There are of course the obvious sides to leading a cello section. You have to sort out the bowings, you have to play the solos. You are also supposed to communicate on behalf of the section with the other sections and with the conductor.
But those aspects are not what I was thinking about today.
I was thinking about how I as a leader of my section (wherever I have worked) have always felt that we need to try to improve. That we should always be ambitious and have the highest quality as our end goal.
The way I work towards that goal has however changed somewhat. When I started as principal cello in the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra in Norway I was 22 years old. My only focus was the cello and all I wanted was for the section to do as I did and if they didn’t I would get annoyed.
Well… I’m so sorry for that. I learned reasonably quickly that this method (or non-method) didn’t work.
Now, 15 years and 3 orchestras later, I still believe that a section should have high aims and that it is a good idea for the section to follow the leader for the best possible results. But they have to want to. You have to be one of the people in the big orchestral equation to inspire and to create the setting where everybody wants to contribute their maximum.
Here are some ideas that I have thought about and am still trying to get better at.
It’s important that your section trusts you. If they don’t then they will not want to go with you or listen to you. Trust is far from automatic, it doesn’t come overnight either. I know from myself that in general, whether it is subconscious or not, people earn my trust. In the same way I have to earn my sections trust over time.
If the group are going to have any joy in being at work then they all, each and every single one, have to feel valued and respected as an important member of the group. If I do not listen to their comments or if I treat them badly as though they were less important than me then we will not function properly as a group.
Everyone in a section needs to feel comfortable. Whether it is the seating situation in the orchestra or that the trombones are playing right into their right ear, you as a section leader have the responsibility in doing something about it so that everyone in your group has a chance of performing at their very best.
It is good to encourage confidence in the section as an insecure section makes a different sort of sound than a confident section. A confident section will be more bold musically too which will then make the music come alive and inspire colleagues.
Above all – have fun with your group and the unique combination of personalities within it!