34: Psychology, Well-Being, and Mindfulness on the Podium with Tianyi Lu

The Conductor's Podcast

Despite her many, many years on the podium, our guest for today is never shy in admitting that there are days when she doesn’t feel confident – and no, she never tries to fake it. If you’re wondering how this seasoned conductor navigates through a roller coaster of emotions or uncontrollable factors, this episode is perfect for you! Tianyi Lu gives us tips on embracing the leadership role by being on the podium without abusing power, the power of being grounded and compassionate to yourself and others, 
  • Be open with the energy of kindness, calmness and mindfulness. 
  • Prepare yourself with personal strategies to eliminate fear and build confidence. It can be through reading, taking a walk, or chatting with people. Remember that we cannot do our best when we are bombarded with psychological fear. 
  • Perfect is non-existent. What we can do is bring our resources and tools to the table and use all that we learned at a particular moment. 
  • Having a support network that can help you understand your emotions is a great way of building yourself and your confidence
  • Learning starts when an individual is safe. Not when verbal abuse or psychological stress is hurled at them. 
  • My compass is love, not fear. Always make it a point to question yourself, is this decision made out of fear or out of love?

Links Mentioned in Today's Episode

Chaowen: 0:02
Hi everyone, this is Chaowen recording in May 2023. After finishing the first season of The Conductor’s Podcast, I have decided to give this podcast project, a dedicated website with more user friendly functions. So now we have a brand new website called theconductorspodcast.com. Straightforward, right? And now we also have its own Instagram handle. It’s also the same, @theconductorspodcast. So all the show notes have been moved to the new side. And I invite you to come check out all the resources and happy listening.

Tiyani 0:50
Teaching the women tend to be a lot more self depreciating. So they use a lot more language like they apologize a lot. But they’re apologizing, there’s nothing wrong with apologizing. But apologizing, when it’s not necessary often is a sign where someone does feel a lot of lack of confidence. And I do find that usually my female students tend to do that more than my male students, whether it’s just the way that they were brought up, or the way that you know, we are encouraged as girls or boys growing up in our education. So I do find it can be a gender thing. But unfortunately, it is also one of those professions that people believe what you do, if you tell them you’re a great conductor, people believe you. And I’ve seen a lot of conductors who are not necessarily that skilled, but they have this aura of confidence, and they get through. And I have very capable colleagues who doubt themselves, and it’s not as effective. So confidence is a very big part of what we do, but we have to find our own way of navigating it. And for me, it was never false confident I can never fake it. If I’m not feeling confident. I can’t fake it. But what I can do is a lot of visualization and obviously preparing yourself the best you can, but a lot of positive self talk and a lot of kind of self compassion, meditation and self kindness really does help.

Chaowen: 2:17
Hey there, welcome to The Conductor’s Podcast. I’m your host Chaowen Ting, a conductor with over 20 years of experience working with professional symphony orchestras, opera houses, new music groups and vocalist. I’m also founder of gross will conduct and have mentored hundreds of conductors from across the globe. I created The Conductor’s Podcast to share all the behind the scenes secrets with you while I interview conductors, musicians and business gurus from around the world. This is a space created for conductors, conducting student musicians and non musicians who are curious and interested in learning more about the profession, craft, industry and business.

Chaowen: 3:04
Shy away from the real talk? No way. Money, hardship, growth and the roller coaster of a conducting career are all topics we discuss here. I will give you a simple, actionable step by step strategies to help you take action on your big dream. Move through the fear that’s holding you back and have a real impact. Now, fold up a seat make sure you’re closing and get ready to be challenged and encouraged while you learn.

Chaowen: 3:42
Hi there, welcome to another episode of The Conductor’s Podcast. I’m your host Chaowen Ting soul thrilled to welcome you back to this week’s episode. Because this interview was so interesting and so inspiring, and I really wanted you to hear it. My guest today is conductor Tianyi Lu. We first met as conductor and fellows with the Dallas Opera’s Hart Institute for Women Conductors. She was one of the six fellows including myself. And since the Dallas Opera program, her career has really taken off. She served as the Dudamel Fellow with the LA Philharmonic the following year, and also was the assistant conductor with the Melbourne Symphony in Australia. Currently, she is the conductor in residence with the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra in Norway, and the female conductor in residence for the Welsh National Opera and UK and also the principal conductor of this and Wallace, Sinfonia, and UK. But with all this great credentials, does had little to do with our conversation today. Of course, those are the backgrounds of kind of where we got to our conversation. But when I reached out to her about being on a podcast, she gladly accepted the invitation and said that she wanted to talk about psychology, wellbeing and mindfulness on the podium.

Chaowen: 5:17
When I was first given this title, I had a total the different imagination of what she wanted to talk about. But the conversation had really taken such a turn. And it became one of the best interviews that have ever had for this podcast. And I will let our conversation speak for itself. So you won’t be influenced by my bias, but just wanted to share this with you and Here we go. Hey, welcome to the show, Tianyi. I’m so thrilled and so happy to see you after all the years. And thank you so much for coming to The Conductor’s Podcast.

Tiyani 6:00
Thanks for having me. Good to see you again.

Chaowen: 6:03
Before we get started, can you please give everybody a brief intro about your background and how you get to where you are right now?

Tiyani 6:10
Sure. So my name is Tianyi Lu. And I was born in Shanghai, I grew up in New Zealand, very far away from Europe. But that is where I live. Now I live in Den Haag the Hague in the Netherlands. I’ve been on this conducting journey since I was 19 years old. And I’m now 32. And it has been very challenging. But also it has given me a lot of knowledge about myself. And I’m really looking forward to chatting with you today about our journeys.

Chaowen: 6:44
So you say that you started the journey when you were 19. That is, I think back then it was a young age now a lot of young people are going to conducting when they’re 15. They’re attending all the young prodigies, can you tell us a little bit about like how you started? Were you an instrumentalist, a musician, or I remember knowing that you have dance background as well.

Tiyani 7:06
Yes, so I started, like many Chinese immigrants, I started learning the piano when I was five. And then I heard the sound of the orchestra and wanted to join the orchestra and played the flute at high school. So I learned the flute, and joined a lot of youth orchestras sang and all the choirs. And I got into conducting in my second year of university in Auckland, where I wrote a piece for my high school orchestra, I was studying composition, at the time, wanting to be a film composer, and ended up writing a piece that was quite complicated. And the teacher then asked me to conduct it because I wrote it. I had no idea what I was doing. But I caught the bug. And I realized the joy for me was bringing together a group of people and bringing up their potential. And that for me was the thrill of conducting was empowering others.

Tiyani 8:00
So from the very beginning, the reason why I found conducting to be so thrilling, was that aspect of working with people and to bring out their best and to make them feel great about themselves, and allowing them to create something greater than the sum of its parts. So from there, I studied in the University of Melbourne, I went to Australia and studied there with an 87 year old gentleman who was one of his last students, then John Hopkins, he taught me that conducting is about humility. And I learned a lot about leadership from him and started formulating my own theories about what it means to be a conductor, especially with so few female role models. And since then, a lot of my energy has been taken up with thinking about the psychological aspects, because I found that to be one of the most challenging things about our profession. And yet, we’re not taught how to navigate this very complex aspect of leadership on the podium and ended up in Europe, in the UK, studied and many, many master classes as many young conductors do.

Tiyani 9:11
And all the time I was grappling with a lot of self confidence problems and issues about feeling uncomfortable in certain situations, and not knowing how to find my feet. And luckily, I had a lot of good friends and mentors and colleagues. I also read a lot. And now I feel like I’m a lot a little bit older, a little bit wiser. And I’m really looking forward to seeing how now I can give back to the next generation.

Chaowen: 9:40
This is a wonderful story. And it’s really amazes me that your first conducting experience was about empowering people, because I felt a lot of people focused on themselves when they thought of conducting it’s about them waving their arms or being a leader. But that’s a really interesting thing. We’re talking about musicians a lot of times feeling powerless, and especially in orchestras, because they don’t have a lot of choices about the repertory, about the rehearsal time about their interpretation about about what they should sound, how they should sound. How do you feel that’s the conductors can come in with the leadership style or with a psychological, I don’t even have a good word for it, to really empower those musicians and to bring their best out.

Tiyani 10:33
So this is a question I’ve been grappling with since I started more than 10 years ago, but I think especially during the pandemic, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to and reading and thinking about listening to especially a great podcast by Brene Brown called Dare to Lead. It’s on Spotify. And Brene Brown, you may know she she’s known as the vulnerability expert. And she set up this podcast to talk about leadership, and not perhaps traditional forms of leadership that we may associate with notions of power and authority, notions of bullying, trauma even. And I think in a world where power can be often corrupted and can be abused in the classical music industry, that is no exception. And often, we’re not given role models, and we don’t really know how can we lead in a way that will bring out the best.

Tiyani 11:27
And for me, I am a strong believer. And in fact, I have tested many ways of leadership during my studies, where I’ve been told, don’t be too nice, don’t smile too much, you know, you are there to be respected, not liked. By being told I’m too nice and very interesting. We’re often by male role models, who are, you know, they were taught a certain way, and they were trained a certain way. And what I observed is that fear in power can be temporarily effective. But first of all, it never sat comfortably for me, I never felt comfortable shouting at people or getting upset at them, I didn’t feel comfortable in myself, and it didn’t get good results.

Tiyani 12:11
And what I observed as well, it may temporarily in other people, other conductors, mentors, or other conductors that I’ve seen working, it may yield temporary results. But the best results are when a human being is feeling loved, when they feel valued. When they feel heard, when they feel like they can bring their whole selves. And that includes vulnerability that includes weakness, that includes mistakes. And I think our profession in general, from what I’ve observed, there is a huge amount of pressure on musicians, on everyone to be perfect, or to work at a very, very high level, with perhaps very little space, for forgiveness, to make mistakes, and to be vulnerable. And when you have a situation where people don’t feel psychologically safe, and I will use that word quite often, it’s a concept where if you don’t feel safe enough to express your whole self, and that includes aspects of your culture and identity and gender, where you feel if you showed something about yourself, other people will judge you, if you make a mistake in playing, you will be singled out, you will be shouted at, or you may lose a job. And then you cannot bring your best, I think of myself as a conductor, my primary purpose. And that has definitely formed during the pandemic in a very clear way.

