had the singular distinction of playing its entire repertoire from memory, including the impossibly complex modern works of Schoenberg, Webern, Bartok, and Berg.Eugene Lehner was the violist for the quartet in the 1930s.Although he relished the rapport that developed between them without the encumbrance of a music stand, he admits there was hardly a concert in which some mistake did not mar the performance.The alertness, presence, and attention required of the players in every performance is hard to fathom, but in one concert an event occurred that surpassed their ordinary brinkmanship.In the middle of the slow movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet op.95, just before his big solo, Lehner suddenly had an inexplicable memory lapse, in a place where his memory had never failed him before.He literally blacked out.But the audience heard Opus 95 as it was meant to be played, the viola solo sounding in all its richness.Even the first violinist, Rudolph Kolisch, and cellist, Bennar Heifetz, both with their eyes closed and deeply absorbed in the music, were unaware that Lehner had dropped out.The second violinist, Felix Khuner, was playing Lehner’s melody, coming in without missing a beat at the viola’s designated entrance, the notes perfectly in tune and voiced like a viola on an instrument tuned a fifth higher.Lehner was stunned, and offstage after the performance asked Khuner how he could have possibly known to play.Suddenly a man bursts in, apoplectic with fury, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk.Peter, he says, kindly remember Rule Number 6, whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologizes, and withdraws.The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again twenty minutes later by an hysterical woman gesticulating wildly, her hair flying.Marie, please remember Rule Number 6. Complete calm descends once more, and she too withdraws with a bow and an apology.My dear friend, I’ve seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this.Would you be willing to share with me the secret of Rule Number 6? Very simple, replies the resident prime minister.I am often invited to give talks on leadership in various settings, and in one instance, I told the Rule Number 6 story to a group of executives at a company in Europe.Several months later, when I returned to that city, I dropped by their headquarters and was invited into the president’s office.The president then informed me that a similar plaque now stood on the desks of every manager in the company, with the inscription facing both ways.He said that the climate of cooperation and collegiality that had resulted from this one simple act had transformed the corporate culture.It is not about telling other people not to take themselves so seriously, unless your whole group, like the company above, has voluntarily adopted the practice.But you can tell this joke, or any other, in the midst of a tense situation as an invitation to camaraderie.Humor and laughter are perhaps the best way we can get over ourselves. Humor can bring us together around our inescapable foibles, confusions, and miscommunications, and especially over the ways in which we find ourselves acting entitled and demanding, or putting other people down, or flying at each other’s throats.
The maestro became concerned, frustrated, and then resigned himself to failure.He declared from the podium, I’m afraid this is not going to work.It was one of the cornerstones of this trip that our young musicians be able to perform with their counterparts.Without thinking, I leapt to the stage and said to the young Cuban players through an interpreter, Your job is to teach these rhythms to your stand partner. And to the American players I said, Just give yourselves over to the leaders sitting next to you.You will get the support you need. I asked the maestro to try again.What happened next startled us all.The focus shifted away from the maestro, toward the stand partners.Already more expressive than most young players I had seen, the Cubans became fantastically energized, exuberantly conducting with their instruments, each leading along his American stand partner enthusiastically.The American kids, basking in the lavish attention, gave themselves over to the process and began to play the rhythms the way they were intended to be played.Maestro Gavillan, who appeared as surprised and as pleased as I was, nodded to me that everything would be fine.Bernstein’s fiendishly difficult little masterpiece, his overture to Candide.This piece was so tricky to play that we had sent the parts down to Havana three months earlier to make sure that the Cuban orchestra would have the opportunity to prepare.As we were getting ready to rehearse, I asked their leader in passing whether they had enjoyed working on the overture.But we’ve never seen it, he said, obviously perplexed.It turned out that the music had been languishing in the Cuban post office for all that time.I could feel the blood drain from my face.I felt panic overcoming me, realizing the impossibility of performing this piece under these conditions.Our youth orchestra had taken months to master the overture!Then, I looked at the players and saw many of them smiling.We had only to reverse the process that had been so successful earlier in the rehearsal!The American kids now sprang to life, energetically leading their stand partners through the bar lines—and it went off perfectly.Again, the attention shifted away from the conductor on the podium to the partnership in the pit.The energy level of each local conductor rose dramatically.Zander,This is my first white sheet.Sitting at the back of the cello section, when I have always sat at the front, was the hardest thing I’ve done in a long while.But over the nine days of our work together I began to discover what playing in an orchestra was really about.Your shine has inspired me to believe that I have the force of personality to power the section from wherever I sit and I believe that I led that concert from the 11th chair.Thank you for helping me know that.From this day I will be leading every section in which I sit—whichever seat.—Georgina, cellist in theNew Zealand National Youth OrchestraHere is a final story of a committed and passionate man, a colleague of Eugene Lehner’s, who led as a peer from the edge of his chair with so little fanfare that no one actually noticed him.They just heard the remarkable result.The legendary Kolisch Quartet