Before you read anything watch the linked youtube video below.
There is something that happens in the first three seconds of this rehearsal video that is incredible.
Did you catch it?
The orchestra goes from laughing to serious in less than a second and an amazing sound erupts from the orchestra as soon as Dudamel drops his baton. This orchestra (the Los Angeles Philharmonic) has a unique skill. They can “flip the switch.”
“Flipping the switch” is the ability to change from focused to relaxed and back to focused again with no loss of productivity or excellence. It is not an easy thing to do and it requires that every member of a group makes the decision to “flip the switch” every single time. However, when your group is able to do this rehearsals become not only productive but also fun.
Think of it this way. If a director can not trust their group to get back on task after he or she tells a joke then why would they tell it? The potential loss of time is too big of a risk to take. When a group is unable to “flip the switch”, directors often feel like they have to rule the group with an iron fist in order to keep the rehearsal on track. This means no jokes, breaks, or any other distractions. In contrast, if a director knows that the group will “flip the switch” every time then they can use jokes and other potential distractions as a way of getting what they want out of the group (much like Dudamel did in the video).
How do you get a group to be better at this? Great question. I don’t have all the answers but I have found that if I explain the concept of “flipping the switch” (and the benefits) to the groups that I work with they start to do it automatically. Having a specific name for the phenomenon rather than just a general label like “discipline” seems to plant the idea into their minds. If they start to trip up a quick reminder of the concept goes a long way to restoring order.
Have any ideas on this topic? Let me know in the comments.