The Innovative Spirit at Work
Symphony Composer, Conductor, and...Business Coach?
...Meet Peter Wiegold.
by Ned Hamson
Peter Wiegold is one of many hybrid artist-coaches working nationally and internationally to bridge communication gaps in industries and organizations. Calling upon his artistic expertise as a conductor and composer, he works as a business and communications coach with a diverse range of groups: the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; leaders in arts and industry; actors, dancers, orchestras and ensembles. He excels at developing creative and communication skills and, in his work with non-musicians, focuses on spontaneity, creative leadership, self awareness and self-confidence. As a composer, Wiegold’s works have been commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra and Covent Garden, and he has conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and Symphony Nova Scotia.
Below, Wiegold speaks candidly with author and advisor Ned Hamson (author of Global Innovation) about the power of dialogue, Wiegold’s path from composer to business coach, and the surprising similarities between musicians and engineers.
Hamson: You've got a strange background to be involved in doing innovation and communications work for business. I can understand working with orchestras and such, but how did it drift outside of that world? How did all that happen?
Communication has to do with a live spirit in the room, rather than a sequence of exchanged pieces of information.
- Peter Wiegold
Wiegold: I ran a course at the Guilford School of Music for ten years called 'Performance in Communication Skills,' and we took the students through all sorts of theatrical and communication processes to help them as musicians and as creative leaders. In the end, a lot of the work
was about their life skills: to strip them down and say, what are the basic communication skills? What are the basic creative skills?
Hamson: When you say you're doing communication skills for musicians, in what sense? For their speaking, or to look at their playing as being part of dialog and communication?
Wiegold: Everything from the bottom, which would be their artistic expression, to the top, which would be walking on stage and saying "Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen." If they're locked-up expressively, if they have issues about how they say ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye,’ that will come out in their music. It becomes very evident that someone is faking or that someone is good at beginnings and not ends, or that someone noodles but doesn't go deep. And if you work in very simple ways you have ways of bringing those things to the surface.
Hamson: I heard Ray Bradbury tell a tale about dialogue and how it effects communications of all sorts. Bradbury's a prolific writer but not all of his books were big hits. He discovered when he was around fifty that his best writings were all written for one person. This started when he was in junior high school, instead of doing his homework, he'd have a little journal inside his book in which he'd write a story. At then end of the school day, he'd run to his aunt's house and read the story to her - his best stories, he remembered, were the ones that she liked.
He then recalled that his best stories since had been written to and for her. I kept asking him what people were saying and ultimately the principle I extracted from that was you can only speak to one person at a time and others "hear" you best when that one person is someone you know and care about. That is, all artistic expression that really "works" is based on dialogue.
Wiegold: It's getting the idea that communication has to do with a live spirit in the room, rather than a sequence of exchanged pieces of information. The Erickson people I worked with mainly had an engineering background. So, they saw communication purely as information exchange. Which is different than communicating How bowled over were you by the sun coming up, or by the sheer awestruckness of a certain system? I was working on basic things like speaking clearly and looking at your audience, which is important even if you're imparting pure information.
But I was also talking about that gift artists have: not just saying something, but saying it in a way that evokes feelings, thoughts, and attentions beyond it.
Hamson: When people have seen a film or presentation or they've listened to a great speech with real communication or dialog going on they're drawn in, as you say, and end up feeling as if Martin Luther King or John Kennedy or Winston Churchill is speaking directly to them. I think of stories of President Roosevelt in the Second World War and Winston Churchill in England... people would sit by the radio and think they were being spoken to directly.
Wiegold: It's not just that people are speaking directly, but also truthfully, isn't it? It's something to do with a sense of authenticity or truth or honesty in what's being said.
Hamson: A lot of people talk about that, and how it's unguarded or naked.
Wiegold: Honest, or vulnerable. Yeah.
Hamson: People often look at it as just information exchange but there's no other way to run organizations if you can't communicate clearly, honestly, authentically…and at the same time listen.
