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Groups within groups

On December 8th covering , ,

Michael Hovanian, the orchestral bassist & blogger, has a piece on all of the implications of moving the Bassi from one side of the stage to the other. Those of you in small groups will be surprised, and those of you who live in orchestras will want to join the conversation.

I’ve started to privately think of music groups as “simple groups’ and “complex groups”. Simple groups have no hierarchy — they just all meet together and get things done (or not). An orchestra epitomizes a complex group. There are groups nested within groups. There are sections with their own personality and leaders and each stand (pair of players sharing a music stand) is a micro-section with its own etiquette of who turns the page, etc. In my clinical practice I have heard many stories of how stand partners annoy one another to the point of bloodshed over how and when the page is turned.

My terminology has limited value — because even a small group can be a complex group. The Beatles had the subgroups of John/Paul which provided much of the songwriting and tension, and then George was his own songwriting team, and then Ringo. (Then when you add in all of the relationships with George Martin, Brian Epstein, Yoko Ono, Linda McCartney, etc. you have a great mess of wheels within wheels). Simple groups are rare, and all groups larger than a duo will have members who are closer or more in conflict than others.

We have two categories: complex groups vs. groups which appear simple, which just means we don’t understand them yet — so we really have one category. When I meet a group, one of the first things I try to figure out is where these subgroupings are. One of my principles is that these subgroupings are really toxic when it’s taboo to talk about them, but they can be fine if they’re above-board, and if people can speak up if they feel something unfair is going on.

This is where orchestras have an advantage, because the subgroupings are official. But people can also feel there’s a suffocating bureaucracy, and they can suspect there are hidden alliances and favoritism, and there’s always the question of who’s sleeping with whom.

Which illustrates another of my principles: There’s no free lunch.

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