Leadership Lessons From Wrigley Field


Living in the north Chicago suburbs, it's been fairly exciting here of late. As you can well imagine. I've not been a lifelong Cubs fan...truth is, I married into the madness. But having cheered them on for 20 years, and more often than not suffered frustration watching defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, this has been a long time coming for me as well.

What's been most fascinating and rewarding for me has been watching this young team be influenced by the leadership work of their manager, Joe Maddon, who will likely have Michigan Avenue renamed in his honor. Because of my background, I tend to see leadership styles through the lens of music education. And a comparison thought finally struck me the other day that made complete sense.

Joe Maddon is that music teacher who comes along, takes over a small music program that's never amounted to much, and makes it soar to dizzying heights of success.

We've all seen it happen. A music program with a revolving door of leadership that constantly struggles, always at the bottom of the heap at contest, never balanced instrumentation or voices. And all of a sudden--presumably out of nowhere--a new director has kids coming out of the woodwork to participate. Then they're starting to sound good at state festival. The parent booster organization becomes this well-oiled machine of fundraising, uniform-organizing, equipment-moving experts. Then they're sounding great. Then they're the buzz at the state music conference ("Have you heard this group?"). It doesn't happen overnight--and certainly neither did the Cubs--but it happens.

So what's the trick? If we can draw parallels to what we just saw in the season leading up to the World Series, it might be this.

Believe. Sometimes when a music program has been down long enough, they never expect to achieve anything. That had certainly been the case with the Chicago Cubs. But Joe Maddon has said that he doesn't believe in the infamous Cubs' curse. His philosophy was to acknowledge the past, but expect something good to happen and not wait for the worst. And he summed it up best in the press conference after the big win: "If you just want to carry the burden with you all the time, tonight would never happen."

Baby steps. Neither Maddon nor team president Theo Epstein set out to win the World Series the first year. But that was very clearly the eventual goal. They knew where they wanted to go and that it would take time and victories large and small on the way. Step by step methodical approaches and planning...along with some good fortune...all led to that game 7 win in Cleveland. And that is how any good music program will grow.

They do what works for them. One of the different things that tended to make the news here in Chicago were their "themed" road trips. Traveling in pajamas, Wacky suits. Football jerseys. While this probably wasn't something that most professional ball clubs would do because of the silliness factor...this was something that Maddon thought would catch on with this team of very young players. What it did was allow these ballplayers to relax, let their guard down a bit, trust each other, and enjoy the experience more. Which leads to the next point.

If it's not about winning, you've won. One of Maddon's philosophies has been "Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure." The day they needed to leave Chicago for game 6 in Cleveland was October 31. Rather than get to Cleveland early for more practice, he had the players take time to take their kids Halloween trick or treating. In a situation where every game was a "do or die" situation, they instead took time to remember to have fun. They arrived rested and relaxed, and the rest is history.

They take ownership. In that final game of the Series, when what looked like another Chicago Cubs death spiral was beginning to form and the rain delay hit, it was outfielder Jason Heyward who is credited with rallying the team in the locker room during the delay break. Maddon, who famously hates meetings, was in the dugout checking the weather report. It was the ownership that the individual players had taken in achieving the overall goal that motivated them to regroup, refocus, and move forward.

There was a magical quality watching this season unfold, just like there is when you watch an underdog music program finally succeed. You know that great things are happening, and you look forward to what might be coming next.

Here's to next year.

Part 4: It's Not Where....It's WHY. Performance Tour Philosophy.

In this final part of this series, we'll discuss ways to keep the non-musical parts of your experience authentic and truly memorable for your musicians.

Keep It Real

Full disclosurethis one is a personal pet peeve. Its also part of our human nature and our own comfort zones, because we are creatures of habit who like to know what to expect.

Youre in a major cityperhaps New York or Chicago, maybe even somewhere like Dallas or New Orleans. A place with a culture, history, and ethnic mix all its own. Why on earth would you want to experience a chain restaurant or attraction that has no innate connection to your location? Or worse, that can be found close to home? (I cringe when I see touring students walk into the golden arches in Time Square.)


