It Must Be A British Thing

In a move away from the typical heavy duty management topics usually discussed in this web log, I offer the following:

While reading the article linked in Arts Journal’s main page yesterday about organists in the UK spicing up church services by working funny little tunes into the regular liturgical selections, I was reminded of a wedding I attended here in the U.S. a few years ago.

The groom was British, the bride American.  Since the groom was also a musician, he brought along one of his musician friends to play the organ during the ceremony.  So there I am sitting on the pew before the ceremony, listening to a really good rendition of some Bach fugues when I hear a tiny voice in the upper register playing what I could swear was the theme to “The Magnificent Seven”.  I lean over to get a look at the organist and he looks just like any other organists.  No self satisfied smirk, just a studious look on his face, so everything appears to be on the level. 

Then I think to myself “great, now the voices in my head have learned to play the organ and are screwing with my sense of reality.”  At that point the western theme based ostinato disappears only to be replaced by Monty Python tunes, including the melody from the rousing song “Every Sperm is Sacred”.  Well we’re at a wedding aren’t we, an even though it’s an Episcopal church I suppose it’s still appropriate. 

At the reception I had the chance to talk to the organist and discovered that he is a former organist for none other than the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.  Now here’s the really impressive part: not only was this guy a really talented musician capable of working themes from Monty Python and American Westerns into Bach fugues (as well as developing them along with the fugue subject), but he told me that upon arriving at the church he finds a post-it note stuck to the organ keyboard that says “the Middle C key is broken, sorry for the inconvenience”!

Personally, I think he deserved a medal for being both entertaining and technically proficient.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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