Tiyani 13:42
When I step onto the podium, number one, the reason why I’m there is not to make a great concert, that is just the result. I’m not there to treat people like machines, which often it can be like this, that the well being of the people in the room is my number one priority. So as a leader, when I go into a room, I psychologically prepare myself to create a safe space. Now there are practices I do that helped me get to that place, which we can talk about later. But the primary purpose and the goal for me when I get invited to go to an orchestra is can I create a space where the musicians feel safe, as much as possible. And there are forces that are beyond my control that are affecting the room, for example, I’m highly aware of the limited time resources, often you have very little time to get to know people to rehearse. The program may be extremely challenging, there’s a lot of notes to get through, everyone might be stressed, it might be a recording project, where you only get one shot at the table, you get two shots that take and everyone’s very tense and nervous. It may be that they’re not paid enough that the musicians are going on strike or you know, they’re just barely able to make ends meet, and they’re not happy in their jobs. And they’re feeling very jaded, they may have had terrible behavior from their management or the conductors that have come before me, who have shouted at them who have bullied them. And they have they’re suffering from psychological trauma. There are billions and millions of factors that go into the way an orchestra would respond to you when you step onto the podium that is beyond your control. And yet, there’s something amazing about that position when you have the position of the conductor that you can somehow change the atmosphere and the culture of a room just by your presence.

Tiyani 15:48
So if trying to summarize, I mean, it’s a huge subject. But this is something I’m really passionate about is I learn and I, I’ve experimented, and I’ve read a lot and sort of prepare myself. And it’s amazing, I have seen incredible results with orchestras that have, at first been very nervous or perhaps quite hostile towards me. And by the end of the week, they’re completely transformed. And I have so much feedback from the musicians saying, this was one of the best weeks of the season, they thanked me for my energy and how they felt during that week. And for me, that is the greatest compliment. And usually what tends to happen is the concert is amazing as well, because if people are feeling great about themselves, they bring their best. And then you can create something extraordinary in the concert hall. But for me, that’s almost a second priority. It’s almost a sort of natural result of my number one purpose.

Tiyani 16:49
And I realized that this profession, you know, people burn out very easily. And I was getting burnt out. Before the pandemic started, I was quite exhausted. And I realized that it wasn’t enough for me just to go in every week in a different city conducted program, hello, goodbye. Yes, we make a great concert. But I just remembered going home after concerts feeling very empty. And I realized, I’m not going to be able to do this long term, this is not enough to sustain what I need out of this profession, it’s not enough for me just to conduct a great concert. So when I realized that I put the well being of musicians first, and I see the results of that, then that gives me great energy to keep going in my work.

Chaowen: 17:32
I really resonated to what you said earlier in your conversation that we’re being told that to nice or don’t smile, or we look weak, when we just wanted to be ourselves, the podium. But I love this idea. And to be honest, this is my first time hearing people talking about the main goal not not having a great concert at the end of the week, because that’s kind of we were trained to have a great performance by the end of that week, or by the end of the cycle or whatever. But can you share with us a few experiences, like a few stories, or things that you do differently, or that are more new on a podium like that you do differently now, or as opposed to before so my audience can understand more concretely, what exactly is being done now?

Tiyani 18:25
So yeah, so a couple of things I’ve been doing during the pandemic was I got very depressed. And I felt purposeless, I felt very lost. I couldn’t study, I was very unmotivated. And I realized I had connected my ego too closely with the profession, and my sense of worth with my work. So I had to extricate my sense of worth from my identity as a conductor. And I did a lot of loving kindness and self compassion meditation. I downloaded an app called Insight Timer, which has a whole heap of free meditations. And in particular, this lady called Sarah Blunden, who just has this incredible calming voice, and she has this ability to make me feel really connected with myself and connected with love, and every, all the values that I believe in, and I would always in the morning, I would go, have a shower, whatever, get ready, eat breakfast, and I would spend some quiet time meditating, and just preparing my energy to surround myself in love. And it’s very interesting, almost think of it as like covering yourself with a beautiful blanket of love. And it’s a really interesting concept, because then when you step into the room, I started doing this not during the pandemic only, but I started thinking about preparing yourself energetically a few years back, actually, when I was doing a lot of debuts with orchestras.

Tiyani 19:56
And I was finding that sometimes I was faced with a lack of respect, I was faced with orchestras that were quite hostile in the beginning, or perhaps were not very respectful. And I felt this need to try and prove myself, I felt this sometimes I have to shout, you know, sometimes I feel very disempowered. And I’ve found that in order to prepare myself psychologically, and to build myself up in terms of my confidence, I had to do a lot of this kind of focusing on love, or I would read a poem that would really inspire me, I would focus listen to a song that would be you know, in touch with my values, and I found that to really help me go into the space feeling grounded, so I would do that kind of energy work. I’ve also spent a lot of time with yoga and you know, physically moving, so walking in nature and connect acting and being alone and just spending time working on my psychological issues because you are exposed up there.

Tiyani 20:59
And if you have any doubts about yourself, and you know, we’re talking about the whole shebang of like childhood trauma and like, you know, therapists, therapy and working on yourself and noticing when you’re upset, and being an emotionally intelligent, all these things come into who you are on the podium. So I’ve been reading a lot I’d been working through a lot of my trauma from my past that has caused me to be afraid, in certain social situations. And that has really helped me as well on the podium.

Tiyani 21:33
I can give one particular example recently where one of the musicians in the orchestra were getting quite frustrated, we were doing Beethoven seven, and there was a bowing that he disagreed with. He was a section leader in the strings, but he felt like he couldn’t speak up. And often what you find is the power of the conductor, the role is often so ingrained in a situation is that the musicians get very frustrated, because they feel like they can’t make a difference. But they’re very frustrated, and they feel they disagree. And I try and create a space for disagreement. And I saw he was getting frustrated. And I said to him, Look, I would love to have a conversation. It doesn’t have to be my way, what do you think, and he said, very loudly, “no comment” in front of the whole orchestra, because, and this passive aggression. And so what I saw in that was, he was afraid. And I knew that it was not to do with me, it was his own kind of journey. And I was able to be very calm, to be able to see through that. And then the next rehearsal, I went up to him, just the two of us, we had a conversation. And I actually said to my head, I think about what you said yesterday, and I agree with you in this situation with this acoustic. It doesn’t work for your section. So I’ve come up with a solution, what do you think, and he burst out “In my all my years of working on the symphony, I’ve never seen such a stupid bowing, my student who plays in the Berlin Philharmonic” and he rattled off, or he just let out all this emotion directed towards me.

