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Friday 25 August 2017

This is how a collaborative person works: 30. search for and find your first influential champions

(This post draws heavily upon the experiences of Paul Macalindin as described in his book Upbeat, which chronicles his inspiring work with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. To read more posts in this series go to the March to August 2017 Blog Archive on your right.)

'During my phone call with Max in his Orkney home, I managed to declare myself the 'Musical Director of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq,' barely able to speak the words without choking. 'All my love goes out to you!' came his immediate response and then he blurted out, 'And I will be your Honorary Composer-in-Residence!'

From Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin

'Hello both,

I was on Twitter last night and I spotted Barham Salih (the government official we talked about -- did we talk about him?) on Twitter tweeting, I followed him and was amazed by his tweets. I wrote to him this:

@BarhamSalih As a young Iraqi living in Baghdad I am extremely happy to know that someone from our government tweets -- kudos to you!

And then it hit me, I didn't know he's going to response or not but I thought it didn't hurt to try:

@Barham Salih have you ever had a chance to read this? would you be interested in supporting this initiative? (this link contains my article in the Times)

Now, I've spotted this message from him:

BarhamSalih@ZuhulSultan Thanks! You make us all proud. I definitely want to help with this amazing project send me your phone number to get in touch

I've sent him my phone number and e-mail... FINGERS CROSSED!


An  e- mail written by Zuhul Sultan from Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin

These two quotations (the first Paul's description of a phone conversation he had with the leading British composer Peter Maxwell Davies and the second Zuhul Sultan's email describing her discovery of and initial Twitter contact with Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih) emphasise how crucial it is to search for and reach out towards individuals who are willing and able to become your first influential champions: those who are eager to use their power and access to resources or credibility and standing within their professions to help fire-up and drive forward a young and innovative initiative; they catalyse progress and launch people towards success.

There are two types of first champion: 1. those who offer your initiative its first crucial and significant practical support (which Dr Barham Salih did by providing $50,000 to fund the NYOI's first summer school in Iraq); and 2. those who offer symbolic support which gives your initiative credibility in the eyes of key supporters and potential supporters and motivates those working within the initiative (which Peter Maxwell Davies did for the NYOI and its people).

Sometimes these two types of champion are combined in one individual. Often though, as was the case with the NYOI, they manifest within separate individuals. 

The above quotations also describe three fundamental ways in which to search for and reach out to these first champions:
  1. Be clear about the types of people and support you need; create a profile and have it to the front of your mind whilst you search. Ask yourself these two questions: 1. 'Who can unlock resources, support and good-will from within governments, communities and populations, etc.?'; and 2. 'Who has credibility and influence within communities, populations and professions crucial to your initiative?' (Both Paul and Zuhul, through either experience of their context or discussion of their requirements (or a mix of the two) had a well-defined idea of the types of champions and support for which they were searching.)
  2. Develop a healthily focused and outward looking social media habit which not only pushes your message out to people but also pulls people towards you. (Zuhul had obviously formed the habit of scanning her social media horizons for possible contacts and support which, once found, she instinctively sought to not only push information at but also attract towards her by engaging with them on a personal level.)
  3. Try, speculate, take the risk and 'have a go'. Be confident in reaching out to potential first champions. Often, we can be hesitant about reaching out to people who have great status or high profile reputations. Overcome this hesitancy! Make contact and ask the question, 'Is this something you would be interested in supporting?'. If you do not try you will never know and no first champions will emerge, but if you ask the question they may appear. (Paul and Zuhul easily overcame any initial misgivings they may have had and subsequently gained important first champions for their cause.)                                                    
Lastly, this final quotation from Paul's book offers one more particularly effective way to identify first champions: 

'... and when I had finished, triumphant that I'd won them over, the members sat in deafening silence. Here I was reaching out for feedback, enquiry, intelligent criticism, and all I got was a room full of middle-aged people, neither shaken nor stirred.

Out of this, however, two important musical allies arose from the midst. Renate Bock, President of the European Federation of National Youth Orchestras, listened deeply and compassionately while Oliver Khan, Director of the Singapore National Youth Orchestra, gave out the warmth and wisdom I had desperately sought.'

Those most likely to become influential first champions (or at least reassuring and morale boosting supporters) will stand out in some way from the crowd. This may be through their deep and quiet concentration upon what you are saying or through their positive reactions and words of support. At the very best, these reactions may signal that people are early adopters of new and innovative ideas and initiatives, making them prime 'first champion' material. Look out for these reactions and make sure you engage with the individuals from which they come.