A perfect example: I once saw an itinerary for a group traveling to Hawaii that included an Aloha Italian Dinner the first night, pizza and hula lessons another night, and a meal at a chain Italian restaurant on a third night. With the incredible cultural mix that makes up HawaiiPolynesian, Japanese, etc.this was a missed opportunity that could have been avoided by creative guidance on the part of the travel planner.


In their defense: sometimes these types of places are the only ones capable of handling large numbers of people, particularly for mealsand they do an outstanding job of it at a very reasonable cost. And sometimes there are no other options logisticallyI have found myself in the same predicament during my travel planning days. But whenever possible, consider ways for your students to get a more authentic experience of that city.


Get creative. Ask your travel planner to identify the more unique restaurants and sites, music related or not. Sometimes this means taking the approach of splitting into smaller groups with chaperones and really learning to explore (which would be a necessity if in a foreign country). Thanks to my in-laws, Im a huge fan of travel expert Rick Steves and his Europe Through The Back Door philosophy of travel. Many of those basic concepts could be applied stateside, and you may even find that the out of the way places and activities have less cost (and more authenticity). Yes it has its challenges, and yes it means more research and logistical pre-planning.but the benefits can be truly unique and memorable.

A wise friend had a saying that is one of my favorites: There is no growth in a comfort zone, and no comfort in a growth zone. Get uncomfortable and grow!

In Conclusion

It is my hope that these ideas are helpful and thought-provoking as you map out your philosophy of performance touring. They are certainly not meant to ruffle feathers but instead to challenge us all to take a deeper look at the opportunities we provide our musicians as they venture out on performance tours. Our students, and our field of music education, certainly deserves no less than the best that we can provide them!

Part 2: It's Not Where....it's WHY. Performance Tour Philosophy.

In the previous post, we discussed two critical points related to performance tour philosophy--developing your overall goals and determining the scope of your experience. In this post, we'll address how depth of experience is more important than quantity.


Make It Meaningful


So often I see groups doing the same things in any given city, almost to the point of predictability. And while every city certainly has their must see items.so much of the itinerary content I see are attraction experiences that are no different than what a tourist walking up to the admission window will receive. (Much of this, sadly, has been driven by the bid process trend of school districtswhere multiple travel planners have to design a tour to the common denominator, and the low bid wins. A topic for another time.)


This could take many formsit might be a hands-on workshop at a museum, an extended behind the scenes clinic experience with a performance organization or show, a multi-day collaboration with a leading conductor, a walking tour that incorporates the history of the area, or even something as simple as having the budget to see both a Broadway show and a symphony concert (rather than only choosing one). The possibilities are as endless as your creativity and asking the question, what if?


For example: a good friend in the Los Angeles group travel industry has an incredible program where groups have a private screening of a movie in a historic theater, followed by a Q & A with a star from the film. Twice I've had groups who met an Oscar-winning actor from a legendary film (who brought his statue to show the students!). Yes, these experiences are often higher costbut they are also tremendously higher value, because they are not experiences they can have on a family vacation.


This ties into the redefinition of the "big" tour concept that was discussed in the first part of this series. Less resources towards distance traveled gives you more to work with once you're at the location.


The side bonus to this: content of this type will likely be easier to justify to administration and school boards, especially in this day and age of ever-increasing scrutiny of time away from school (and ever-prevalent testing). This type of experience places less emphasis on sightseeing and more on educational and musical value.which might help them see beyond the price tag.


Pack Light


This is not a reference to a suitcase, but rather to schedule.


As directors of music ensembles (and I was guilty of the same), we have a tendency of thought that reads fill every minute of the touridle time only means teens getting into trouble. The other reasoning is the concept of getting our moneys worth, meaning that weve come all this distance so we need to see and do as much as humanly possible from breakfast to bedtime.


Unfortunately, what we see so many times as a result of this are students too exhausted to appreciate where they are and what they are experiencing. Its a shame to see kids falling asleep in the middle of a Broadway show or a philharmonic concert.not only a waste of an expensive ticket, but more painfully a lost cultural opportunity. Even worse is seeing them sluggish during a clinic or rehearsal with a great conductor/educator, or during their performancetimes when we all want them at their very best. Pacing is everything.


Quite simply, its the old concept of quality vs. quantity. Do you look at the experience as a one-shot opportunity, or a way to whet the appetite of your musicians for future experiences?


