Juggling the Responsibilities of Band Leadership

imageI co-lead a band now that I quite like, we’re called EMS, we’re a 12 piece band, and in addition to being the bassist, I also compose and arrange for the group, rehearse the band, as well as organize rehearsals.

The result of being all these things to a project is that I bring to it an excessive level of mindfulness to rehearsal and performance. As is I don’t have the brain space to do any of my jobs fully, I have a long way to go as a bass player, my arranging and composing will benefit from more experience, my ability to rehearse a band effectively is still in its early days, and making sure everyone is able to attend every rehearsal at a convenient time is an impossibility. So given that I haven’t perfected any of these arts individually juggling them all at once is a dubious proposition.

Mindfulness has become a bit of a buzz word these days, the sense I mean it in is the sense in which your thoughts are primed for a given occurrence. If you smell burning you become mindful for fire as you try to track down its source. Being the band leader, arranger, and bassist, I find myself bringing a level of mindfulness beyond what I’m actually capable of tracking simultaneously. I just can’t worry about the notes and rhythms and articulations and dynamics of all 12 people, while reading my part, while keeping track of the use of the remaining time in rehearsal, and thinking proactively about how to improve the performance of the material. Trying to tackle all these issues


Prep: nothing helps more than preparedness. Doing prep is like having access to many days worth of brain power ahead of time. By anticipating problems and solving them in advance you’re allowing your self to access in realtime an amount of brain power magnitudes greater than you could going in with nothing. Plan how you want to use available rehearsal time, make sure your parts are taped and edited to give performers an easy read, communicate to your band as many details as possible to reduce questions and confusion that take up rehearsal time. Learn your parts so that you don’t need to focus on reading and can i stead listen to and engage with your band.

Allies: encourage the members of your ensemble to participate in assessing the performance of the band. A good band leader is able to leverage the total talents of its members including band leading talents. Knowing when to delegate responsibility is a quality of a strong leader, in this way you multiply what you can accomplish in the same period of time. Long standing members of your ensemble will likely come forward with suggestions and observations, but asking for someone’s assistance can be an opportunity to build trust and loyalty with your ensembleers. If you’re able to find a strong collaborator share leadership with a co-leader, two people sharing a load together are able to accomplish more than working on their own, and you’ll have someone who wants you to succeed to commiserate with when things become challenging. I know I could not have started EMS without the help of my friend Marie Goudy.

Debrief: Record your rehearsals and performances and then check them out. With multiple passes you’ll catch things you couldn’t have otherwise. Hearing what isn’t working in your charts will give you the perspective you need to improve them. Is what you wrote lame? Maybe your musicians aren’t capturing your vision and you need to rethink the way you communicate. At some point the posthumous analysis will spill over into prep for the next gig which is a sure sign you’re improving.

Focus: identify what it is you need to be doing at any given point and do that only. When it comes time to perform you’re not a a composer anymore, you’re a musician. Tackle your part with the same mentality and sensitivity you would any other piece of music. Forget about why you wrote what you did when it comes time to play and just focus on being the best performer you can be. By the time you have your instrument in hand on the band stand it’s too late to make changes to your arrangement so just put those thoughts out of your head.

To learn more about EMS follow the link. In brief we’re a 12 piece jazz band that operates out of Toronto playing original music composed and arranged by Marie Goudy and I. We’re a dynamic band whose sound is rooted in the jazz tradition with no fears about exploring new frontiers.