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The Role of Section Leader

Sharon Sparrow | October 2017

Question: This fall I have been appointed section leader in my band. What is the role of a section leader?

Answer: When I think about the word leader, a quote by Kristi Hedges, leadership coach and author of The Inspiration Code comes to mind. “Being a leader means building followership. Your primary responsibility is how you can inspire those around you to support a larger agenda under your direction and vision. You have to prioritize communications and [the] development of others. Your job is no longer about what you can accomplish, but what your entire team can achieve. Good leaders focus on we not me.”
    When it comes to being a section leader, you must first know your section. Start by talking with them. You already know your goals and hopes for the section, now listen to what their goals are, and then merge them with your own to develop a clear path to achieving them. Knowing you are including them and value their opinion gets you off to a good start. I firmly believe that the best way to accomplish anything as a leader is to first lead by example. Show more and say less; this will go a long way, especially with a section of peers.
    Be there early to warm up. Practice difficult passages slowly, using a tuner as you warm up. Have a pencil on your stand and mark in helpful things as you go along. Be focused, alert and attentive to the conductor during rehearsals. These are all things your section will learn by watching you.
    When you make suggestions, using we instead of I is better received. Also, sharing something you think will help by saying for instance “I’ve found that dropping my corners of my lips seems to keep my high E much more in tune” yields better results than “You are all out of tune on that high E.”
    Another example would be to ask how you can be more helpful while addressing the problem that you hear by saying “We are not together on that entrance. How can I help with my cues?” When I address my section with a comment, I find starting with a compliment is useful such as “We are so in tune in that section. Now, if we can try to make this other section just as in tune.” The key is respect for the people in your section. This also means that you should always act in a way that earns your section’s respect. This carries over outside the rehearsal hall. Avoid gossiping, sharing bad words about a colleague, or acting like you are a superior flute player to your colleagues.
    The biggest challenge I find, yet the one that brings the biggest reward, is not to tell a section to practice, work together, or play well together. Instead find a way to make them want to do all of these things. It can definitely be a fine line, but if you try to lead by example, inspire your section, earn their respect and address them as part of a team, you can accomplish a lot.