Equal Time for the Arts

My family wasn’t a “sports family,” so when I joined the business world I was perplexed by the volume of sports metaphors embedded in meetings and conversations. Over the years I’ve heard them all: “Batting a home run,” “teeing it up” and being a “team player” are sprinkled throughout sales meetings and boardrooms all over the country.

I’d like to expand our business metaphor repertoire to include a world beyond sports: the world of music. Around fourth grade, when I was ducking any ball that came my way in the outfield, I began to the play the cello. My love of the instrument, my family’s interest in the arts and a strong strings program at my school resulted in a life-long interest in music.

For nine years I played in orchestras—school orchestras, regional orchestras and ultimately, I sat first chair in the cello section of the Johnstown Youth Symphony in Pennsylvania. Through those years of playing music I learned the importance of following the leader, our conductor—in sports terms, the coach. I understood that everyone plays a part and only by following the conductor and the musical score–the “playbook”–did the music come out the way the composer intended. We even had contests so there was a level of competition and sportsmanship in there, too.

Maybe I never played first base, but I had been, in fact, part of a team. In a symphony orchestra, the first violins sway in unison, playing the melody as if with one voice. The oboe’s solo depends on everyone else knowing it’s their time to be quiet, or pianissimo. The woodwinds, the brass and the percussion surround the strings with trills, glissandos and the boom of the timpani. Then the instruments come crashing together in the final movement and as the last notes hang in the air, the word “team” is redefined.

Sports metaphors will, no doubt, continue to dominate the business world (sigh). But allow me to share, if I may, the same thrill of victory that comes from practicing, working and then performing music for an audience, communicating a complex message that may have been written centuries ago. My frame of reference may not include the physical sweat that comes from being out on the field, but for musicians, like athletes, there are drills and long hours, discipline and hard work. We get coached, we have a “batting order” and sometimes we even get benched.

Whether you’re kicking a goal on the soccer field or hitting that high note in the third movement, you learn a mastery of skills that will help you later in the business world. Athletes and artists build resilience and the ability to respond to their teammates, working toward that common goal—excellence. Whatever your experience, those are great skills to have. And with any luck, you’ll always remember the cheers from your fans, whether they were in stadium seats or in orchestra hall.

Photo credit: Manuel Nageli, Unsplash