La PORTE — For Symphony Conductor Mercedes Diaz, leading an orchestra is like dancing with a partner.
“You have to find each other’s rhythms, and yet, allow space for each other to express yourselves,” Diaz said. “To be a really successful dance partner, ultimately, you need to become one with each other. The orchestra is my dance partner.”
Women in Leadership of La Porte County hosted Diaz as guest speaker for their March 6 meeting. Diaz will be conducting the La Porte County Symphony Orchestra’s “Made in America” concert at the Holdcraft Performing Arts Center in Michigan City this Sunday at 3 p.m.
Originally from Spain, Diaz has earned degrees in piano and oboe, as well as in conducting. Diaz will be the first female conductor for the LCSO in more than 15 years. She is also a candidate to become LCSO’s new music director.
“She’s become a master in a field and profession that has not really been open to women. I’m very proud of the fact that she rose right to the top,” said Tim King, Interim Executive Director for the LCSO.
“When I started conducting there were no role models around me," Diaz recalled. "There simply were not women conducting orchestras.”
This determined Diaz to break through the glass ceiling and become a role model for women and girls who aspire to lead symphonies. She has quickly become a success story for women in conducting, having conducted symphonies in New York, Ohio and Germany.
Diaz remains modest despite her many accomplishments. Taking a humble approach to conducting was the key to her success.
“A turning point for me came when I realized that a leader was – most importantly – a servant,” Diaz said. “I was there to serve and make music happen, to make music come alive. I realized that although I was physically in the center of the orchestra, I was not the center at all. That was completely liberating for me.”
The orchestra practiced their performance with Diaz for the first time earlier this week.
“The orchestra gets together with a common goal, to make beautiful, exciting and often sublime music,” Diaz said. “As a conductor, I provide musical directionals, but we are ultimately dance partners. It is an exchange. I am there to be a facilitator, to open up the space to make music and hopefully allow magic to become possible.”
During her speech, Diaz revealed that she draws inspiration from her interactions with other people and hopes to be able to use the cultivated energy to propel other women through the glass ceiling. She stressed the importance of women supporting other women, both in and across industries.
“I have found that I become a better musician when I cultivate human connections,” she said. “I become stronger when I am vulnerable. That is why I was really excited about coming here (to the Women in Leadership La Porte County luncheon) because organizations like this are so important. They remind us how important it is to simply be listened to and be recognized. By helping other women, we are helping ourselves.”