Wiegold: When you say listen it's the way in which you respect the bodies and the souls of the people you're talking to, isn't it? You talk in such a way so that you listen to them listening. The listening quality is having sympathy for your audience as well as empathy. Some kind of feeling for how they're feeling.
Hamson: When you're doing the workshops with strictly business folks, are you using music as well to do it?
Wiegold: I move in and out of music. I did one very nice thing where I was with a very fine saxophone player, one of the best in this country. There were six of them in the room and I got them to decide which synthesizer sound they liked. And I made up six short pieces of music that the sax player and I played and then each of the executives had to introduce us and they had to imbue us both with the music, drink it up as it were, get a feeling for it. And then introduce us so as to invoke the music and also just practice the skills of ‘he's come from England’ and all that introductory stuff. Therefore, they had to transpose their presentation skills towards interpreting something of us and embracing who we were and what we were doing. It got them into more soulful talking. They enjoyed trying to express in words the effect of this music. It got them in touch with expressing things from what they'd sensed as well as from what they thought.
Hamson: Have you been at it with non-musicians long enough that you've heard back that it seems to stick with them perhaps better than other types of training they've had?
Wiegold: The feedback seems to be that they were touched, that there was a kind of visceral memory because they'd really felt, and really performed.
Hamson: Oftentimes people get training or they have some experience that seems to have changed them but then old patterns are really rather difficult...
Wiegold: Yeah, and you can't teach someone to be John Cleese or Mozart in a day. There's only so much you can do in a day. I try to have a mixture of inspiring things that get them excited but then some ground ideas about how they can use it or practice it.
I'm always thinking, whether it's with businessmen or teaching competition or conducting rehearsals, of always trying to distill things to their essences. I'm always looking for those universal things like breath between phrases that would apply in anything. Little exercises that help people have the confidence to take breaths. I sometimes do conducting [exercises] where there's a sound going on and then someone has to stop it and [simultaneously] hold the attention of the audience. They say ‘stop,’ hold a physical gesture, and hold everyone in the room in that pause. And then say ‘go’ and everything starts again. And that ability to hold the room just by saying "Stop. Go." And the quality of that pause and the sense of timing as to when to release it. But someone like Kennedy would have that too, when they stopped in the middle of a phrase, let the pin drop, and then went on with the follow-up. I suppose I'm always looking for things like that: the elemental aspects of language that are in music, and in art, and in politics, and so on.
Hamson: What drew you to [teaching communication skills in business settings]? You started in composition and then conducting and…what?
Wiegold: I don't really know what drew me to it. It's an interesting question because I've got plenty of composer friends who don't enter this world at all. People say that when I teach composition, I teach the person as much as I teach the craft of composition. So I've always been people-centered within music. Unlike when I compose, I conduct one [musician] differently from another. Because one is tall and tense and one's short and relaxed, and so I don't give the same signal to each player abstractly. I change the signal according to who I'm signaling. And some conductors don't do that -- they just give more generalized signals.
Hamson: It also sounds like you've always had an ability to just be open and to not categorize the person that you've met, or are working with.
Wiegold: People say I understand people well. I find people fascinating, and amusing, and
enjoyable to be with. So I've got quite a strong communal aspect in me.
Hamson: That leads me to another question. Engineers and musicians have something very much in common in the [nonverbal] ways they've chosen to express themselves: the engineers through numbers and technology, and the musicians through an instrument. Do you find that they both have difficulty in communicating with people face to face?
Wiegold: Musicians are classically that way - open in one way, closed in another; they
communicate through their instrument; but they can be very shy or just very undeveloped in terms of their social and emotional communication.
Ned Hamson copyright 2002; Published in "News For A Change," May/June 2002, AQP.
Ned Hamson’s background includes 30 years of professional and volunteer work across the globe as a manager, guide and advisor, writer, researcher, editor, strategist, and advocate. Focusing on individual, team, and organizational performance improvement, he has worked nationally and internationally with individuals and organizations in quality and participative management. He is the author of several books including his latest, Global Innovation, and has contributed to Business Standards and Forbes Magazine. His aim is to “help those interested in creating and sustaining positive futures,” and those who want to create innovations that last.