The Secret Ingredient for Success

By: Edna Landau

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I was recently honored to be asked to participate on a panel at the annual Astral Artists auditions, during which I listened to a substantial number of pianists and wind players. While all were on a rather high level, I was struck by the relatively small number who grabbed my attention right from the start of the audition and sustained it all the way through. It got me thinking about a three letter word, not often mentioned, that for me constitutes an essential ingredient of successful performance, whether on stage or in the workplace:  JOY.  While it is indisputable that beloved artists such as Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma have earned their place as musical legends first and foremost by virtue of their extraordinary artistry, I am convinced that their joy in music making has been an essential ingredient in making them household names. It is palpable from the very first notes that they play. I believe that this element of performance is rarely addressed in the practice room, where the majority of attention may be focused on the mechanics of playing. Can joy be taught? Probably not, but I do think that all teachers can encourage their students to identify and perform repertoire that brings out the best in them and in which they feel they have something special to say. For works that are relatively unfamiliar, the artist should be encouraged to share with their audience some spoken comments regarding why they chose to program the work, thereby increasing the potential receptivity to it from their listeners. Joy in performance may result from confidence that a program has been well prepared, and from the artist’s belief that it offers works or interpretations that might be new to an audience or juxtaposed in an interesting way. The artist might pause, almost imperceptibly, before a phrase that they find particularly special, just as a storyteller would do, thereby sharing that moment more meaningfully with the audience. It seems to me that our most treasured artists are those who give us the impression that there is nothing they would rather be doing than performing for us. While a healthy schedule of performances is essential to a successful career, a concert should never be a means to advance to the next rung on the career ladder. It is a special moment in time, and the opportunity to communicate with a live audience should be savored.

And what about the workplace? In my twenty-three years as Managing Director of IMG Artists, I interviewed many job applicants and often made a positive decision after the first few minutes. A good number of people that I hired still work at IMG after ten years or more, and they have all advanced through the ranks to higher levels of responsibility and more distinguished titles. Their excitement about working at a dynamic and distinguished international agency was visible to me from the start, and it quickly became apparent that the pleasure they took in their work overshadowed any eagerness they may have felt to advance in their career. The promotions came naturally because they were great team players, galvanizing everyone around them with their enthusiasm and joy in having a job that allowed them to be surrounded by great performers and inspiring colleagues. This created a family atmosphere throughout the years, despite substantial growth in the size of the artist roster and number of employees, which I think was a key element in the company’s success.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony may be the most beloved work in the classical music literature, uplifting all who hear it with the final movement’s magnificent setting of Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy. Our lives will undoubtedly be richer and more meaningful if we can compose, and actually live, our own personal ode to joy.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2012

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