Tiyani 23:10
And in the past, I would have been quite like, oh, shit, I’m so sorry, you know, being I would have felt terrible and really insecure. But I just listened calmly, and I was able to hold all the negative emotion that he was throwing at me. And I could recognize that this person just hasn’t been heard. And I could imagine the number of conductors he’s worked with over his career, who never listened to him. And he was letting it all out. And afterwards, I said, I completely agree. Let’s try this new solution. He said, Okay, thank you for coming to talk to me.

Tiyani 23:44
And then by the concert, you know, I and then I changed, I very calmly spoke to the orchestra. And I said, I had a conversation with your leader, I always give credit to people. So they feel empowered, that I’m not the only one making decisions. I always credit people when they make suggestions. And then I say, let’s try this, I apologize. It’s different to my first idea, but after having heard what we did yesterday, and the first rehearsal and consulted with one of the section leaders, this is what I would like to do, the orchestra would totally happy to change. And in the concert, of course, this particular person played the most enthusiastically, you know, out of the whole orchestra, he even mystic, he even came in early ones, because he was just like, looking at me the whole time, he was just like, giving his all because he realized this was someone who was willing to listen to him, and he felt valued. And for me, that was a joy to see, you know, and I just think it could have been a really scary and nasty situation. There’s, there’s often conflict, but if we can navigate conflict with grace, and we can bring out the best in people and to keep ourselves calm and happy, then I think it’s a great skill. And it’s not easy to do that, actually. So that’s an example of the power of being grounded and being kind and being loving towards yourself and others.

Chaowen: 25:04
So I have to admit, this was totally different from what I had expected, because I thought you were coming to say we should do this and that and that on the podium instead of don’t say this, say this, but I love what you’re saying. It starts from yourself, you have to be competent enough and love yourself to deal with those kinds of difficult situation because I’m sure that those kind of things happen, especially when you’re young and a little less experienced. So it sounds like the way you prepare yourself for premieres. That means working for an ensemble for the very first time is just just be totally prepared yourself mentally, instead of worrying about how they were going to To treat you how they would respond to you, if they would like you, is that right that I’m getting at?

Tiyani 25:55
Yeah, I would say that you are not just a conductor, that, you know, Chaowen, you are conducting as part of what you do, but that’s not who you are. It’s just one part of you. And when we are on the podium, we’re not just there to wave our arms, we are a whole person. And if we work on our whole person, you know, not just the technique, not just knowing the score very well, but the open, and the open with an energy of kindness and of calmness, somehow mindfulness, I think of it as mindfulness in the sense that, you know, you can never prepare 100% for every situation, you know, every time you go into a room, you have no idea who the people will be what they had for breakfast, their histories, everything I just mentioned earlier about, you know, who knows what’s been going on that has created their mood.

Tiyani 26:51
The orchestra has a particular culture in the country that you’re working in, they have a particular culture, but what you can do is you can bring your best self. And what I often observed that when I was younger, and also a lot of my especially female colleagues, but also for men, I think for everyone in this profession, it’s difficult for us to do our best when we are bombarded with psychological fear. So you know, I remember when I was studying in college, and I, and I would, oh, I’ve been in a masterclass situation, where I didn’t feel safe, where I felt like I was making a lot of mistakes and, or the orchestra didn’t like me, or I didn’t feel confident, and I would be worse and worse or worse, you know, and I normally can conduct great, but in front of the teacher, I just couldn’t do it.

Tiyani 27:37
Well, I’d be very tense and my shoulders would get really sore. Or I would try and speak but my tongue would get tired. And I wouldn’t make any sense because I was just worrying about Oh, terrible, my conducting is really bad. Oh, no, I shouldn’t have done that. Or maybe I shouldn’t have worn the heels today. Or maybe the cello just really doesn’t like me, because I didn’t I get asked a question from somebody. And I was like, Oh, I didn’t think of that answer. You know, I’m so dumb, and I start putting myself down and you have this internal dialogue. And then on top of that, you’re like, Oh, I’m the only woman in the masterclass, I have to prove that I’m, I deserve to be there. Or I’ve got this audition, and I have to win, or I have to prove to the orchestra that I’m good enough. So they’ll invite me back. You know, all these layers of self talk. And dialogue can really stop you from listening. And from really being there in the moment.

Tiyani 28:31
And that’s all we can do. We can’t be perfect, but what we can do is train ourselves so that we bring all the tools in the bag that we have, and our best in that moment. And that’s all we can do. We can’t know more than we know in that moment. But I find for a lot of people, it’s very difficult to bring their best selves if they’re not feeling psychologically safe. And so everything I’ve talked about about you know, reading about psychology, talking to colleagues about the psychological, emotional aspects, if you’ve been through a really traumatic masterclass, don’t just hold it in your heart, talk to the other participants. And if nobody in the group understands or gets it, have a group of people around you, you can call them you know, have a support network, where you can start making sense of these things. And then I just read a whole heap about social theory and feminism and, and suddenly, oh, my goodness, you put this in the context of huge, bigger issues that are way beyond you. And the more you understand for me, the more it is easier for me to understand what’s going on and be able to let it go.

