Picture of Nicole Martín Medina

Nicole Martín Medina

Gestora Cultural – Abogada/MBA

(Dis)Harmony in the Symphony (part 1)

Musicians and their management staff

The 7 reasons why we don't understand each other

The eraser and the pencil

The eraser greeted the pencil: -How are you, friend?

The pencil replied angrily: -I am not your friend.

-Why not?

-Why do you erase everything I write?

-I only erase mistakes.

-Eh? What is your business?

Nicole Martín Medina - (Dis)Harmony in the Symphony (part 1)

-I’m an eraser, this is my job.

-This is not a job. Writing is a job.

That gave the eraser food for thought. -My job is as profitable as yours, he replied.

-You are wrong because the one who writes is more important than the one who erases.

To which the eraser said in response: -Removing the incorrect is equivalent to writing the correct.

The pencil was silent for a while, then said with some sadness: – I see you getting smaller every day.

-Because I sacrifice something of myself every time I erase a mistake. Look at yourself!

The pencil said in a hoarse voice: -I also feel that I am shorter than I was yesterday.

The eraser answered to console him: -We cannot be benefit others unless we make a sacrifice for them.

If you cannot be a pencil to write the happiness of others, be a good eraser with which to erase their mistakes and sorrows and sow hope and optimism.

(Author unknown)



In the majestic setting of a symphony orchestra, where music intertwines in a symphony of sounds, there is a delicate balance that transcends beyond notes and melodies. The harmony that unfolds in each performance is the result of close collaboration between the musicians and their management, production, administrative and technical staff. This interaction, which is often underlying, but essential, is the very soul of the orchestra, and in this article, we will explore in depth the art of communication that lies at its core.

This new blog post aims to analyze and understand the mysteries of communication within a symphony orchestra as a business ensemble. From tuning instruments to planning concerts and solving logistical challenges, I want to highlight that the effectiveness of communication is the key that unites these two worlds in apparent counterpoint.

How hard it is for us, sometimes!

I have observed over the years how many day-to-day problems in an orchestra could have been avoided if there was proper communication between all people involved. I am referring to a communication that is based above all on mutual respect and appreciation, on the recognition of the others and of their good know-how and work. A communication that is capable of accepting and recognizing one’s own lack of knowledge, too, to find solutions with colleagues who, at this point, perhaps know better, and vice versa. A communication focused on the benefit for the group and the common goal in needed. Above all, a communication that knows how to stop the ego and the “I want to be right, by all means. Because I am worth it”- mentality.

Achieving effective and constructive communication is a challenge in any group, company or community, but even more so in the ensemble of all the players and workers in a symphony orchestra.

Classical music is a world full of myths and biases. Or should I say prejudices?

Look, here are some especially hurtful ones for musicians:

Musicians are special. They are rare.

Musicians are different, presumptuous, and often arrogant.

Musicians do not know anything else but play.

Musicians do very little work. They go to rehearsal and concert and that’s it.

Musicians would forget their own head, if it were not well held by the neck.

And many others I could add.

On the other hand, comments that hurt cultural management professionals:

Those in management have no idea what it is to be a musician. They do not understand us.

Those in management are pure bureaucrats with no initiative.

Those in management are inept and don’t know how to solve the slightest thing.

Those in management are drowning in a glass of water. Imagine them having studied for 10 years and then practicing for the rest of their lives, without stopping.

Those in management have a job that anyone could do, especially a good musician.

Those in management do not have to expose themselves to the public, they hide in their offices.

And here, too, there are many more.

The perception of whether some or others are more special than other professionals is subjective and can vary widely depending on each person’s perspective. There is no definitive answer to this question, as it depends largely on individual beliefs and personal assessments.

In the world of music, that is true, musicians may feel a deep connection to their art and may consider their work to be special and unique because of the creativity, passion and dedication involved. They devote a great deal of significant time and effort to their art, which can lead them to regard it as something special and unique in their own lives.

In addition, music has the ability to evoke emotions and touch people’s hearts in a way that few other fields can achieve.

And for all these reasons, I have set out to analyze in depth where our communication problems come from in order to understand and, hopefully, in the future, work more and better together.


The 7 reasons that lead to different perspectives 

I don’t know how my readers see it, but I, personally, believe that a large part of the problems in communication come from different perspectives. Each person has his or her life experiences and learnings that shape his or her view and opinion on things. As we age, we are no longer blank sheets of paper and our passage through life, our memories, joys and disappointments, directly influence how we interpret the world around us. Likewise, the professional or academic training we have received, the jobs we have done, our culture, our professional experiences, above all, even our political views or our religious beliefs form a kind of veil that we wear in front of our eyes and ears, preventing us from seeing things as they really are. If, in addition, we are, to a certain degree, stubborn when it comes to considering possible different perspectives and insist on our point of view, the controversy is served.

