Friday, 15 November 2013

Kleibergram it!

Carlos Kleiber is widely recognised as one of the greatest conductors of recent times. Part of this greatness lies in the unique ways he communicated with his orchestras. He not only used creative ways to explain his musical requirements (he once said he wanted the opening of Beethoven's Coriolan Overture to "sound like a Rolls Royce crashing into a wall at sixty miles an hour" - quite a powerful image for musicians to have in their minds as they start to play) but also worked hard at acknowledging, supporting and enhancing the contributions of individual musicians.
He would write short notes to players describing what he wanted them to do. These notes were not, however, curt directives but polite, personalised handwritten notes that went something like this:
"Clarinets basses - "Tristan und Isolde" 5-5-78 Prelude 1 action, 5th to 10 bars with the ending: please, do not enter without me, because I wait for a long time here. And maybe this attack should be lighter. Thank you very much, good luck, yours Carlos Kleiber." 
Here is another example:
"Take Note Horns (I, II and III) Rosenkavalier Act  III, 4 before 22 Please do not hurry the 12/8 etc but place them very exactly toward ‘2’ and ‘D.C.’. (There is a lot of difficult stuff going on the while!) Bassoons and violas are with you. With best wishes and regards. Yours C. Kleiber"
He closed this note with his rubber-stamped ‘Thank You’, and his usual imprint of a happy face.
These short notes have very clear characteristics:

  • They are always handwritten by Kleiber
  • They are always very specific and focused upon what is happening or what needs to be done  
  • They are always personally delivered
  • They are always delivered at the right time (not just before the performance begins)  
  • They are always polite and respectful in tone
  • They always show that Klieber is listening carefully to individual players (that he is aware of what they are doing)
  • They always wish people good luck or the best (they are always 'up beat' in manner)
  • They always say thank you
This is a very impressive list for notes that are only a few sentences in length, and it explains why they were so effective in encouraging players to give of their best during performances. Indeed, the personal acknowledgement these notes provided, along with their personally tailored feedback and suggestions, caused many of the players to whom they were given to keep, preserve and value them, almost like holy relics.

When working with others we can often underestimate the power of a brief comment that is well delivered, be this face to face or, as in Kleiber's case, written as a note. We can often assume that because a comment is brief it must also be lightweight and insignificant or sharp and directive, but (as the above 'Kleibergrams' show) this is not the case. 

It is the characteristics and manner of a comment or note that matters, not its length or seemingly weighty complexity.

When working with others do not underestimate the power of a well-crafted short note or comment. Apply the characteristics of Kleibergrams to the brief comments you make to people about their work and contributions; watch people's faces light up as they respond warmly to you and eagerly seek ways to enhance their work with you.

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