Chaowen: 29:45
I love what I just said at the end, let it go. Because of course we will have a lot of traumatic masterclasses. Or sometimes it’s not even a masterclass. I know the old school, the previous generation can act as teachers will know or they were also trained to be shouted at all the time that you are embarrassed in front of the ensemble that when you finally have a chance to get up and conduct you feel so dumb, because your teacher is stopping you after the first beat. I was like, why are you doing I was not clear. They didn’t get your tempo. What were you thinking? I was like, I wasn’t thinking that was the problem.

Tiyani 30:28
That behavior and I want to just have a note on that behavior. We accept that behavior as being normal. But actually, that behavior is damaging. And I’m just going to call it out right here and I’m not afraid to do that. Now. I can see when somebody is treated with disrespect when somebody is laughed at when somebody, it’s not good pedagogy. First of all, it doesn’t help someone learn when you conduct one by one. And that’s terrible, though, the latest research on human development and learning is that we do not the human brain does not learn through punishment. It does not learn through negative feedback, we learn through being safe.

Tiyani 31:13
First of all, we need to feel safe. Because if you’re terrified of being embarrassed, it’s like a tiger about to eat you or a truck about to hit you in the face, you’re not going to be able to learn anything in that moment. Okay, so someone in order for the human brain to learn, you have to feel safe, and you cannot feel safe if you feel like you’re being attacked, or you feel afraid. Now, I’m not advocating that conducting teachers should be nice to people and only say positive things. That is not what I mean. What I mean is that this old school way of shouting, or you know, abuse or verbal abuse for a way that is not very constructive. It’s damaging. It’s damaging, but unfortunately, because the most powerful people in this industry right now, and a lot of the teachers out there, that’s the way that they teach, we assume it’s the best way. But I can tell you right now that it is, it’s not effective. And luckily, the students that are psychologically strong or are managed to bounce back or manage to filter through all the difficult stuff and manage to get to actually learn something, those are the ones that managed to stay. But there are a lot of people who drop out of the profession. And or I know for myself, I nearly quit a few times, because of this trauma that I experienced. And I also speak to a lot of my friends who are studying right now, the sort of next generation old people that I mentor, who are considering quitting, not because they think they’re bad conductors, but because they cannot deal with the psychological stress of being in this profession. And I think that is a great shame. Because we need to train our next generation to, first of all be strong, and how do they navigate situations like that? And second of all, how do we stop this vicious cycle from continuing? Because it’s not healthy.

Chaowen: 33:09
But that’s insane, the theory and the study of learning has changed so much in the past decade or so, now, we have new theories and new discoveries, a lot of them backed by neuroscience, terrific evidence of how human beings learn better, as you say that now we are advocating Are there more people as I was just reading about a way of parenting, peaceful parenting, so they emphasize on connecting with your children, instead of telling them what to do as their rules and expect them to just obey it. But you kind of find a neutral ground of understanding for people to understand concerns and all that.

Chaowen: 33:50
But coming back to our fields, it’s mostly in opera and orchestral conducting or bad industry, do you feel that it’s sometimes the communication is very one way? Like we are an opponent, we tell people what to do. And they might tell us back what they think, if they feel comfortable, or sometimes they can’t they approach you during a break, that I didn’t really think those was working, or the strings were too loud. I’m like really playing my bassoon out of my lungs. I can’t be heard I’m very concerned. Or as I said, a lot of times, the ensembles might be hostile for whatever reason that they don’t like seeing another new conductor or they’re just tired, or they’re stressed out. When those little things happen and rehearsal or kind of outside of rehearsal during that week, when you’re just going in and out. How do you deal with those things while preserving yourself? Your own well being and micronus that so you don’t get bitten sometimes?

Tiyani 34:53
Absolutely. So we first have to acknowledge absolutely what you said is right, it is often very one way we have to remember the history of the conductor, as a profession as a role has traditionally been associated with a dictatorial role where the maestro has all the vision, you know, the classic carry on with his eyes closed, you know, if he’s had his eyes closed, how can he see any information? I mean, yes, he’s listening. But it’s a very, like, it’s all about him. You know, it’s all about the conductor’s vision and the musicians are there to fulfill the vision of the conductor. Now that that idea of the conductor is still very strong, and we also have to remember we are standing in the front, we are on a podium, we have a stick and we are given a voice like, you know, it’s our job and our responsibility to make a good concert.

Tiyani 35:56
And that model is the way that things are done. But I can point out a lot of alternative models. So for example, there are orchestras that don’t use conductors, which have a perhaps more democratic process, we have to look at other professions where this is not the case that you only have one week to try and put a show together, you know, you might have a band that might rehearse of years and years, and they each have the potential to improve the sound of the group. So we have to acknowledge the history and the role of the conductor is a very one way communicative process.

Tiyani 36:32
Is it the best way? Does it produce the best musical results? I’m not so sure. Now, this calls into question the whole way we are running the whole industry. And this is a, you know, probably a huge conversation, because I have a vision for this industry that I believe that no, I don’t think it’s the best way. Communication is dialogue. It’s not one way, it has to be both ways. Same thing as parenting, you know, traditional forms of parenting the child obeys. The parents in Chinese, you know, being coming from a Chinese background. My grandma always told me, which means listen, listen, but we never listened to the child, or at least that’s should not be as equals, right? Because parents know best.

