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Verbier Festival and Academy: rehearsing with emotional intelligence

View of the alps in Verbier, Switzerland

I’ve just returned from a week’s work in Verbier, Switzerland where the Verbier Festival takes part each summer for three weeks. What is almost exclusively a ski resort in the winter becomes a venue for an international music festival in the summer, with an abundance of concerts, masterclasses and seminars.

This is the second year I have been, and I feel extremely privileged to be working in such a beautiful place and with such exceptionally talented musicians. My work involved giving my two talks and masterclasses to the forty chamber musicians of the Academy, to the students who made up the Festival Orchestra and the students of the Junior Festival Orchestra. One of the talks and masterclasses was filmed for Medici TV so there was a bit of added stress with that, along with the hot lights of the cameras. I also gave an hour’s coaching to each of the ten chamber ensembles and was then available for students to book individual coaching sessions, which I held in my chalet (see beautiful view from the chalet balcony!)

The work itself was wonderful and stretched me in more ways than one. I called the work I did with the chamber ensembles ‘Rehearsing with emotional intelligence,’ and the beginning of the session involved giving them my basic principles of how to work with your colleagues:

  • It is essential to trust, respect and believe in yourself as a musician (and person) and then to trust, respect and believe in your colleagues as musicians (and people.) (This is something I have experienced as a professional musician throughout my career but have only recently been able to articulate it and recognize the importance of it.)

  • Each person needs to take responsibility for their feelings, so they don’t end up blaming and picking fault with other members of the group when actually they are really dealing with their own discomfort.

Charlotte Tomlinson coaching bass player at Verbier

They all understood what I was saying and interestingly when some of the groups raised key issues, we always came back to those fundamental principles. The established groups that had been together for a few years had considerably more issues to discuss: they were good chamber ensembles with impressive lists of international concerts and high profiles, but the rest of their lives were struggling to catch up. In some cases, it was simply how to perform when jet-lagged or how to cope with being away from home so much, and in other cases, it was how to deal with more personal conflict with members of the group.

Charlotte Tomlinson coaching flautist at Verbier

Individual coaching

The individual coaching I gave ranged from helping one musician to have more calm and emotional space around her international career, to take her foot off the accelerator for a while; showing another musician that the aches and pains she was experiencing were simply ‘overdoing’ her good technique by tensing up a little too much; showing someone else how to memorise music in a way that she could feel confident in her performance; another had to soften his shoulders when playing and breathe more; another discovered her tendonitis had a strongly emotional root cause; and another wanted to find out how to manage working with colleagues when they had personal difficulties. Seeing the changes in these incredible musicians was wonderful; some changed fast, others needed a much longer, slower approach.

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