(Dis)Armonía en la Sinfonía (parte 1) Los músicos y sus gestores culturales Los 7 motivos por los que no nos entendemos

In the picture, our two maestros are each absolutely convinced that they know what the number is, from their point of view. But I believe that, if we asked the number itself, it would tell us what it is and which of the two conductors is right. Unfortunately, communication problems, conflicts and arguments in the day-to-day running of an orchestra do not usually have eyes, hands and feet to mediate between the two quarrelsome players. In real life, both sides must make the effort, before insisting on a detail, to take one (or even several) possible perspectives as possible. Not until all points of view or perspectives have been collated should firm assessments or opinions be given. And even further, I have always thought that the truth belongs to all of us as a whole, but to no one individually.

Nicole Martín Medina - (Dis)Harmony in the Symphony (part 1)
All we see is a perspective, not the truth. 4 - 3

To sum up, I do not want to make generalizations here or promote stereotypes that prevent the individual from being as he or she is, but to draw differences that allow us to understand why, perhaps, we see things as we see them, each from his own angle, forces me to look for the inequalities between the two groups of professionals that help us to understand. And polemics should be avoided, they do not interest here at all.

Nicole Martín Medina - (Dis)Harmony in the Symphony (part 1)
Is it deap? - No it is not!! - My truth might not be your truth.


Reason 1 – Excellence vs. Productivity, Efficiency & Profitability

I have been observing professional musicians at work for almost all my life. And if there is something that characterizes them in general terms is their eagerness for excellence, their ability to excel towards perfection in an absolute term. All their training from an early age, study in conservatories and work in a professional orchestra is focused on obtaining perfection in interpretation and expression. No note can be out of tune, no pause skipped. Every detail counts. Only when the score is perfectly interpreted according to the wishes of the composer and the conductor can a good musician rest, at least a little. Well, but only a little, at least, but not too much! It is necessary to return to practice as soon as possible.

According to my observations, I think I can say that musicians are always oriented to the 100%. For them, 99.9% is not enough. In auditions or concerts, it has to be 100%. No more, no less. Their goal is perfection. They ignore another objective, such as progress or doing better.

But for those of us in business management, progress is often a better criterion for assessing success than perfection. In fact, perfection in business terms can mean a depression in production or result figures because it can mean stagnation in an obsolete past processes. Moreover, in business management, we have reached the point of assuming errors as controlled risks that, depending on the case, are more profitable than perfection.

How many times has a budget included an amount allocated to the payment of fines for non-compliance in compliance issues, knowing that it costs less to pay the fines than to comply with the law. At least in Spain, I have seen it many times. I am not saying that I agree to it, quite the contrary, but it is the reality.

Likewise, in terms of budgetary compliance, it can be much more important to solve certain things within a certain time and deadline, leaving aside any idea of perfection, which, of course, reduces the quality of execution. This does not mean that it is considered poorly executed. Perfection can also be considered a waste of assets for a company.

What I am trying to say is that management personnel unconsciously define excellence not as 100% compliance with certain parameters, but rather as progress, profitability, results and, sometimes, social impact. In this way it is perfectly possible that an 80% performance is considered “prefect”, something that must cause a serious grumbling to a musician.

The first reason for misunderstandings and discussions is already served.

These are two diametrically opposed ways of looking at things, and if we do not consider the other’s point of view, we are bound to clash at some point. It is a matter of time.


Motive 2 – Conservation is positive vs. Safeguarding old habits often means loss-making

Classical music production is the same as in Mozart’s time. Little has changed in the performance of a concerto by a symphony orchestra. Musicians therefore consider the preservation of certain forms to be positive and desirable. No harm meant, but it is for a reason that conservatories are called by this name.

While classical musicians live and appreciate preservation, business management is subject to constant change. Both in the private and in the non-profit sector, those who do not know how to adapt quickly to changing times are out of the market. Hence, a good manager, unconsciously, tends to seek improvements through change, resisting what we call “we have always done it this way”.

In another post in this blog, I have mentioned the cost disease or the Baumol effect, which reflects what I have just explained from an economic-financial point of view. [1]

So, we already have two reasons that hinder our daily conversations in an orchestra. While a musician or artist tends to resist daily flexibility, managers do not survive without it.

