17 June, 2021 at 8:00

Imagine a cellist sitting in rehearsal about to play a few pages' worth of tonics and dominants in a Rossini Act I finale.


After the rehearsal, what's the likelihood of them being excited to tell someone else about it? Encouraging someone to come see a performance? Sharing the experience with a friend in a coffee chat the next day?


It's probably more likely that they'll complain about having to play the passage and how boring they find Rossini operas to play. 


For the cellist, the passage (and probably most of the opera) is mundane, repetitive, not hard to play, and frankly a means to get their paycheck at the end of the show. Why would that be interesting to talk about? Why would anyone want to hear about it - other than to give their sympathies for enduring the torture? If the cellist doesn't see reason to be invested in the activity, why would they feel inclined to invite someone to see the show?


These are some possible reasons why performers themselves sometimes are not the most eager advocates for their own large ensemble performances, and why they are not eager to talk about it.

We've all heard it before. Consider these two common things we say:


1) In school, we'd tell our friends, "You don't need to come to the orchestra concert, it's not going to be good anyway." 


That statement reveals our level of commitment as a performer. If we don't think it's going to be good anyway, why should we even try to make it good. The mindset is demotivating and our thoughts would almost certainly result in a sub-par concert. 


So, why don't we feel committed? Maybe we don't feel inspired in rehearsals by the person on the podium, or by our colleagues sitting next to us. Perhaps we don't understand how the music "works" so our parts seem pointless. Maybe our commitment is currently elsewhere (in a solo recital the next day, or that big audition next weekend) and we can't spare any commitment to this rehearsal right now? 


Why wouldn't we tell people to come? If we don't like or feel invested in the experience, our friends (who share our taste) would certainly feel the same. So obviously they shouldn't come. It will not be a good use of their time. We are looking out for them and their valuable time. Or perhaps we are ashamed of contributing to a sub-par product, so we don't want anyone to bear witness to it.


2) In school, we'd also told our friends, "You should come see this orchestra concert. You'll love it -  the soloist, the conductor, and/or whatever piece of music."


That statement also reveals our level of commitment as a performer. We are excited about it: we feel attached to and direct contributors to the outcome. We are confident that how we perform will impact the success of the show. It will be a great concert because we will give it our all and we know we are capable of accomplishing it. This is all highly motivating.


So, why do we feel so motivated and committed? Well, something about this soloist, conductor, or piece of music transformed and motivated us. Maybe it's the way the composition has surprised us with its twists and turns. Perhaps it's how the soloist made us feel, like we are an equal musical partner, and that made us want to give our all. Maybe it's how the conductor revealed the significance of our part in rehearsal that made us play with more conviction and purpose.


Why would we tell people to come? The experience has changed us, surprised us, delighted us, or taught us. It has motivated us to be committed to giving that same gift to others. We want our friends to feel what we've felt and discover what we've found. We are looking out for them and we want them to be better people as a result of it - or simply to share our joy. We want them to bear witness to our being an integral part of something greater than ourselves.


In reflecting on these two scenarios: we realize that sometimes whether we choose to tell others about something is truly due to the objective quality of the product. Most of the time, however, it's a reflection on whether we've been positively impacted and changed by it. If we were positively transformed, we would want to share that experience. We don't need comp tickets to be compelled to tell others about it. In fact, if we feel so strongly that it's something they must experience, we'd probably go out and buy them the tickets ourselves.


Now, back to that cellist playing Rossini.


What if they experienced a transformation during a rehearsal: maybe they went into the rehearsal thinking the sea of tonic-dominants is boring, pointless, and injury-inducing, but they somehow left feeling the same passage is exhilarating and kaleidoscopic - every new line of the same thing is now a new color, a new emotion, a new temperature. 


Maybe the transformation was a result of something their stand partner said about the passage during the break. Perhaps it was the way the conductor led the unfolding of the passage. Or it could be the specific way the oboist played the melody that inspired the shift of mindset.


The cellist may not have a clue as to why that change happened in them and who or what caused it. But they would probably feel inclined to share that experience with a friend, colleague, or family member later in the day. The conversation is highly personal, self-motivated, and an act of sharing - because the cellist cares about it. It's about them and something that happened to them, and they are the only one who can share the specifics of that unique experience. It just may spark a conversation that leads to their friend getting a ticket to the show.

As leaders, we often want our performers to be advocates in bringing in audiences. But we often don't start with asking: why would they want to talk about it in the first place?


What are the personal stories of impact and change that would motivate them to talk about it (without any prodding or incentives)? And what is actually preventing them from talking about it? Why might they be uninterested to share it?


Musicians seek to have an impact on others through work that is meaningful and purposeful. If they indeed believe their work is meaningful and purposeful, they will realize that in order to have an impact on others, there must be people there to receive it. So the stakes become high for them to tell others about it. 


At the end of the day, we can leverage these stakes to increase fulfillment and help musicians own impact - generated by the people themselves wanting to talk about it with others (as opposed to being instructed to do so by an organization).


And as leaders, we can ask ourselves: what are we doing to cultivate an environment that encourages this? How have we transformed our musicians so that they'd want to talk about their work?

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