Why your ensemble is like a house plant

Everyone who's killed a house plant knows that "set and forget" is not conducive to life!

If we thought of our ensembles as plants, we might find it a lot easier to tend to their needs and understand our responsibilities.

Plants are both straightforward and incredibly complex, just like our ensembles. We know that if we give plants the right nutrients and conditions they will not just grow, but thrive. And when they get a bit unruly, we have few qualms about training them to the shape we intend, or giving them a good prune.

If we thought of our ensembles as plants, we might find it a lot easier to tend to their needs and understand our responsibilities.

Water regularly.

You wouldn't you be surprised if you didn't water your plant for weeks, then noticed it had become wilted and shrivelled. Yet sometimes we're surprised when we've taken focus away from fundamentals for a few weeks, then discover the ensemble's tone has suffered.

When this happens to your plant, you also know it won't bounce back immediately. And if it's been neglected for a while, it'll take even longer to return to it's former glory. Sometimes bits even die off that we simply can't reclaim.

Fundamentals are like the regular watering our plants need. We need to constantly feed the ensemble fundamentals on a regular basis to create strong, healthy plants that look like the ones on the label. The fertiliser can't do it's job if there's not enough water (and vice versa).

Use good fertiliser.

Great music is our Miracle-Gro, our Dynamic Lifter. Our ensembles need high quality music that has something to express, that isn't banal and superficial. If we're only feeding them musical junk food, then they're not going to get the nutrients they need to blossom. They'll produce lack-lustre blooms that are fragile or diseased. But when they get the right nourishment they'll create gorgeous flowers.

Use stakes to guide growth.

Lots of plants need help to grow how we want them to. Left to their own devices they'd run rampant or not be as plentiful our bountiful as they could be. A stake gives a plant a direction to follow.

For our ensembles, they need to know what they're aiming for. If they don't know what great musicianship sounds and looks like, it's pretty hard for them to get to that themselves. Aural and visual models are the stakes that help them know where they're headed.

Prune well and often.

You probably wouldn't feel annoyed that EVERY SEASON you had to prune the plant to get it to grow as you'd like. But we seem to be confused or frustrated when we have to tell our ensembles more than once in a while to sit up, or breathe well, or play with good sound.

As conductors, whenever we correct or adjust something we're pruning away that behaviour and training the ensemble toward a better growth pattern. We understand that growing, living plants need constant monitoring, attention, guidance and adjustment to stay healthy and thrive. So do our ensembles.

When we accept our ensembles behave like a living organism, we're able to accept our responsibility of ongoing care, guidance and refinement. We'll be far less tired of repeating ourselves, because we understand that's just part of the part of the process. Ingrain habits, and create\ing new patterns of behaviour is part of the cycle to help them blossom.

Know your plants.

Some of us are working with seedlings, some with saplings, and others with established trees. Wherever your ensemble is at, from beginners through to experienced musicians, know what approaches work best for that type of group.

It will take longer to adjust the growth of an established tree than a seedling. Established trees might survive longer between waterings than a seedling.

Be a responsible gardener.

Everyone who's killed a house plant knows that set and forget is not conducive to life! It's the same with our ensembles. So, as you're planning your next rehearsal (and the remainder of the year) consider:

What watering (fundamentals) does my ensemble need every rehearsal?

Am I using the best fertiliser (music) available?

What stakes (listening examples) am I putting in place to show them the path ahead?

What's on my regular pruning routine (adjustments) that I need to address often?

If you really want to keep yourself honest, buy a plant for your office. And commit to looking after it. Every time you feed and water it you'll remember that's also what your ensemble needs.

Happy Gardening!

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