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Presented by David Murphy, this highly entertaining and fascinating seminar provides insight into the group dynamics of an orchestra, and using music as a metaphor, it throws a dramatically clear perspective on leadership and teamwork within an organisation. Here is an excerpt from a session at London Business School.

The training sessions involve hands-on experience of music as a metaphor for business issues, and leave participants viewing leadership and teamwork with renewed clarity.

Depending on client aims, objectives and budget, training can take place with symphony orchestra (50+ musicians) chamber orchestra (30+ musicians) compact chamber orchestra (16 musicians). An alternative version is also available where the topics are explored without a live orchestra. The training generally takes place on one day, involving either one or two sessions of up to two and a half hours each.

Topics Explored:

  • Music as a metaphor for life
  • The anatomy of the orchestra-The anatomy of a company
  • The conductor-The CEO
  • The flow of information/energy within the organisation
  • The quest for the ideal performance/product: creating a vision.
  • Enabling the entire company/orchestra to truly comprehend the vision
  • Feedback: is the vision being fulfilled?
  • Testing the vision: is the performance/product making a dynamic connection with the audience/customers?
  • Maximum Performance: Performing “in the zone” strategies musicians use to achieve this and their application to business life.

Optional Topics

  • Accessing personal inspiration/creativity
  • Listening with attention
  • The Conductor/CEO/team leader as inspirer/enabler
  • The inspired team

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David Murphy

“Like an orchestra, the effectiveness of any organisation’s internal and external communication largely determines its success. Music is communication in a primal form. I use music to enable participants to explore communication without being burdened by words.”
~ David Murphy

During the presentation with orchestra, participants experience a brief performance, a short discussion follows about parallels initially observable between the orchestral and business performance. Participants are invited to sit within the orchestra to observe the flow of information from musician to musician, section leader to section leader, and the role the conductor has in this process.

As the training progresses, (with or without orchestra) participants are given increasingly practical experience of the role of the conductor, the role of section leader, deputy section leader and team member within the orchestra. This is made possible for people with no musical experience whatsoever, by the use of simple percussion instruments: full training is given by a very supportive conductor and orchestra!

Practical examples of business issues explored by this process

  1. Pre-Training: Organisation seeks to improve the way it communicates its core values to the public
  2. During Training: Core values undergo sonic brainstorm: sonic representation of core values created by participants
  3. Post Training: Core values experienced on a visceral level imbuing them with a new potency
  4. Pre-Training: Organisation seeks to improve its creativity
  5. During Training: Participants explore creativity and inspiration. Music enables them to look inside themselves for their creative spark. A musical metaphor is used for developing this spark to its full potential, both individually and collectively.
  6. Post Training: Participants have been enabled to create within a framework which is poles apart from their working life. This has thrown light on the essence of creativity itself. This indelible musical experience creates a powerful image which resonates through their role in the company

Roots of Fire! East Meet West – Fusion or Confusion?

Roots of Fire is a ground breaking project produced by the chamber orchestra Sinfonia Verdi and supported by the Bagri Foundation and Deccan Heritage Foundation which aims to celebrate the musical dialogue between East and West. Roots of Fire offers a unique opportunity to create music works and education resources that offer new audiences in the UK and India, the opportunity to engage with both Indian and Western music. In this video, the music director of Sinfonia Verdi David Murphy, gives a presentation launching the project at the Association of British Orchestras Conference in Birmingham, January 2016.

Core Concept

Classical music needs to reconnect with its capacity for transcendence as it competes with the technological distractions of contemporary society.

These workshops show how the exploration of ancient Indian music techniques can re-establish this connection, reinvigorate Western Orchestras and ensembles and inspire their approach to both new and core repertoire. This exploration also offers some possible new directions for contemporary music and has some fascinating health benefits.

Ravi Shankar and David Murphy

Ravi Shankar and David Murphy

Workshop Topics include:

  • The power of sound: an Indian perspective
  • Benefits of exploring the Indian approach to intonation and rhythm
  • Creating music in the here and now
  • Musicians’ health
  • Benefits to an emerging multi-cultural society

The power of sound, and its effect on the individual is often taken for granted in Western orchestras, (unless it exceeds health and safety limits!) even though sound is the raw material with which orchestras communicate. In Indian music there is a deep respect for sound per se. The workshop will include exercises Indian musicians have used for over two thousand years to bring them more in touch with sound and achieve the elusive quality of transcendence.

