Precision & Confidence

Precision & Confidence

It was only on our second visit to the Berlin Philharmonic that I had curiosity and time to think about why they played better than any other orchestra I had heard. My first evening with them had blown me away. The tough and touching beauty of the music was enough to make me feel physically embraced as well as emotionally enlightened in a way I had not been before. Having a top class orchestra in Singapore for the last 30+ years, and with opportunities to hear other exceptional players on occasions, I thought I had participated in a whole range of great music, played magnificently. I determined that on my next visit to the Berlin Philharmonic I would concentrate on discovering why they were so good.

So this time I was watching as well as listening. At first what I saw shocked me. The demeanour of the musicians, even of the conductor, was so relaxed that I wondered how such depth could pour forth from so much casualness. After all, a great sportsperson will be jumping up and down, or at least twitching a little, before attempting the world record. Even the chess players I sometimes study have an intensity about their concentration that seems tense, vibrant and exhausting. But the musicians here were so relaxed that a few of them actually left the hall for a while if there was a long pause in the music they had to play.

They were relaxed, no question about that. But their behaviour was not casual at all. It was confident. They were following the conductor, not obeying him or her. They knew what they were meant to do and they accepted that they had done it before. They determined that this time they were going to do it better, not by personal detail but by cooperative harmony. The audience did not feel anxiety or fear for the players. They felt friendly. They didn’t see a gold medal at the end of the performance, rather, a cuddle, the kind that only a true confidant can afford. They didn’t listen to the orchestra, they were part of it.

As a mentor I have had few lessons that affected me so much. Communication had been taught to me, in the way that it is to most people, as a rocket-firing escapade with the measure of its success, the hitting, if not the slaying, of the target. Nobody ever said to me ‘embrace your audience’ or ‘make your eye contact tender’. TMI even still has a programme called “Sum it up, spit it out and make it stick”. A good, snappy title, but perhaps today it ought to be renamed “Send it confidently, let it alight, have it absorbed”. Those who inhale their own learning are better educated than those who repeat someone else’s barking.

What lessons there are here for a disjointed, incongruous world flexing its rebellious muscles at the sight of a white balloon. What sanity is found in simplicity, what beauty in bold backbone. What refuge is found in restart.  

To reach such levels of confidence you must be good but you do not need to be outstanding. An average intellect, a willingness to forget self and think only of the other person and a certain determination to succeed is all that is needed. I know someone who was naturally a little arrogant, which, of course, meant insecure. He became aware of his difficulty – and of both its meanings. He decided to become humble, a demanding mission, even a contradiction in terms. 

He ended that part of his journey confident and busily relaxed.

No wonder he is so happy.

Good morning

John Bittleston 

We welcome examples of quiet confidence grown from a bed of rock. 

If you have one please tell us at

05 February 2023