Tiyani 37:18
But now, if we look at the latest research, if you want your toddler to do what you want your toddler to do, shouting at your toddler, they won’t listen unless you attune to them. Because human beings, we’re relational beings, right? The same thing with an orchestra. So my ideal situation, maybe in 30 years time, or 10 years, 20 years, I don’t know, is there’s a lot more two way dialogue that musicians feel safe enough to express their ideas, that perhaps we run rehearsals very differently. And I have been attempting to do this in a small way within the parameters of what’s possible, in the way that I work. So for example, I try immediately from the very first rehearsal, I give off this energy of openness. If anyone asks a question, and they’re like, oh, sorry about, sorry to ask this question. I always say, Please don’t apologize to give people permission to feel like they can disagree.

Tiyani 38:14
And what I find is that from the first day, if it’s an orchestra that’s used to giving the conductor a lot of suggestions or feedback, they will do it. A lot of other orchestras in the first day, they might not do it, but by the second and third rehearsal, when they see that I’m open to it, they will come to me either during the break. But often it’s accompanied by a lot of fear. But what I’m trying to do with orchestras I work with is I create an atmosphere where people feel safe to give suggestions, and I encourage it,

Tiyani 38:45
I actively encourage disagreement with me, or suggestions, and I praise them for it. So I would say, you know, someone would say something during the break, like, you know, I noticed the bowing here is a bit different to the cellos or here, you know, the sports side, or it’s not written in the score, but the you know, the horns are doing. Should we do it as well? I would say, did a person, or your principal oboe, or your principal, double bass saw this? I think it’s absolutely wonderful. Let’s, let’s do that.

Tiyani 39:15
And I acknowledge it and the orchestra fields are my colleagues are getting praised for speaking up, then they may start using their own musicality, because the problem is, unfortunately, why do orchestral musicians have the lowest job satisfaction ratings, even worse than garbage collectors? You know, they did a study in the UK, you know, maybe a few, seven years ago, where Job satisfaction rating over many, many, many different professions, orchestral musicians hated their jobs in general, more than garbage collectors. And I can totally see the reason why you know, you’re training from a very young age to practice this highly difficult instrument at a very high level, you have to be super intelligent, super ambitious. And then you spend the rest of your life being told what to do by a person less experienced younger than you may be a worse musician than you. Of course, you’re gonna hate the conductor, of course, you’re gonna hate your job, and you’re very badly paid. And you’re overworked. Right?

Tiyani 40:12
So I think of all these things, when I’m approaching orchestras, and I try really hard to make it a two way process. Of course, like I said to you earlier, it’s not always possible because of the limited resources and the historical role and what orchestras expect. You also have to be aware that orchestras sometimes are not comfortable being asked what they think and they start causing problems, because they don’t feel safe. They don’t feel safe when you ask them. What do you think? They want somebody who was really strict, and I’m not just talking about dialogue, I’m talking about the way they play as well. There are certain rules Just when I conduct them, I can feel in my fingers in my body, that they need someone to control the sound, they need someone to tell them exactly how they want it. And then there are orchestras who I prefer working with who are actually thrive. And the magic happens when I soften my hands, when I give them more space to listen to each other, when I don’t dictate every single punctuation and articulation and exactly how it goes, that I give them a lot of room for rubato that I give space for them to linger, or I hear what they want to do. And then I give them that space to do it. For me, that is the most beautiful way of making music is this beautiful, give and take. And it’s not just in the way I speak to the orchestra, it’s also in the way I conduct. And I always try and go in with this openness. But if I feel that the orchestra needs me to control because that’s what they’re used to, then I have to switch because they need more control. Unfortunately, I don’t like the way of control because I don’t like the sound that that creates. I like the sound when musicians feel free and spontaneous. But that can only happen when they’re feeling safe. It’s a very long answer to your question. But it’s a very complex issue.

Chaowen: 42:06
Yeah, we understand that. Things are really complicated. And I also saw the survey or the study about job satisfaction rate. And afterwards, I was done. I felt like people were doing what they love, they come in and play music, and they want a prestigious orchestra of some kind. Because we know when you are out of school, I went in a job is such a difficult thing like winning your first job. And after you have a job, you should be happy you kind of play music all day. But there are a lot of circumstances around it. I know I’ve asked a lot of questions about how you actually work with the orchestra.

Chaowen: 42:45
But kind of coming back, I wanted to ask, you mentioned a few times that you didn’t have a female model to look up to in this new or newer leadership style. Do you feel that this leadership style is quite gendered? Or did you feel that now you’re looking now you’re a little more established that we are perhaps either kind of establishing a different leadership that is that is maybe contract managers country, but the very different from the old Maestro style, and how we can influence our like past generation? Next Generation? Sorry, I’m not sure what I’m asking.

Tiyani 41:26
I hear you though, I think I get the gist of what you’re saying. Yeah. Is this a question? I’ve asked myself that whether this is a gender problem, whether it’s because of the fact we’ve only had male conductors in the last few generations, that we’ve created this kind of culture? Or is it actually inherent in a woman to be kinder to be more emotionally aware? I think it’s a bit of both. I don’t think it’s either or, and I don’t think we should generalize, because of course, we have very sensitive men. And we have very strong women who subscribe to the male or traditional male notions of toxic masculinity and authoritative power are one way forms of communication. So I would avoid trying to generalize, I would say that there are different models of leadership. And right now with the new evidence and the neurological science and the social science, we are realizing more and more through scientific study and also through life experience. And the way that our world is becoming more and more aware of issues like BlackLivesMatter, me too movement, you know, people are a lot more aware now talking about these issues of marginalized groups of people in our society, we’re talking about dominant cultures. You know, we’re we’re having these very complex, nuanced conversations that we weren’t having even 20 years ago.

