Friday, 5 April 2013

Listen carefully to all feedback

Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony is commonly subtitled ‘A soviet artist’s reply to just criticism'. Many of his earlier works had been subject to harsh criticism from the communist regime for their modernist, dissonant style. As well as putting him in personal danger, the negative reaction of the Stalinist authorities also put him at risk of losing his audience and livelihood as a composer and musician. Things became so bad that his Fourth Symphony was withdrawn from rehearsal.

So, having received this feedback, justified or otherwise, it was important for Shostakovich to respond to it in a clear and positive way. This he did with his Fifth Symphony. Its style is simpler than his earlier works; there is less orchestral colour and it has less breadth and scope. This change of style, however, enhanced the emotional immediacy of the music and its ability to engage and move an audience.

Whether Shostakovich had wanted it or not he had been given what turned out to be valuable feedback. It was valuable because to ignore it would have had disastrous consequences for him personally and professionally and because it led directly to a change of musical style that was more accessible to his listeners. His music also gained an 'ironic simplicity' that, given the context within which it was composed and performed, could be interpreted as very subversive.

Be prepared to consider and (if helpful to you) act on all the feedback you receive about your work and ideas, even if it is initially unwelcome because you disagree with it or think it unjustified (or dislike its source). Remember that whatever the merits of the feedback it will always provide you with valuable information about those giving it and their intentions towards you.

Develop the habit of asking yourself what the consequences of ignoring the feedback are. If you think they are justifiable or manageable then ignoring it is an option, but if you think the consequences of ignoring the feedback could cause significant problems for you, find ways to respond to it that will not endanger your professional integrity. You may even find, like Shostakovich, that the changes you make will enhance not only your standing with others but also the quality of your work and ideas.


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