There’s more! Let’s continue…


Reason 3 – Artistic expression ability vs. Linguistic-mathematical ability

Possibly, one of the most important reasons for the back-and-forth between managers and musicians is the fact that musicians show an ability for artistic expression while managers tend towards linguistic-mathematical skills. While some speak in terms of beauty, emotions and aesthetics, others speak of numbers and laws. It is as if we were speaking directly in two different languages.

It would be almost rare not to have regular disputes in a symphony orchestra between technical-administrative and artistic personnel.

However, there is still more. I am far from finished with my list of reasons and motives that lead to controversies.


Reason 4 – The personality of the musician vs. The personality of types of professions

Most musicians (or other body expression artists such as dancers, for example) start their professional training at a very early age, often as young as three or four years old. For this reason, musicians are trained as musicians long before they really develop their personality as a person. In their case, the personality itself and the characteristics of being a musician blend over the years, so that, at some point, a musician’s personality cannot be conceived without the instrument.

As a general rule, in all other professions the personality of the person is first defined until adolescence, and then a professional personality is added. I do not know of any lawyer who received professional training at the age of four, and if there were such a person, he or she would be a completely isolated case.

Consequently, musicians will forcibly see the whole world around them through a musical-artistic veil. Just as managers see the world influenced by their experiences and experiences.

But I think we can make a concession to the musicians and start from the basis that it must be much more difficult for them to adapt to other points of view, to correct this musical-artistic veil that often does not help if we talk about procedures and business needs. The technical-administrative colleagues usually have it easier to be flexible and understandable with the musicians, since they have been trained for it.

However, I will always understand that communication is a matter of both sides, never of one side only.


Reason 5 – Dictatorial world vs. Falsely democratic world

The previous point is reinforced by what we now add: the following reason 5.

While professional musicians in symphony orchestras live in an absolute-dictatorial world, the rest of the professions – at least today – live in a “falsely” democratic world.

By that, I mean, musicians not only learn excellence, conservation and inflection in absolute terms throughout their lives, they are also ruled by a superior with absolute criteria. Whether it is the conservatory teacher, an audition panel or the conductor of an orchestra, musicians can seldom express their opinions freely. They tend to be oppressed, reducing their expressiveness to the musical-artistic one I mentioned above.

As not all that glitters is gold, I say that the other professions live in a “falsely” democratic world. I am trying to emphasize that everyone is subject to the opinions and ideas of superiors, bosses, boards of directors and the like. But more and more, people are talking about modern leadership and that people must be able to express their needs to companies.

In the case of musicians, it is sometimes necessary to remind them that asking questions is allowed, giving opinions is allowed. Don’t laugh at me, please, unconsciously, they may believe that all this is forbidden. Because, when a musician loses his calm, releases everything that has been stuck inside him for a long time, it is not possible for him to understand the other. They have never been allowed to do so.

Again, I do not give carte blanche to musicians to criticize without knowledge of cause their fellow managers or administrators, but I understand them when they give some idea about legal, economic-financial or human resources issues which, inwardly, makes me chuckle.

To sum up, we could perhaps say that the artistic world is endemic and limited, which makes it manageable and predictable, while the business world is embedded in the great world that acts as a funnel for individuals and becomes a jungle that is difficult to manage and not at all predictable.


Reason 6 – A director’s world vs. A world of bosses

Motive 5 leads me directly to motive 6.

We are separated by another fact: above all, in a symphony orchestra, one person is in charge, the conductor. Yes, it is true, in the strings and other sections there are soloists with certain roles and responsibilities, but at the end of the day, everything comes back to the conductor.

Playing the instrument, on the other hand, is mainly the responsibility of each musician. Obviously, it has an influence if another colleague plays badly or is not concentrated, but, at the end of the day, if each musician is oriented to the score and the conducting directions, he or she has nothing to lose. One can do an excellent job while the colleague next to him is not.

If only the business world were that simple!

At the top of an organization, there may be only one technical director or manager at the end, but even he or she is not alone in the world. The business world is characterized by what I call “a world of bosses”. Depending on the position one occupies, one can be conditioned by several, or rather many people and their work.

The work of the culture manager is conditioned not only by other employees inside and outside the company, but also by predefined rules and procedures. He does not have 100% of his tasks in his hands and the final ability to do a good job, often depends largely on other people.  However, in the musician’s eyes, it appears that the manager is the one who has done everything wrong. It is possible that a colleague of administration, management or production seems to have done a fatal task and his own responsibility for the bad result is minimal or null. But he has to face the orchestra who judges him.

