The intrapersonal domain is the capacity of managing our emotions and behaviours to achieve learning goals” (Jefferson & Anderson, 2021, p. 81).
The learning disposition of grit refers to the capacity to pursue challenges and display determination and perseverance in the face of challenges (Jefferson & Anderson, 2021). Duckworth and colleagues describe these two key aspects of grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” (2007, p.1087). Grit requires resilience, the ability to draw on strategies to formulate a positive response to difficult environments and situations.
The conductors in our study express how they are invested in a broader vision for: the performance; their career; approach to rehearsals; aspirations for the players’ experience and manifesting the composers’ intention. They anticipate ongoing challenges in their work which they will need to navigate to achieve their vision.
Conductors express a philosophy around intentionally responding to challenges in a flexible and positive way. They enact this approach by making decisions in the spur of the moment, finding ways to make the most of practical limitations, managing emotional reactions and embracing change as a continual thing.
This approach to challenges shapes the teaching and learning culture about practice. Conductors purposefully teach the positive value of experiencing mistakes, by explaining the learning which arises from navigating the expected emotional responses. Conductors provide a vision for the sound and link practice as the means to achieve the sound. Players indicate they orientate to practice and mistake-making in similar ways and demonstrate a thoughtful orientation to practice; they understand the craft and the point of the exercise.
What our participants said
“To be able to face challenges in a way that can look at what it is, assess it, and then work around it, or with it. Having that flexibility to make decisions in the spur of the moment, which are good for you and good for your survival in challenging times” (Julia, Professional Musician and Board Member).
“There were many points throughout the year which I felt like giving up playing the music for the musical, but it was something I had committed to so I decided that I wouldn't give up. I kept working on playing the music to the best of my ability, even if it felt like I couldn't do it” (Lawrence, player).
“You know, performing in a choir is an interesting one, in the sense that it's both safe and unsafe. You've got safety in numbers, to some extent, but you are still stepping into the unknown every time you walk on stage to do a thing. You can rely on each other, because you've rehearsed, but stuff does go pear shaped. Stuff happens. Learning a certain resilience around that and around the vicissitudes of life performance. It's an incredibly useful life skill to be able to go, well, that sucked….really stuff up, particularly in a rehearsal context and go, all right let's…” (Tory, conductor).
“Keep forging ahead, being true and trying to stay with your original idea, or if you believe that it is composer's intention, or some other ideas that you've got, then kind of being resilient to their sways on you and forging ahead. You may convince them in the end, you may not, of course, because you can't win with everyone. But forging ahead and knowing that what I'm doing for myself by being here is developing my career and developing myself as an artist and as a conductor in developing my skill set and pushing ahead, no matter the obstacles in terms of not having performances but finding other ways of learning and things to focus on that you can spend your time. Making use of the time that you have essentially” (Ben, conductor).
“I don't know how many times I told the ‘bow and arrow’ story in my life. Point an arrow at the target, and you miss it. What do you do? Oh, you do it again? No, you make an adjustment and then do it again. And the adjustment is what your teacher suggested, or eventually you, yourself have decided to do. And then you keep doing it until you get the target, not once, because amateurs practice till they get it right, and professionals practice it till they can't get it wrong”. (Nicholas, conductor).
During the pandemic, players, management, and conductors displayed numerous flexible responses to the unusual situation of Covid: “So in some ways you can see that [Covid-related challenges] as a silver lining. For us to focus on the digital space, and to think of really creative ways to be able to deliver our services with the challenges involved; in particular, not being able to be in the same room. I think we developed quite a lot in that way” (Ben, conductor). Performances moved to outdoor settings; a “logistical nightmare in some cases, but we managed”. The challenges associated with rapidly changing deadlines, repertoires, locations, weather events, covid safety plans, and performance settings were met to achieve a “extremely high-profile release of work”, resulting from a creative response to expand into the digital and outdoor realms. Iso-recordings and outdoor performances generated widespread positive affect that the organisation was able to do something positive for the players: “We have them record their parts at home and we try to piece all those things together and make those online iso-recordings, which was a pain, the first time and I'm quite sick of Dvorak's Slavonic dance number eight now, having listened to it 100 times. But it was a good challenge and the outcomes of that have resulted in a really positive way for the organization as a whole, and that we were able to provide something for the players to do. That, I think, made TYO stand in good light over the past year with how we were resilient to the lockdown that we had” (Ben, Conductor)
What does this mean for me?
- Provide feedback so players experience the rewards of persevering with smaller challenges.
- Reinforce player’s experiences of success.
- Give instruction to players about how to navigate frustration, confusion and feelings of failure.
- Model to players how positive outcomes happen from managing the negative feelings which accompany challenges.
- Model passion for the desired musical outcomes.
- Cultivate a positive and energetic state as a way to motivate players to engage with the task.