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This spring, I had the great pleasure of listening to the Apple Hill String Quartet as a part of a Leadership NH session day on Arts, Culture and the Media. The director, Lenny Matczynski, is one of my LNH classmates and I recently reflected that the skills he describes as critical to chamber music are similar to those I use when talking to clients and prospects. This concept intrigued me enough to dig a little deeper. Exploring the Wikipedia page for chamber music, I found a number of really interesting parallels and similes to our work at Savoir Faire. I was surprised to find that chamber music and the principles, theories and context surrounding it provide an interesting reflection of the Savoir Faire team and how we go about our work.

Chamber Music

First, a definition: chamber music is classical music that is composed for and performed by a small group of instruments, with one performer to each part (as opposed to orchestral music), and does not include solo performances. German writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (an early contributor to the Sturm und Drang literary movement) described chamber music – specifically, string quartet music – as “four rational people conversing;” the concept of conversation is consistent throughout the exploration of chamber music.

This reminded me of the Savoir Faire team, which is small by design and features technical experts in several disciplines, though we rarely employ any one of those disciplines in isolation. Every project we work on includes an element of conversation and collaboration in order to build the most appropriate solution for our clients’ challenges.

From Wikipedia: “Because chamber music is a conversation, sometimes one instrument must stand out, sometimes another.”

In the sphere of digital marketing, there is always that conversation, and shifting lead roles. At one point, Search Engine Optimization must take precedence; at another, content development takes center

stage; and then, design must step up to the spotlight. However, at no time does any of these disciplines get disconnected from the others.

Even in the realm of traditional marketing, there is a conversation between design and content, while still trying to connect it to the online marketing efforts to maximize its effectiveness. 

“Music of Friends”

The intimate nature of chamber music calls for certain personality traits. In The Cambridge Companion to the String Quartet, David Waterman, cellist of the Endellion Quartet, writes that the chamber musician “needs to balance assertiveness and flexibility.” Good rapport is essential.

It is the same with the Savoir Faire team. Our work improves when rapport is strong and friendly. We’re doing challenging, complex work in close quarters, aiming to meet or exceed both deadlines and expectations. Depending on the project, the discipline we’re focused on, and the goals we’re trying to achieve, each of us takes both leadership and back-seat roles in a fluid manner. We each need to respond in kind when one discipline should be leading and the others should be following, and that situation changes regularly, depending on the needs of the project or program.

Back to Wikipedia for two follow-up statements:

  • “One of the issues that must be settled in rehearsal is who leads the ensemble at each point of the piece.”
  • “Players discuss issues of interpretation in rehearsal; but often, in mid-performance, players do things spontaneously, requiring the other players to respond in real time.”

We operate much the same way when we enter client or prospect meetings. We may have planned a framework for the meeting, but we need to respond in real-time to whatever comes up in that meeting. It may be that a teammate who planned to ride in the back seat is now driving the meeting. We’re able to do this because of our experience and the depth of knowledge we have in our individual areas as well as our camaraderie.

Ensemble, blend, and balance

“Beyond the challenge of merely playing together from a rhythmic or intonation perspective is the greater challenge of sounding good together… To create a unified chamber music sound – to blend – the players must coordinate the details of their technique.”

After years of working together, and learning from and with each other, the Savoir Faire team has developed an intimacy and a shared experience that we consistently draw on and apply to our work. We know enough about each other’s areas of expertise to make meaningful contributions, and we know enough about our lack of depth in those areas to allow our teammates to take the lead and shine. In other words, I have no qualms about declaring: we blend.

I’m happy and proud to realize that, in Savoir Faire, I have created and drawn together a beautiful ensemble worthy of a world-class string quartet like Apple Hill, and that the way in which we work together is similar to how small groups of musicians make beautiful music together.

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