Until we know all the intricacies of an organization, it is very difficult to evaluate a certain management of an employee, it is normal that any opinion expressed from outside ends up being a poorly or badly founded judgment.

In this regard, I would like to remind you that it is permissible to ask questions before giving an opinion or, worse, passing judgment.

By now, I suppose, you can see that, deep down, we understand each other extremely well between musicians and managers, since we don’t have it easy at all.

But wait! There is even more…


Reason 7 – Fear as a traveling companion vs. Fear should not exist

Fear is a musician’s faithful companion. Many musicians know perfectly well what stage fright is, the fear of auditions or the fear of failure or of being mediocre, in general. I am not saying that all of them suffer from it, but it is a subject much more treated and expressed in the music than in the business world, where fear -apparently- is non-existent.

Basically, we could summarize any interpersonal conflict as an absence of love and empathy and an emergence of fear.

This is where it is perhaps easier for the musician to understand the management staff because manager are not even allowed to be afraid. Why? Once he or she has finished his or her studies, he or she no longer takes any exams or tests. That’s the logic. Why should they be afraid or suffer from insecurities? Already. Note the irony.

I assure you, fears accompany us too, no matter how well we hide them.
I have been advocating for years that it is positive to recognize our insecurities and deficiencies, to show ourselves as we are. Authentic. It is positive to say “I don’t know” instead of assuring “it’s done” without being able to guarantee the result. In my view, the person who acknowledges what he/she does NOT know by asking others how to do, it is stronger and more self-confident than the person who falsely assures a result that later cannot be achieved. Above all, theses are more honest.

In the business world, we workers are  frequently directed and motivated by defined budgets. The fulfillment of the budget, not only in monetary amounts but also in the achievement of other mandatory objectives, creates a pressure on the technical and administrative staff that is no less uncomfortable than an audition or a solo concert. The difference is that nobody talks about it. Many people are afraid of losing their job if they don’t meet certain parameters or guidelines.

I’ve never liked this argument, and personally, I make sure I’m never controlled by fear, but yes, I know how it feels like. On the face of it, it might be all over with final exams, but in reality, cultural and business managers are also subject to constant scrutiny for effectiveness and efficiency.

Seen in the right way, this should be the first reason that unites us, managers and musicians, although, in reality, it often separates us. On both sides, we could have more empathy for each other and try to see things without our particular veil in front of our eyes.



But, of course, we have more things in common than just music. And if we don’t , we have to create it, as in any other company that does not always bring together workers with the same interests.

Of course, there are cultural managers in orchestras who are not even interested in music or the work of musicians, just as I have been told that there are (few, but there are) musicians who do not love music. In the end, from a business management point of view, music it is an operating business like any other. 

As indicated a little above, the first thing that unites us is our humanity, we are people with strengths and weaknesses and we are all subject to the assessment and approval of others, which generates fears and insecurities even the most self-confident among us. The fear of failure or of being mediocre is not only a thing of the artistic world, but of the entire human world.

We all need to be seen and recognized for what we do and who we are. It is a natural desire of people. Also, the desire to be special is something we all have in common. With all this in mind and, at the same time, considering our particularities as expressed in the seven motives, it should not be too difficult to improve our communication to reach satisfactory results for both artistic and technical-administrative colleagues.

The seven motives express rigid ways of thinking, hardened mentalities and resistance to other points of view. By simply assimilating this fact, we should be able to recognize that not only our point of view is viable. What is more, many times several paths, multiple ideas and solutions are valid and viable in a given situation.

Just as the two director dummies in the image of this article believe they have the absolute truth by looking at the number in the center, we often behave with colleagues at work.




This could be a very long list of more or less useful tips,
but a first step would be to remember:

It is allowed to ask. LET’S ASK FIRST.


Before I say goodbye for today, I also recommend you to stay tuned because this is the first part of the topic, there will be two more entries to come. To be continued!


Nicole Martín Medina

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

February 2024

(Original in Spanish/ Translation Deepl/ Revision NMM)


Book: How to be happy if you are a musician or have one around you (only Spanish Version)- Guillermo Dalia


Klangvoll – Part 8 – Gerald Mertens talks with Ralf Pegelhoff (Clarinetist, Mediator and HR Coach) – “It is necessary to talk more with others than about others”.




The professionals who have especially inspired me while working on this article and who deserve my deepest thanks for giving me a little bit of their time, insights and critique, are:


Tiffany Chan – Director

Chrissy Kinsella– Chief Executive London Music Fund

Barbara Venetikidou – Orchestramanager Sächsische Bläserphilharmonie


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