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An Orchestra Needs the Authority of the Conductor

In his book Up with Authority, Victor Lee Austin uses the analogy of an orchestra to explain why we need human authority. Orchestras need conductors because the musicians don't have a single right answer to questions like, "What should we play at the concert?" or "What should we practice today?" or "How should we interpret this passage?" Each musician might have a perfectly reasonable opinion, but their opinions will inevitably be different and will almost always be incompatible with one another. And it's no good for each musician to do what is right in his or her own ears. It won't do for the brass section to insist on playing a one musical piece if the strings have chosen to play a completely different piece. If the orchestra is to perform coherently, if the musicians want to perform music rather than just make noise, somebody has to have authority to decide.

By submitting to the authority of a conductor, individual musicians attain musical expression they could never realize individually or even as a collection of free-wheeling players. Authority is necessary for classical musicians to bring musical fulfillment to others. In the words of Victor Lee Austin, the conductor's authority yields "a greater degree of human flourishing than we would have from the musicians separately or individually." What is true for orchestras is true for human life in general.

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