Influence 4: Authority

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authorityAuthority is perhaps the most obvious principle of persuasion, and the one the conductor relies on as a matter of course. People are more likely to comply with people they consider to be credible as experts or leaders. So, getting the job title of Musical Director goes a long way to helping you get your way in rehearsal.

It’s not always as simple as that of course. This principle relies on its effectiveness not so much on the actual expertise of the authority (useful as that will be in all sorts of ways), but about their perceived expertise. Whether or not their estimation of skill is accurate, a choir member who doubts your capacity to do the job undermines your legitimacy, and thus your power to persuade. It can be as arbitrary as thinking that a woman should not be directing a male chorus (yes, that has happened to me).

Of course, having credentials helps. It is why one conductor I know claims to have a masters degree, when I know he (a) was only ever accepted for a postgraduate diploma course and (b) dropped out halfway through the course so didn’t even get that qualification. He understands that having MMus after his name makes him look like a better musician. (No, I am not going to say who it is.)

But irrespective of our formal qualifications, we can bolster our own authority by drawing on the authority of others. There are two ways of doing this, and actually if you listen to conductors in rehearsal they use both of them all the time.

  1. The authority of other musicians. Who are the big names in your genre? These are the people to quote to make your points. ‘As Robert Shaw used to say…’; ‘Bernard Rose always used to insist that…’; ‘Renee Craig once said that…’ You can learn about this stuff simply by reading up on these folk, but of course if you heard them say it in person, or indeed if they said it to you personally, do mention that for extra cachet. No matter what your singers might think of little ol’ you, they will comply with the ideas of the Great and the Good. And of course, by citing the big names, you are showing that you hang out with them, at least in principle.
  2. The authority of the composer. This is something we evoke every time we talk about the composer’s intentions. And this is the kind of stuff we should know from our basic preparation of the piece: who was it written for?, what occasion was it written for?, what was it inspired by?, what artistic point was the composer trying to make? When you ask a choir to sing something in a particular way, to say ‘…because that was what Bach was expecting,’ gives a lot more clout to your request.

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