Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

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Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is not your typical orchestra.  This group has gained notoriety for a huge part of the traditional orchestra that they lack: the conductor.  This appears to be a disastrous way to build a professional music group.  Without a conductor’s direction, wouldn’t technical and interpretative problems arise?  Orpheus’s success answers no to this question.

Founder and cellist Julian Fifer began this group with different ideas.  He liked the clarity and the flexibility of a chamber group, which traditionally acts without a conductor, and wanted to embrace this spirit in a larger setting.  Fifer explains that their structure creates “a particular blend of freedom and responsibility.” Without a conductor to coordinate musicians, it is the responsibility of each player to know all the music, including each instrument’s part.  But, each player has more freedom to contribute to interpretation.

The idea of a conductor-less orchestra has also received attention from business analysts.   Here at Wake Forest, students in Holly Brower’s business classes get the chance to learn about Orpheus through a study done by a Harvard business professor Elizabeth Ross Canter.  Canter is a huge proponent of the Orpheus structure for the business setting because it is a notable example of flexible leadership, with less hierarchy and more opportunity for people to play many different roles.

Canter boils down Orpheus’s leadership structure into 8 principles, universal to every business situation:

1. Put power in the hands of the people doing the work.

2. Encourage individual responsibility for product and quality.

3. Create clarity of roles

4. Foster horizontal teamwork

5. Share and rotate leadership

6. Learn to listen, learn to talk.

7. Seek consensus (and build creative systems that favor consensus)

8. Dedicate passionately to your mission.

In a business mind, this leadership structure shows fundamental positive outcomes: low turnover, high employee loyalty, customer satisfaction, and thus, a healthier bottom line.  For Orpheus, the free flow of leadership positions creates a collaborative environment and also carries an indispensible element for musical groups: an individual level of emotional involvement in the organization’s success.

Interested in seeing the Orpheus Process in action?  As part of their performance with the Secrest Series on February 26, they will be hosting an open rehearsal from 6-6:30 PM in Wait Chapel.

Don’t forget to stay for the pre-performance talk at 6:40 PM, given by professor of music, Peter Kairoff, and for the performance at 7:30 PM!



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