Tuesday 15 August 2017

This is how a collaborative person works: 29. passionately weave in the familiar and traditional

(This post draws heavily upon the experiences of Paul Macalindin as described in his book Upbeat, which chronicles his inspiring work with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. To read more posts in this series go to the March to August 2017 Blog Archive on your right.)

'In the middle of the orchestral programme, the two lovely sisters on violin and cello, Sabat and Sawen from Erbil, sang a Kurdish song, Waku Nay Kunkuna Jargm by Adnan Karim, accompanied by one of our pianists, Zardasht. As few in Iraq had experience of an orchestral programme, I reckoned a sung duo in the middle of the first half proved just as valid a musical experience as anything else we offered.'

From Upbeat: the Story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq by Paul Macalindin

The NYOI's Iraqi audience had little or no experience of listening to western classical music or attending concerts where such music was performed. It was important, therefore, for Paul to create a familiar cultural touchstone for his listeners within the orchestra's programme of otherwise western classical music. 

By giving his audience this oasis of familiar sounds sung by familiar people, Paul achieved at least two important things:
  1. The song provided the reassurance and familiarity that encouraged his audience to feel at home within the context of a western classical music concert (a context that to those not familiar with it can easily feel somewhat formal and at times intimidating).
  2. By placing traditional Iraqi music side-by-side with western classical music the point was clearly made that both traditions were equally valid and valuable and that they had the potential to complement rather than conflict with each other (a powerful message possessing wide social and cultural significance).
As well as creating this familiar point of contact for his audience and emphasising the worth of both types of music, Paul also used the traditional song to create an emotional bridge between the NYOI musicians and their audience: a bridge that enabled both groups to move towards each other and begin sharing their feelings and appreciating each other's perspectives. 

But to build this bridge effectively, it needed to be done with heart and a passionate willingness to reach out and share (and a welcoming openness to what was received in return):
'Both had wonderful voices but, like many, were too closed in their own worlds. In rehearsal, I'd encouraged both to sing through their eyes, and reach out to the public, so they could in turn reach back. As they poured their souls into the auditorium, the fundamental tones of sadness and loss darkened the hall. Listeners recognised their yearning and we, sitting in the orchestra, felt their epiphany.'

This passionate willingness to share and be open to what people give in return is how Paul and the NYOI avoided offensive tokenism that would have worked counter to the orchestra's aims and intentions by alienating rather than including the audience.

Sneaking in the authentic can be another credibility enhancing and support inducing way to weave in the familiar and traditional:

'We rounded off with Saween resplendent in Kurdish dress, singing a traditional song in her pure, non-vibrato voice, ornamenting with mesmerising glottal inflections, while Tuqa and Zana accompanied on cello and violin. This was the last thing the producers wanted for a morning magazine, but we were very chuffed to have sneaked in something authentic.' 

Publicly 'sneaking something authentic' into a situation where it is not especially welcome or expected can send a strong and positive message to existing supporters within specific populations and potential supporters within wider populations. It broadcasts your commitment to the needs and interests of those you are seeking to engage and work with and shows a determination to further the goals of your collaborative project (rather than chase the often spurious advantages gained by habitually putting others' goals first).

Lastly, do not allow your focus on the familiar and traditional to blind you to what is current and new within the societies and cultures with which you are working. (As well as including traditional Iraqi music in the NYOI's concert programmes, Paul made a point of including new works by Iraqi Arab and Kurd composers.) 

Sometimes, introducing new developments from within a society and culture can be surprising and educational for the people living in that society and culture. This aspect is dealt with here

So, do the following when seeking to collaborate with partners from different societies and cultures:
  • Create oases of reassuring familiarity for your partners within otherwise unfamiliar and perhaps intimidating contexts.
  • Where possible and appropriate, which will be in most cases, demonstrate that partners' traditions are as valid and valuable as your own and that each can complement the other.
  • Use what is familiar and traditional to build a bridge upon which partners can move towards each other and begin sharing feelings and perspectives.
  • Avoid tokenism when weaving in the familiar and traditional. Do this by demonstrating a heartfelt and passionate willingness to reach out and share (and do not forget to welcome what is received in return).
  • Do not allow your focus on the familiar and traditional to blind you to new developments within a society and culture. 
  • Remember that new developments within a society and culture are often surprising and educational to those living in that society and culture.