Tiyani 44:51
So it’s a very exciting time. So I would say maybe it a gender, it can be a gender thing. But it doesn’t mean all female conductors are going to be, you know, compassionate. It’s a skill. It’s a skill that can be learned. But I have observed that in general, the way that we bring up men, the way that we bring up boys and the way that we bring up girls, there are huge forces, historical forces, social forces, the way that we encourage boys from a very young age, give them a lot of confidence for girls, we always question we get them to say, be humble, don’t speak too loud. All these things play into the way a child would develop.

Tiyani 45:30
We have to be aware of these things. But we also have to remember not to put ourselves into boxes, and to remember that these are skills. You know, I think a lot of people say I don’t have the personality to be a conductor or I you know, I’m just not strong enough. And that’s what I believed. When I was young. I only saw male role models and I thought, oh my god, this guy So like badass like he’s so he’s just so strong and not only physically strong, and he’s got these huge biceps, which I will never have. But he’s also really bossy. And I don’t feel like that’s my personality, I just can’t do that, you know, that’s not me that that does not mean I can’t be a conductor. And it’s what I found is that it’s very useful to see examples of different forms of leadership. And to start going, Oh, actually, you know what, I don’t have to be like that. Someone tells me you smile too much. I now say thank you for your feedback. That’s their story. This is not my story. And to find your inner compass, and it takes a long time, you know, it took me many years, and I’m still formulating who I am. But I do feel very much happier where I am now, after years of experimentation of what works for me and what works for someone else. It doesn’t mean it’s good for me, and what I believe in, and what gives me joy, because ultimately, we do what we do, because we like, well, hopefully, because it gives us something, you know, it’s the feels something in us.

Tiyani 46:59
And if we’re aware of that, and we can find our compass, then, you know, for me, my compass is very simple. I choose love. I don’t use fear. And I often find in a situation where I have to make a choice. Is this decision out of fear? Or is this decision out of love? Will I say this word, will I behave in this way? Because I’m afraid, or will I behave in a way that will be loving. And it’s not always possible to make the choice to be loving, because you are shitting your pants and you are frightened. And you might not physically be able to act out of love in that moment. But I do believe the more that we choose out of love, the more empowered and the more of our selves we can bring.

Tiyani 47:56
And that’s my real dream, actually, as well. I’m a conductor. And also to be honest with you, the more I develop in this profession, the more I realize, man, there’s so much more I want to do in this life, then conducting. Conducting is just a way in which I can shine my light or to express myself but there’s so much more potential in every human being. So I’m really excited about that.

Chaowen: 48:13
It sounds like that you have put in a lot of thoughts about your career and who you are doing. Like kind of, I felt pandemic has been a point for a lot of people like kind of making them to do different things and explore different things we were forced to in our life. So how do you see yourself kind of moving forward in conducting, and that also in your journey of seeking psychological mindfulness, or the industry for the musicians, I think it’s such an important thing for more colleagues to learn about.

Tiyani 48:48
So at the moment, I’m pregnant, actually, so this is the this is the next stage of my life, I’m really happy and excited to, I guess, experience, something that I’ve never experienced before: motherhood. And I would be fascinated about what I will learn on this journey. And I do feel like it will hugely impact the way I work. And as a human being. I can see a lot of the old issues that I’ve spoken about during our podcasts, you know, I have this secret dream I have, well, it’s not a secret, actually, I’m very vocal about, you know, wanting to shift the industry and wanting to make it more compassionate. But I’m realizing that it doesn’t have to start on the podium. It starts as soon as we walk out the door, when we pick up the phone to talk to make an COVID test appointment, the way that we go shopping and speak to the supermarket lady. It’s who we are, it’s not just something we do on the podium, and to redefine what it means to be a human being.

Tiyani 49:56
And for me, that’s the most exciting part. You know, there are a lot of things that I’m working on a myself that I’m discovering flaws, this kind of tendency to want to control and actually let go, I’m sure having a kid would help me with that. But I’m ready to learn, you know, I’m ready to learn. And I’m thinking about this a great lack of this awareness of psychological safety and all these things, and whether I could develop something to help people. And eventually, who knows, it may go beyond the music industry itself. But that’s where I’m thinking about the moment and I have no idea what the universe has in store for me, but I do feel a calling to do much more than concerts. For me. It’s about the community. It’s about really making a difference and empowering people.

Tiyani 50:46
So in terms of where I’ll be in a few is I’m not sure probably, you know, cutting a little baby around. But also what I’m really wanting to do is to find my own voice. And when I’m saying find my own voice, I mean, there are so many pressures from the industry from agents from, you know, I’m very lucky I’m with a with an agent who really listens and really supports my decisions. But I see so many things in our industry that is pushing and pulling people in all these different directions. And in general, in a very capitalist society, you know, there’s so much pressure for people to perform, and to be, you know, social media, there’s constant pressure for us to be good and to be successful or to be seen to be successful. There’s a lot of things that are separating us from our own humanity, I think. And there’s not much space for silence, and there’s not much space for negativity, for negative emotions, for vulnerability, for sadness, for mourning. And I think we need to heal ourselves. You know, the moment with the war in Ukraine, you know, cried that like, for the whole morning that morning, and I did a concert that evening with an orchestra. And I just said to the orchestra that morning, I said, I just want to acknowledge that I’m feeling really sad right now. And it feels in some ways pointless, like, why are we conducting this concert? It just seems so you know, in the perspective of what’s happening, why are we doing this.

