Make music, make better companies

This article was published in The Business Times on 27 April 2015.

CAN a professional orchestra teach corporate managers the finer points of leadership and communication?

The Metropolitan Festival Orchestra (MFO), led by its associate conductor Ian Woodward, proves that it certainly can.

The Sounds of Leadership course is a unique and much-lauded corporate training workshop created and copyrighted by Prof Woodward who is both a trained musician and the director of Insead's Advanced Management Programme.

Prof Woodward, who has extensive experience in business and governmental work, brings corporate leaders into the music room where they sit among musicians and watch how music is made by the orchestra.

Although audiences typically hear the blend of sounds emerging from an orchestra as one harmonious product, corporate leaders placed within specific sections of the orchestra would hear their sections the loudest.

How then to ensure greatest coordination of efforts between different sections?

How does one appreciate the contributions of others when one is focused on one's own instrument?


The conductor's role is also extremely crucial. What happens when the conductor decides to pay attention to one section of the orchestra and ignore the rest? How should the rest of the orchestra respond?

What happens too if - Jiminy Cricket! - the conductor ups and leaves? What are the orchestra's contingency plans to continue making complex but melodious music before a watchful audience?

Sounds of Leadership explores fundamental topics of leadership, communication and teamwork in the most unforgettable manner.

Through live interaction with an orchestra, participants learn the finer points of corporate leadership outside of the usual seminar room. Participants are even asked to conduct the orchestra to gain a fresh understanding of their leadership roles.

Prof Woodward has been combining music and leadership sessions for a decade in Australia, Europe and Asia. Hundreds of corporate leaders in Insead programmes and other concert workshops have benefited from them.

Many find the lessons to be more fun and enriching than almost anything they have ever experienced. In February, the senior management of OCBC Bank enrolled in the course. Eric Ong, OCBC head of emerging business, calls it "one of the most memorable learning experiences" for him. "It certainly served as a good reminder. . . of how different partners and stakeholders work together to achieve great results," he raves.

The MFO expects to collaborate with Prof Woodward more than a dozen times this year to help corporate leaders gain new insights into their roles. Every session is individually tailored to achieve specific leadership training objectives.

If you'd like to find out more about how Sounds of Leadership can work for your organisation, please contact MFO's executive producer Kevin Koh on


The Metropolitan Festival Orchestra is Singapore's first fully independent professional orchestra.

It is made up of highly skilled musicians who have received training on their instruments at a tertiary level (conservatory or its equivalent) and are handpicked for each project by the MFO's music director Chan Tze Law from the existing pool of professional musicians in the country.

Unlike the Singapore Symphony Orchestra or the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, which are national companies that receive long-term funding from the government, the MFO is an independent outfit which is not formed by or under the auspices of any government or government-sanctioned body and not incorporated as a non-profit arts organisation overseen by a board of directors on behalf of the public.


Its private company structure allows it to be nimble and make important strategic decisions to help establish itself as Singapore's only fully independent professional orchestra and break new artistic ground.

The MFO was established in 2013 as the spiritual successor of the Singapore Festival Orchestra which was the resident symphony orchestra of the Singapore Arts Festival from 2007 to 2012.

When the Festival underwent a government-led review in 2013, it no longer had a need for a resident orchestra.

By then, however, the orchestra had drawn enough success and acclaim to inspire its musicians to rebrand themselves as the MFO.

Already, the MFO has notched several notable successes. Besides the popular Sounds of Leadership course conducted with Prof Woodward, the MFO is the orchestra for the upcoming Sing50 mega-concert organised by Singapore Press Holdings to honour 50 years of local music on Aug 7.

In July, the MFO will also perform the South-east Asian premiere of Disney's most successful live orchestra music production Disney On Classic conducted by the legendary Disney music maestro Brad Kelley, complete with eight international singers and specially-designed staging and lighting effects.

Though the MFO is only now entering its third year, it has already played to 27,000 people in the past two years - half of whom watched it perform the full soundtrack to the first two instalments of The Lord Of The Rings film trilogy last year, to critical acclaim.

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