Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, stood on the bench of a black baby-grand piano at a bucolic corporate retreat here, waving his arms as he directed an unusual band of performers to reach for the higher notes in their work.
Using music as a metaphor, Zander exhorted 140 marketing executives from New England law firms earlier this month to view their work as creating joyful harmonies that bring out the best in clients, managers and co-workers, just as the leader of a band brings each player to his or her top performance.
With a fire crackling nearby, he urged the crowd of gray-suited participants to shut out the negative "voice in the head" that prevents people from fully expressing their potential, and to move ahead, confident in their ability to perform "perfectly," while helping others to perform more beautifully as well.
"The conductor doesn't make a sound," Zander reminded the marketers, who watched him with rapt attention, some with tears in their eyes. "He gets his power from his ability to bring out the power and possibility in others."
Zander, co-author of a life-management tome called "The Art of Possibility," is one of a host of new entrants to the estimated $1 billion-a-year business motivational and educational speaking circuit, as music, a universal language that inspires, soothes and energizes, makes a comeback in training circles.
After several decades in which instruments provided background noise for business deals and cocktail parties, music is reemerging as an educational tool for executives and employees. Management-lecture experts say music transcends cultural and linguistic boundaries in an increasingly diverse world, making lessons accessible to all participants.
"We're seeing a dramatic surge in interest in music at business events -- not just as entertainment, but as a way of motivating and teaching creativity," said William Leigh, chief executive of the Leigh Bureau, the nation's oldest speakers bureau.
Many companies foot the bill for their workers and executives to attend conferences and conventions, often conducted by trade or professional associations, that help keep them up-to-date on industry trends.
They often feature celebrity speakers, from athletic players and coaches to management gurus such as Peter F. Drucker and Thomas J. Peters, military leaders such as H. Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin L. Powell, or former heads of state, such as Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher or former president George H.W. Bush.
Specialists say there's a financial reason for the turn toward music. With training and travel budgets dwindling, companies are looking for ways to deliver more emotional bang for the buck by turning to musicians who both perform and share their insights about how to get people to work together melodiously.
"Groups are using music as a metaphor for team-building," said Haidee Allerton, editor of T&D magazine, a publication of the Alexandria-based American Society for Training and Development. At ASTD, staff recently attended a drum-beating program, conducted by Alexandria-based Catalyst Events, designed to boost worker cooperation and relax inhibitions.
The presentation created "a quick and dramatic effect," Allerton said, because "people react physiologically to music. It's something we can all enjoy and relate to without barriers."
Some groups truncating their get-togethers are turning to music to help events jell faster, said Rainey Foster, senior vice president of Leading Authorities Inc., a Washington firm that books speakers. "The number of bookings has declined, and conferences that were three days are now one and a half, so they want a big opener or a big ender," Foster said. His clients include John Edward Hasse, curator of American music at the National Museum of American History, who teaches a program called "Leadership Lessons From the Jazz Masters."
And there are others bringing song to the executive suite.
Last month, jazz performer Michael Gold took his swinging sextet to executives at International Business Machines Corp. in Orlando, teaching them improvisational skills to boost mental flexibility and foster innovative thinking in changing economic times.
Last week, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble known for performing without a conductor, offered a rendition of its techniques for creating self-managed teams of leaders to the faculty and students at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in Philadelphia.
Zander, who now speaks to dozens of executives and employee groups each year, said business audiences have tired of military and sports metaphors. He said people looking for new sources of inspiration are turning to music to think about how to refocus their work and personal lives and become more effective and happier.
"Music is just a wonderful way of getting people to open up," he said. "It opens up their emotional pores."
The management-lecture circuit can be lucrative work for musicians who are also able to deliver engaging workplace lessons. Musicians on the corporate lecture circuit typically earn from $10,000 to $50,000 for an hour or two-hour session, according to lecture-booking agents. Influential media figures and former politicians can earn even more. Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, for example, earns up to $100,000 for two hours of his time at similar events.
There's a market for anything that helps teach managers how to get workers to collaborate, said management consultant Patrick J. McKenna, co-author of "First Among Equals," a recent book on how to manage professional employees.
McKenna, a studio musician before becoming a consultant, said audiences instinctively realize their lives are more similar to those of musicians than in times past. He said people realize that "audiences are fickle," and that "you are only as good as your last gig," which makes the message even more potent.
This is the fourth time in a century that music has surged onto the corporate lecture circuit, Leigh said. In the early 20th century, as part of the Chautauqua movement, lectures were preceded by short musical pieces that warmed up the audience for the speeches to follow, he said. But music faded out because event organizers came to realize listeners often preferred the music to the talks, he said.
During World War II, music offered an alternative to dark talk about the war, he said. A third revival accompanied the war between the sexes in the 1960s, Leigh said. Singer and actress Celeste Holm belted out tunes such as "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" that allowed listeners to wrestle with social change under the guise of entertainment.
Today, jazz particularly mirrors the business world, with its sudden twists and turns, disdain for fixed formulas, and need for sometimes-wild improvisation, some experts said.
In jazz, "everything is happening in real time," said Gold, a former adjunct professor of jazz music at Vassar College.
Leigh particularly favors jazz for corporate audiences because it crosses age barriers. Some kinds of music, he said, are "too divisive" to bring into work.
"Thirty-year-olds and I have no musical overlap, but jazz is sufficiently accessible to all of us," he said, adding that it offers a mix of the familiar and unfamiliar. "If something is too familiar, people ignore you, but if you're too radical, they won't be able to relate to you. Jazz is an ideal vehicle."
Classical music seemed to have a timeless appeal for the executives who watched Zander caper across the stage at the Warren Conference Center on a farm an hour outside Boston. They rose in unison, under his direction, to sing a rousing rendition of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," in German, and they gave him a standing ovation as he ended his presentation.
"I'm speechless," said Caitlin Ahern, director of marketing for Gadsby Hannah LLP, a mid-size law firm based in Boston. "It's what we do in legal marketing. We need to inspire our attorneys to reach out to people, to inspire trust in our clients. It's like making art."