I had a couple of rehearsals yesterday, one with the conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra. Those of us who do choral music mostly without an orchestra had a little trouble with this rehearsal, frankly. The thing is, we’re used to having the conductor communicate with us mostly. In fact, the last few times we’ve done a piece with an orchestra, we had our choirmaster as the conductor.

So… well, there were a couple of entrances where the chorus simply didn’t come in at all. Because no one wants to be the only one singing, when there’s a chorus of sixty or so. And since we were all sort of waiting for the conductor to cue us… It was not a shining moment for us.

At last night’s rehearsal, our own beloved conductor tried to help us out with this.

“I’m really concerned about my French horns,” he said, “so you just come in when it’s time.” And he would gaze fixedly at the imaginary French horns, ignoring us, and we’d attempt to come in at the right time.

One of the things I particularly like about working with different conductors is the way they use language. English has lots of very specific kinds of words for spatial and visual things, so when we want something visual to happen, we can say stuff like “A little to the left” or “Let’s make it cerulean blue.” With sound, there has to be a lot of metaphorical language.

“Try to come into the same soundworld,” this guy said to the strings, “that the brass has already established.”

I love that. He also told the tubas or somebody to make “a fleshy pizzicato.” I was glad he hadn’t said that to the altos, because I really wouldn’t know where to begin.

And he said that passages sounded, “like Esperanto — you don’t know what that is” and “like a typewriter, another thing you don’t know about.” It was looking out at all those young people.

It’s sounding good, though, the Brahms. If you’re in my neck of the woods, you should come hear it.

I got a couple more assignments, too, so this week is nicely filled up, and I have a website for The Computer Guy and me to do in May, so I guess that counts as having stuff out on the calendar. I’m mostly waiting on things right now, so  I was glad for the immediate jobs. I also have a couple of phone meetings, one with a PR person for the Wall Street Journal article, and one with my Northerner, who now that the floods have receded is having a freak blizzard. He seems to take it in stride.

I made myself a stock and flow diagram about work.

The green thing in the middle is my stock of work, which I like to keep at twenty billable hours a week. The sources of work inflow are at the left, and the completed jobs flow out at the right.

Then I made unsmooth loops showing that I can do things to increase work from my normal sources if the stock gets low — different things for the different sources, and I could also add more sources if I wanted to — and also that completed work sometimes comes back.

I don’t have complete control over the inflow from either direction or from any of the sources. In order to increase the amount of workflow from the college, I did the training for online courses, and did a good job with my face to face classes so that they wanted me to teach more classes. However, there are times off from the college work when I either have no work or the work I have becomes unpaid and therefore unbillable. I can increase work coming to me from The Computer Guy by bringing clients to his firm, but then it can be weeks before the work reaches me, because he puts them out on his calendar. I can apply to jobs at oDesk if I seem to have too little work, but there is a gap between application and starting work even if I get the jobs, and I don’t always — and my regular clients there can come back to me with assignments while I’m waiting to find out about the jobs I’ve applied for. I can increase the number of random clients I get through marketing, but they remain random and unpredictable, and some of them I need to take to The Computer Guy as well, which adds another layer of unpredictability. And the unbillable hours do affect the system as well, but I don’t know how to draw them in at this point.

Since the stock in a system doesn’t change immediately when the rate of inflow or outflow is adjusted, this means that sometimes I have oscillations in my workflow — times when I have either more or less than the ideal amount.

The systems book I’m reading talks about how to smooth oscillations by responding to feedback (in my case, increase or decrease in work inflow, which they call a discrepancy) sooner or later in the cycle. This would mean that I could in theory step up or slow down my efforts to increase the workflow at just the right moment and keep my workflow more steady. I don’t know about that; there are humans involved here.

I could also adjust the outflow. That is, I could slow down when I have less work and speed up when I have more. I may do that, to a limited degree. That is, I think it’s possible that I work less painstakingly when I have huge amounts of work to do. I wouldn’t slow to a crawl to lengthen a by-the-hour job for the sake of getting paid more, because it would be wrong. Nor would I speed up past the point of doing excellent work, for the same reason. Again, there are humans involved.

But I do like the stock and flow view of work. It seems more predictable and stable, just because I put it in boxes. As I say, there are humans involved.