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(extracted from The Art Of Possibility)

On our 1997 tour to Brazil, the New England Conservatory Youth Philharmonic gave its first big public concert in the Teatro Municipal in São Paolo after three exhausting days of rehearsing, sightseeing, and touring. The house was filled to capacity. The enthusiasm of the warm-hearted, passionate Brazilian audience was overwhelming. Brazilian national television filmed the event and, afterward, projected it on a ten-foot screen in the foyer so the kids could see themselves. They were high as kites. Now the problem was to calm them so they could get to sleep and be fresh for the concert the following day. It was after midnight when we returned to the hotel.

The next morning I received an angry note from a guest saying he had been woken by a group of noisy musicians. Several other guests had been disturbed as well, the hotel staff informed us. Four students were found on the roof after 3 A.M., and four others were picked up in an unsavory part of town in the early hours of the morning by the security squad of our sponsor, Bank Boston.

The next day, the orchestra was to play not one but two concerts, an outdoor event at 6 P.M. in front of fifteen thousand people, and an indoor performance at 9 P.M. of Mahler's technically and emotionally draining Fifth Symphony. The chaperones swung into action and demanded that I read the students the riot act. They wanted me to remind the kids that they had signed a contract prior to setting out on the tour forbidding them to consume alcohol or break curfew.

Roz and I consulted on the telephone, from Brazil to Boston, and addressed the problem, as we always do, with the question, "What distinction shall we make here that will bring possibility to the situation?" A broken contract points to the dualism of good and bad, and leads into the downward spiral, so we looked for another framework in which to consider the young people's behavior. I realized that while the rules for the tour had been carefully set up in contract form, I had never formally discussed with the kids their purpose for being in Brazil, beyond giving concerts. Purpose, commitment, and vision are distinctions that radiate possibility. We decided that I should hold a conversation about vision with the group, as a framework for addressing the late-night events.

Summoned to the auditorium, the diffident young players sat as far back as possible, their teenage bodies in various postures of exhaustion and protest. Every face, innocent or malfeasant, reflected that they were about to receive a well-deserved dressing down. "Last night after the concert," I began, "a woman came to me and told me with absolute honesty that the two hours she spent listening to Mahler's Fifth Symphony had been the most beautiful two hours of her entire life. You gave a great performance last night, and she was not the only one moved and changed by it." Their faces looked blank for a moment, as though they could not hear these words that were so unexpected. After a pause, I went on, "What else did you come here to offer the Brazilian people?"

One by one, from various parts of the hall, came answers to the question: We came to show them the best of America! That great music is a way of communicating friendship and love. We came to show respect for Brazil! That teenagers can make great music! That music can be fun! That we are happy to be here! By now the answers were coming from all corners, and the faces were lit up with joy.

When exuberance and ease were palpable throughout the room, I said, "Of course, if you'd given a terrible concert last night, you probably would have all come home and gone straight to bed. It was precisely your exhilaration at having participated with so many people in great music-making that resulted in four kids being on the roof. It's just surprising that they didn't float any higher on sheer energy! But does waking the hotel guests at night represent the gift we wanted to bring the Brazilian people? Obviously not. We got off track. You have to know where the track is to get back on, and you've all just expressed that beautifully."

Two of the kids volunteered to write letters of apology to those who had been disturbed at the hotel, and others thought of additional ways to brighten our image with the people of São Paolo. No one felt blamed or made wrong. We left the auditorium with every-one in high spirits, ready to give two invigorating concerts.

Just as I was leaving the hall, one of the chaperones said, "But you didn't punish anybody!" And then he added as an after-thought, "Though, I don't suppose they would be in the mood to give another great Mahler performance if you had, and, really, I don't think we will have to worry about them again."


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