Tiyani 52:20
And I think as a conductor, part of our job is to lead in situations of darkness, and great pain, and to find the source of light and hope, then I said, we have to remember what’s important is love, and to choose to keep going to choose courage, to choose to be kind, and to keep making art, or to keep bringing more compassion into this world, and tell the stories, and to listen. And I believe the power of music can do that. And I believe the power of listening can do that. And it’s not just music itself. It’s the act of listening, the act of attunement, the act of communication. And so if we can somehow bring that into our world, into our music industry, but into the greater world, then I believe that is what my purpose is in this life. So that’s a very abstract concept, but it is what’s guiding me. And I hope that the universe will, you know, show me the next steps to go because I feel like that’s more important than the actual practical stuff, you know, the practical stuff will happen. But you need to build that inner confidence and the inner compass.

Chaowen: 53:40
I love your closing statement. Felt a little horrible, but welcome to motherhood. It will be such an adventure, and a lot of things that you didn’t expect to learn. Yeah.

Tiyani 53:53
Yeah, we’re looking forward to it.

Chaowen: 53:56
But I’m so excited. And thank you so much for coming to the podcast. And I know you’re just kind of prepare yourself for this new page in your life being a mother. But please, can you tell my listeners where they can find you if they want to reach out? I know, like, anywhere that you’re comfortable, like,

Tiyani 54:16
Sure. I mean, I have a website, it’s very easy to find me to search for my name. And my website will show up and there’s a Contact page, and it will go directly to my email inbox. And I’m always very happy to talk to people. I had many people who helped me and gave me time when I was studying and on my journey. So I’m very open to people who want to have a chat. If I have the time. Well, now I have lots of time because born yet but we’ll see what happens after the birth.

Chaowen: 54:50
Well enjoy the time before the baby arrives.

Tiyani 54:55

Chaowen: 54:56
You’ll miss it. But thank you so much again.

Tiyani 55:02
Thank you, Chaowen, and good to see you again.

Chaowen: 55:05
Here you have it, my friends, and I hope you got something out of our conversation. What Tanya said had really struck me at so many different levels. And the most amazing and important thing I felt that I took from this conversation was when she said that she changed the goal of each concert cycle or each week of guest conducting from preparing a great concert and to just given everybody a great experience, which was something that honestly never occurred to me until this point, because as many musicians I was always trained to, of course to prepare for the best constant we can, the asking for perfection, but always kind of in the pursuit of perfectionism being the best we can or give the best of what we are. While a lot of time, of course, we sacrifice on the mental side, which is also important of, if not more important than giving a great performance. And I recently took an audition for conductor position. And I went out with this new mindset, because with audition, I always felt it was a little bit faking, you see, I was asked to go into a two hour rehearsal to run a piece that they had just performed, to show what I can do differently from their previous conductor or the previous candidate. And then to read a new piece that the orchestra will be just seeing it for the first time to show that I can take them through a new piece, and it always felt a little artificial. And, you know, like for the piece that they have already know, I’m there for no purpose, right? The old me would felt, would feel that, oh, there is no concert. And I’m just there to show myself to change things for the sake of changing things. But really, Tianyi’s sharing put me in a different perspective, I’m going to share my idea about this music about this composer, with the musicians and take them through marriage, and have them experience maybe different version of the music that they had never experienced or they had never thought of. And that would be my purpose. And I had a great time, I have to tell you, and this mindset also separate me apart from the reality okay, I’m here for a job. I’m here auditioning for something that I want to win the position. I wasn’t thinking about that at all, I was just really focused on. Alright, are the musicians with me? Are they kind of giving me signs of that they might be traveling, or they might be struggling a little bit with the music is the piece that they are really a little above their level? How can I be more helpful to that particular player? For example, can I be more clear with my beat? Or should I just let them be alone and not to single them out because they were already nervous and embarrassed? That’s enough. So I also started trying out meditation, and this is on the date of the recording, this is day 18. And I’m not sure if it’s changed anything but at least what I’m feeling really nervous or like kind of going crazy. When I don’t have enough time. I always go really crazy when I’m very rushed. But and I just breathe, and it’s pet really helped.

Chaowen: 58:41
So I am so excited to share this conversation with you. And if you have tried anything that Tianyi is suggested proposed, and if any result, please share with us, we’d love to hear from you. And I will see you again at the same time, same place. Bye for now. Take care.

Chaowen: 59:01
Here you go my friend. I hope that our conversation inspired you if you’re a conducting student, or a young conductor is still working up the ladder. And if you’re an experienced conductor, that you found some common ground and our experiences, or that you share and agree with our visions, and helping the current and the next generations of conductors of color, minority conductors, or women conductors, I can only speak for myself, but I certainly don’t want to be the first and or the only women in my field anymore. I know we still have a long way to go before women can perhaps one day become the majority of the dominating gender in this field. But I’m really glad that we are working towards at least some gender parity on the podium. And it’s really comforting to know that they are a lot of colleagues, both men and women, white and people of color working towards this mission.

Chaowen: 1:00:10
If you haven’t already, I would really encourage you to check out the website of Girls Who Conduct and a lot of great organizations working towards more diversity, inclusion and equity in the field, including the one that Julia is involved with the Women Band Directors International. Again, I’ll put everything in the show notes and you can find things at chaowenting.com/31 and I will see you next week at the same time same place. If you’re loving this show, please don’t forget to subscribe and or leave A review on Apple podcast and that will be the best encouragement for me. Thank you and bye for now