Tuning issues are part of the everyday life of any orchestral musician. The Indian approach to tuning is based on a view of sound as a natural rather than manmade phenomenon (and therefore has much in common with pre equal temperament tuning systems formerly in use in the West). This approach gives orchestral musicians a more sensitive approach to intonation than is currently the norm. This concept is demonstrated with examples from both Indian and Baroque music.

The rhythmic sophistication of Indian music encompasses a concept known as “laya”. On one level laya means the feeling of the pulse of the music: a musician with an exceptional sense of rhythm is described as “having good laya”. Laya is an ancient concept rooted in the Vedic idea of an all embracing universal rhythm. In an inspired performance the musician feels the pulse of the music within this universal pulse. In a traditional South Indian music education, the student covers a progressive series of exercises leading to this goal. This feeling of laya is evident in the performances of the finest Western musicians too; one only has to think of some of the recordings of Furtwangler, Kleiber or Casals.

Much Indian music is improvised. Shown the concepts behind this improvisation, Western musicians are challenged to think along new lines and with practice are able to create music in the here and now, on an equal footing with their Indian colleagues. A fine performance of Western orchestral repertoire, like a fine performance of Indian music, sounds as if it is created afresh in the moment.

The above skills are all extremely beneficial for an orchestral musicians’ health. The sound exercises for example have been shown to reduce blood pressure in addition to enhancing concentration and mental focus. Performance anxiety is also addressed as increased mental poise is experienced during performance. The Indian approach to pitch and rhythm has been shown to deepen ensemble skills and players find the act of creating music without reference to a score both physically and mentally liberating.

Workshop Outline

  1. Overview
    A very brief history of Eastern/Western collaboration and an outline of the fundamental concepts of Indian music.
  2. Practical Application of Indian Concepts through an introduction to:
    1. Tanpurra (drone) which establishes an enhanced awareness of the harmonic series.
      This leads to an exploration of:
    2. Swaras (fundamental notes, tuned in accordance with the harmonic series): Deviations from these fundamental notes, an awareness of which is one of the keys to grasping the soul of Indian music are explored next.
      These are known as:
    3. Shrutis (microtones): Shrutis play an important part in the understanding of:
    4. Gamakas (ornaments)
      We then look briefly at how an Indian composition/improvisation is organised through:
    5. Indian music notation
    6. Bols (Syllables used to organise rhythm- we play some entertaining rhythmic games at this point- and finally bring all the concepts/experiences together with:
  3. Practical Exploration of the above through group improvisation in Rag Bhairav

This material can be explored in a session of about 3 hours with a short break in the middle.

Along the way several creative avenues are explored which Orchestral musicians have found relevant to their work in core symphonic repertoire.

All music ultimately shares the same roots, and these workshops are about exploring these common roots. Ravi Shankar’s latest works explore this meeting point of cultures and if time allows some of these are explored too. For detailed Indian Music resources, see here.

Examples of two important area explored: Indian Approaches to Pitch and Rhythm


For the fundamental notes of a raga, (known as svaras), Indian music uses fundamentally the same divisions of the octave as Western music, except that these are tuned with “just” intonation. This is the ancient system that was also in use in Western music until the invention of a variety tuning systems in the sixteenth century.

It is vital for Western musicians collaborating with Indian musicians (and indeed most other World music traditions) to be able to play with this “natural” tuning system, otherwise one of the most fundamental structural elements of the music is corrupted, and its whole integrity compromised. The workshop introduces the skills necessary for Western musicians to learn to play the svaras with “just” intonation, and then apply this skill to the Indian system of ragas.

Learning to play with “just” intonation is simply the first stage for the Western musician exploring this field: the eight svaras are similar to the notes of a Western scale, but the octave is further divided into 22 microtones or srutis. The srutis represent the expressive soul of Indian music. One of the central aims of this project is to define a means to accurately and idiomatically notate srutis, thus enabling Western and Indian musicians to explore their expressive possibilities together.

Idiomatic Rhythm

As mentioned above, a musician with an exceptional sense of rhythm is described as “having good laya”.

On a deeper level good laya means an awareness of what could be described as the fabric of the music meshing with the fabric of time.

It is not surprising therefore that leading Indian musicians have a particularly heightened rhythmic sense. Rather than being constrained by the bar-lines of Western music, Indian music has a system of talas or rhythmic cycles. These talas can range from cycles of 3 to 108 beats.

These rhythmic cycles in turn can be divided into the smallest possible subdivisions, which necessitate a real focus on the here and now. Without this awareness, the more complex rhythmic patterns are impossible to perform.

The focus on the here and now that results from this practice means that the ego (which so often interferes in any highly skilled performance) disappears from the process. I believe this practice is the most efficient way for a musician to enter “the zone” of maximum performance