One of the first lessons I taught student writers, when I was
instructing freshman composition, was the art of rhetoric.
Rhetoric isn’t a term many of us are familiar with, yet we employ
rhetoric every day to get the things we want and to persuade people.
If a writer is
an outstanding rhetorician, it means he knows how to persuade. Rhetoric
(rather than writing) used to be studied in school. It still should be.
(Read a history of rhetoric at Wikipedia.)
As a professional editor,
when it comes to interacting with friends, family, and others (off the
job), they all tend to think (or be fearful) that I am silently picking
apart their writing style and grammar, looking for errors, or otherwise
judging their proficiency. Nothing could be further from the truth. I
might notice the errors, but as long as errors don’t get in the way of
meaning, who cares?
But I do notice when someone’s rhetoric
isn’t effective. And that’s when I tend to speak out in the most
uninvited way. Like right now.
I happened to read this blog post
about leadership, which uses the analogy of an orchestral conductor to make its point. Of course,
whenever I find anything that mentions orchestral conducting, I send it
to The Conductor! And I knew this blog post would push every single one
of his buttons, and he’d be compelled to comment. (Which he did.)
The Conductor’s reluctant permission (and hopefully none of you
consider this a public spectacle, just a very informative writing and
publishing lesson!), I’m reproducing his original comment here,
followed by my revised version, that shows how a great writer (as well
as a great marketer) always gears a piece of writing for an intended
You know, it’s misinformed nonsense
like this that perpetuates the incorrect impressions people have about
what it is a conductor actually does. (I blame all those Bugs Bunny
Of course, the “true visionary” is the composer.
That’s why we classical musicians devote our lives to studying and
performing their works hundreds of years after they were written.
However, you are quite incorrect with your suggestion that every player
has a score. This could not be further from the truth!
conductor’s score has anywhere from 10 to 50 lines of music to be read
simultaneously. The conductor must spend countless hours studying
scores in preparation for rehearsals, for he is in fact the ONLY member
of the ensemble who has a blueprint of what everyone is supposed to be
doing. Each section of the orchestra has only their OWN part in front
of them. The violins don’t know what the flute is playing. The timpani
has no clue when the cellos are going to come in. Given that there are
80-100 people on stage, with differing experiences, musical attitudes,
and abilities – SOMEONE has to lead. And that someone damn well knows
what he’s doing.
Don’t believe me? Watch these 2 minutes of rehearsal:
you see in concert, when a conductor leads an ensemble through a
performance, is the end product of dozens of hours of study by the
conductor, and then yet another dozen hours or more of rehearsal.
the idea that the orchestra could do just fine without a conductor is
also quite untrue. Yes there are orchestras, the oft-mentioned Orpheus
Chamber Orchestra being the most celebrated, which performs sans
conductor. However, what is less well-known is that in rehearsal, each
and every rehearsal, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra chooses someone from
the orchestra to conduct. And they must hold many more rehearsals than
most orchestras in order to prepare for a performance without a
I’ve played in professional orchestras as a violinist
for over 20 years, and have conducted for over a decade. Ask any
professional musician playing in a major orchestra if it would be
possible to perform a major work of Shostakovich, Mahler, or Schoenberg
without a conductor. I assure you the answer will be, “no”. And this is
why the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is a “Chamber” orchestra, and not a
Note: The numbers in brackets refer to my commentary below.
 You are absolutely right
that the true visionary is the composer. Classical musicians study and
perform composers’ works hundreds of years after they were written.
However, your analogy doesn’t quite reach perfection, since your
suggestion that every player has a score is not entirely accurate.
 Each section of the orchestra has only their own part in front of
them. The violins don’t know what the flutes are playing. The timpani
has no clue when the cellos are going to come in. You can have 80-100
people on stage, all with very individual parts (not to mention
experiences, musical attitudes, and abilities). On the other hand, a
typical conductor’s score keeps track of all this. It has anywhere from
10 to 50 lines of music to be read simultaneously. The conductor is the
only member of the ensemble who has a blueprint of what everyone is
supposed to be doing. What you see in concert, when a conductor leads
an ensemble through a performance, is the result of a specific
person making specific decisions and leading—decisions that are made
during rehearsals before performance.
 You can see an example during these two minutes of a Leonard Bernstein rehearsal:
As you mention, though, there are orchestras, the Orpheus
Chamber Orchestra being the most celebrated, which performs sans
conductor. What is less well-known is that in every rehearsal, the
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra chooses someone from the orchestra to
conduct. And they hold many more rehearsals than most orchestras in
order to prepare for a performance without a conductor.
 I have to admit, though, I am biased. I have conducted for over a
decade. However, I’ve also played in professional orchestras as a
violinist for even longer, and have watched how the personality,
technique, and preparation of a conductor can dramatically change the
outcome of a performance—for better and worse. As you note, a conductor
who makes a spectacle of himself isn’t leading, and in turn won’t be
respected by the orchestra, which will result in a poor performance. A
great conductor knows how to get out of the way and focus everyone’s
attention and passion on the music (or the composer and score, as you
 I’ve removed the first lines in the
original because it will automatically make the reader defensive and
unlikely to listen to the forthcoming viewpoint. Studies have shown that it takes
about 10 compliments to make up for 1 negative remark. Also think of it
this way: Whatever your initial tone, or whatever feeling you convey,
that will likely result in the same feeling in the reader. So if you’re
looking for sympathy, but not extending any to start, you’ll have a more difficult time convincing anyone of your argument!
I’ve reorganized information here so it focuses, first and foremost, on
the immense challenge at hand: lots of individual parts that need to be
… orchestrated. Putting out these facts then raises the question in the
mind of the reader before you make your ultimate point and provide a
solution. So, your reader is already agreeing with you before you even
make the point.
 Exclamation points, all caps, or rhetorical
questions can often subvert the point you’re trying to make, rather
than support it. I recommend eliminating in favor of language that’s
clearer or stronger.
 When you provide evidence, always be
specific if you want someone to pay attention to it. (Also avoid
snarkiness if you want someone to be attentive to your examples and
take them seriously.)
 Repeating tactics from .
Eventually, you do have to claim how your POV is biased (either
directly or indirectly).
This doesn’t necessarily mean your POV is any less credible or
persuasive. Rather than using it as a way to force your authority, use it to garner additional understanding.
 I’ve taken
out specific references to composers, because unless one understands
the challenges these composers present, the argument is not effective,
and even worse, it alienates your audience if they don’t understand.
 It’s always best to end on a note of agreement, and find that
common ground again. So I’ve put some words in the mouth of our
OK, this has been a long post.
Congratulations to those who stuck with it! You can also see a more
direct business benefit (related to rhetoric) over at All Things Workplace (that
talks about always using “you” and “because” to get what you want).