This comes back to my own personal experience in high school band and that trip to Washington, D.C. We saw a lot.but didnt see everything. What it did though was open the eyes of a kid from rural Iowa to a much bigger world, and motivated him to strive in life to achieve success and be able to experience things like this time and time again. (And when he was finally conducting a band of his own, guess where he took them on his first tour?)


In the next installment, we'll discuss having the vision of the performance experience you desire for your ensemble.




It's Not Where....It's WHY. Performance Tour Philosophy.

I was 16 years old, it was my first year as drum major, and this high school band trip to Washington, D.C. was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me.

Little did I realize at the time how this was the first step in a journey that has taken me thousands of miles to see amazing locations, introduced me to countless incredible people (including my wife), and given me the opportunity to experience once in a lifetime events.sometimes even more than once!

This initial spark led to ten years as a high school band director and a masters degree in conducting. Upon leaving the podium, I spent another decade as a tour consultant for one of the most successful and well-respected organizations in the performance travel field. That led to a role as a concert developer for an organization that produces and promotes collaborative concerts in some of the most famous concert venues in the U.S.among them Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Orchestra Hall in Chicago. And now finally here to Festivals of Music, creating a series of educational adjudicated festivals across the county.

It is through that lens of experience that I offer these thoughts. Within all these roles in my life, the constant has been the sameto provide musicians the kinds of life-altering opportunities that I had the good fortune to enjoy. Because I understand first-hand where that can lead. And as music educators, it is an enormous responsibility that demands thoughtful consideration of the why to include a performance tour as part of your program.

Begin With The End In Mind

With full credit to Steven Covey and his Seven Habits, this is perhaps the most important (and effective) thought that needs to be addressed when you begin the planning process. How do you ultimately want this to impact your musicians and your program?

This will be different for every program, and you as the director have the opportunity and responsibility to set that course. Speaking for myself as a music educator, I would want my student musicians to have a performance opportunity that is high quality and meaningful, a chance to improve their musicianship by working with a skilled conductor/educator, and the ability to hear a remarkable professional level performance.all while having a fun and memorable experience.

Fun, incidentally, doesnt necessarily mean time on a roller coaster. Ive seen adult and student musicians having the time of their lives in rehearsals and clinics, experiencing those "bonding" moments with an outstanding teacher. You can clearly see that on their faces! The Boy Scouts have a mantra of fun with a purpose; that line of thinking applies here.


I would even take this a step further, beyond a single tour experience, and think in terms of a multi-year plan. This is especially true if the group has no established history of performance travel. Since I used to live in Colorado, here's the metaphor I use: each hike should have a "mountaintop" moment....but you don't have to climb a Fourteener every time out!


Often times Ive advised groups to start small to test the watersfind out how well the students travel, what the financial thresholds are and how to reach them, and give yourself the opportunity to set the tone for your goals. Biting off more than you can chew, simply to generate a lot of excitement or interest and get lots of students involved, will often lead to disaster. Which leads to my next point.


Big Does Not Equal Distance


This is a concept in need of redefinition. So often we hear groups say that this is a big trip year.meaning a destination like New York, Orlando, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Europe, etc. as opposed to something more regionally based. Usually this is a connotation attached to the amount of distance that it takes to get there, and consequently the time and financial resources to make that happen. 


Over the years Ive seen groups put in enormous resources just to get to the destination, and then be limited to their time at the location or ability to experience the location in depth. I once saw a group drive over 20 hours to New York City, spend one night with two partial days in the city and drive back home..all for the sake of being able to say they visited New York City. While certainly there can be merit to wanting to expose students to a place they might not otherwise experience, wouldnt it be more rewarding to stay closer to home but give them something with depth and meaning that could be a truly life changing experience?


What if a big trip was instead defined as a big experience”….something out of the ordinary that could be a game changer for both your program and your musicians? Perhaps youre only traveling 4-8 hours down the road from home, but instead of the cost for a bus or plane to take you farther you use that budget to participate in an experience that is remarkable and more in-depth. Something with qualities that they will remember and make a true difference in their lives and in your program.


This relates to my next point, "Make It Meaningful," which we'll begin with in the next post.