Music As A Metaphor For Business | A Q&A with Orchestral Conductor Dominic Alldis

20 December 2017

Through powerful and interactive keynote speeches, Dominic Alldis, a successful jazz musician and orchestral conductor, demonstrates how leadership, teamwork and innovation are instrumental for multiple industries. We spoke to him to discuss how the composition of an orchestra can be a great metaphor for business.

How did you become an orchestral conductor and jazz musician?

My father was a conductor and my mother a violinist, so pursuing a career in music seemed like a natural thing to do.  I studied the piano and cello at school, but things really got interesting for me when I discovered jazz as a teenager and later studied in Paris and at The Hague Conservatory. For 20 years, I played professionally on the London and Paris jazz scenes before conducting, teaching and public speaking came into my life.

What has music (both in general and specifically jazz) taught you about leadership, teamwork and creativity?

Music has taught me how to listen with a critical ear and collaborate with diverse groups of people. Conducting has taught me how to lead an orchestra, maintaining control without interrupting the creative flow. This is different from playing in a jazz band, where you need to surrender control and embrace a more spontaneous musical environment that engenders a rich flow of creative ideas.

How do you apply the metaphor of music to create powerful learning experiences for businesses?

Music is a universal language. This makes it very adaptable to a learning environment. I generally begin my sessions with an element of live performance – this could be solo piano, a jazz band or a full orchestra. The sound of music immediately takes people into another world. I then carefully explain how the conductor of an orchestra creates the best possible circumstances for individual performers to excel. I contrast this with the world of jazz, where the musicians are encouraged to experiment, be spontaneous and build on each other’s ideas. It is interesting to compare ‘classical’ and ‘jazz’ cultures within the context of a business environment.

Any particularly memorable moments from your career so far?

Oh… too many to mention! But some of my most rewarding moments have definitely been with business audiences. I have met so many fantastic people and it has been a real privilege to see how a “musical lens” has brought greater clarity to their goals and ambitions. The life of a musician is not so very different from a corporate player. We are all looking for a sense of purpose and meaning in what we do. We all want to express ourselves both individually and collectively, and make a positive difference to the lives of those around us.

Why do you enjoy being a speaker?

I love meeting people and learning about their world. Speaking about music to business conferences has given me a fascinating insight into different cultures and the opportunity to open peoples’ eyes and ears to the power of music. In the past military and sports metaphors predominated on the conference podium, but I feel music and the arts have a great deal to say about today’s key issues. Making music is a very humane activity and it extols the virtues of collaboration, creativity, listening, tolerance and trust.

What do you do to ensure your presentation has a lasting impact?

A presentation has a lasting impact when messages are felt as well as heard. Music has the capability to move us to a more open place and engage with us on so many levels - emotionally, intellectually, physically and spiritually. This makes each musical presentation both a personal and communal experience.

What is your favourite piece of music? To conduct and to listen to, if they are different?

Hmm… I generally prefer making music to listening to music! That said, I do love the great masterworks of Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. I like to contrast this with jazz, where there is so much spontaneity and creative freedom. Increasingly I find both worlds are inextricably linked and I find them both incredibly inspiring and life-affirming. Oh, my other musical passion is Brazilian bossa-nova - it is such incredible music. If only I could play the guitar!

What’s next for you?

I am looking forward to a concert with my jazz piano trio in a beautiful church in London. Then I’ll be travelling to Hong Kong, Singapore, Mumbai, Miami and New York to deliver leadership events with orchestras for WPP and Columbia Business School.

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