MF 071 : Jordan Smith on How Becoming a Maestro at the Pivot Led to a Great Career as a Conductor
Updated: Jun 17, 2022
Moving Forward continues its extraordinary individuals in music series with Jordan Randall Smith. Jordan is an award winning conductor and founder of Symphony Number One, a cutting edge chamber orchestra that uses a start-up model to combine music from great composers of the past with today’s emerging talent. Learn Jordan’s secret for becoming a maestro at the pivot and how to reframe failure as a “potent catalyst” to move forward.
Successes at a glance:
Founder and Music Director, Symphony Number One.
Former Artistic Director of the Dallas Festival of Modern Music.
Assistant Conductor and Chorus Master of the Peabody Theater.
Praised by New York Philharmonic Music Director, Allen Gildbert, who called Jordan’s conducting of Boulez’ Le Marteau sans Maítre, “impressive.”
2010 Bruno Walter Fellow at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, where he studied with Marin Alsop, Gustav Meier, and Jennifer Higdon.
Former Apprentice Conductor of the Dallas Bach Society Orchestra and Chorus.
Mentored hundreds of young musicians in ensembles across the country including the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Cross Timbers Youth Orchestra.
Doctor of Musical Arts candidate in conducting at the Peabody Conservatory.
Jordan Speaking at TEDxMidAtlantic 2017:
Symphony Number One’s Sizzle Reel:
How Jordan gets inspired to conquer the day:
For Jordan, a large part of his inspiration is built in from his chosen career. Given that music is a endeavor that requires an incredible degree of discipline, passion and practice, it’s no wonder that Jordan’s mornings are wired with inspiration to make the most of the day. Candidly, Jordan also admits that caffeine plays a role in this as well! In terms of routines, Jordan finds walking to be a great way to clear the mind. This practice was necessitated by city living but became a meditative practice after reading Jobs (Hardcover | Paperback | Kindle) and discovering that Steve Jobs did the same with his team. Moving Forward listeners, incorporating physical activity is one of the easiest and most effective ways you can jump start your inspiration engine and get those creative juices flowing. Start moving and moving forward today!
Setback or failure that led to pivot and shift:
First, it’s important to point out that Jordan is not afraid of using the “f” word. He doesn’t shy away from talking about or sharing his experiences with failure. Jordan also indicates how unlike other cultures, we tend towards an overtly negative reaction to failure to the point where it is considered taboo to talk about it much less admit you’ve experienced it. This alone demonstrates a mindset that is prone to taking risks to achieve great things. Specifically, Jordan removes its negative stigma and reframes failure as a “potent catalyzer” for change. On today’s episode, Jordan shares a particularly impactful and painful failure that ultimately led to a huge pivot in his career trajectory. Jordan was a percussionist in college for his alma mater’s marching band. In 2003, he auditioned for the highly prestigious and competitive Drum Corps International and made it into The Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps, based in Allentown, PA. Since musicians could only participate until age 21, in 2004, Jordan returned for what is called his “age out year” and decided to audition for a different section. However, this time after making the first few rounds, Jordan didn’t make the cut. On top of this, because he wanted to try out for this new section, he had missed the deadline to audition for his prior percussion section. While many would wallow in self-pity, Jordan didn’t allow himself to spiral downward. Instead, and in his own words, he “took action.” On the recommendation of a mentor, Jordan went to the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, which exposed him to the world of the orchestra, ballet and musical theater. Being exposed to world class and world famous orchestras and guest conductors, inspired Jordan to make a huge pivot into the world of conducting. Instead of closing a long journey in music, Jordan became a maestro at the art of the pivot and found himself on a career path that has led to incredible success. Imagine Moving Forward listeners: you are at the top of your game in a section, profession or path, that you have worked very hard at. You decide to try something new and unexplored, only to be declined, with no chance return to what you did best prior. Many of us would stew in bitterness and kick ourselves for having taken a chance. This is why so many of us are drawn to following the “safe” path and not take a risk. However, as Jordan’s story demonstrates, setbacks, even crushing ones can open doors you never imagined. Had Jordan played it safe, he may not have taken the pivot into the world of conducting and started Symphony Number One. Remember this when you face a setback or failure that seems completely insurmountable. You can pivot and create a new composition for your life, your career, your business. With every failure, there are new notes you can discover, new libretto that you can write. Start seeing failures as those “potent catalysts” so that you can pivot and move forward.
Resource or cultural experience that inspired Jordan to move forward:
Cultural and media experience: as part of his master’s program, Jordan was required to explore a range of music. This led to Jordan’s first exposure to Arnold Schöenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, which uses a German vocal technique called sprechstimme. At first, Jordan didn’t appreciate this style of music, as he describes sprechstimme as sounding like “ghost speak.” However, later when Jordan travelled to Vienna, he ended up visiting the world culture center for Arnold Schöenberg. During that visit, Jordan got to see a live performance of Pierrot Lunaire and the experience, as he describes it, “changed my world.” So much so, that Jordan’s first commercial recording with his group in Dallas ended up being a performance of Pierrot Lunaire (check it out here). A wonderful, unique example of how getting out of your comfort zone can apply in your media and cultural experiences. Notably, Jordan is also the first Moving Forward guest to ever share an influential piece of media within a cultural experience that resulted in his own interpretation of that work. Incredible!
How Jordan stays organized and manages his time:
Jordan is a huge fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done series
Favorite app / website / resource or productivity hack:
Jordan’s executive team is experimenting with Asana which is a fantastic project management app. I highly recommend this one too as one of my team members uses it for a number of projects she is spearheading; it is great for communicating when you have a team that is spread out geographically.
Facebook: a simple, free resource that includes messaging and group organizational features. Plus it’s one that everyone knows how to use.
Google Docs: another free, ubiquitous platform that offers great organizational and document management functionality.
Jordan also cautions you not to use your organization to “grind your tech friendly axe.” In other words, just because you are tech forward does not mean everyone on your team will take to the latest new app, website or online tool. Make sure the tool fits the culture and workflows of your organization and your team.
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Jordan’s Advice for you to Move Forward:
Jordan has been where many of you might be now and recommends that you will find great joy and revelations when you break out of your routines and preferences. Jordan’s own failure-to-pivot story plus his knowledge bursts exemplify this. One simple way to get out of your comfort zone is to do little things that go against your personality type. If you are an introvert, resist the urge to stay in and go out and be with people. If you’re an extravert, turn off the notifications once in a while and spend some reflective time at home. Moving Forward listeners, Jordan’s story is a great example of the benefit of breaking out of routines and stepping out of comfort zones. You will make new connections and discover great “potent catalyzers” that will move you forward.
Connect with Jordan:
Connect with Jordan: