Various Thoughts From Some “Guy”

Fellow AJ blogger Kyle Gann posted a comment of mine a few days ago I sent to him in response to a piece he wrote about a new degree program for music criticism.

And it brings up an interesting point about society in general: the amount of automatic validation people assign to owning a degree.

I think it’s important for people to always consider that education is hardly a substitute for ability and the process behind how you learn.  Mark Twain sums this idea up nicely when he said:

“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then Success is sure.”

Confidence stems from how you learned what you know in life and ignorance can shield you from predilection.

Case in point, Guy Braunstein the Berlin Philharmonic’s concertmaster, has followed a decidedly unusual path to become a musician.  Although he posses a good amount of training and education, he didn’t receive that education in the traditional sense or in traditional institutions. 

There’s a good piece about Guy in the Thursday edition of by Noam Ben Ze’ev.  In the article guy gives one of the most entertaining and honest quotes about how most musicians feel when conductors talk too much in rehearsals:

“In fact,” he concedes, “we don’t like conductors. A conductor has to know that what he shows is what he will get. Because when he starts to explain in words, we immediately start talking about what kind of car to buy.”

You can also gain a sense of his philosophy by some more of his quotes from the article.

His sense of egalitarianism:

The ushers at the musicians’ entrance call him by his first name. “They started with, `Herr Konzertmeister’ and only after threats of murder did they understand that they would have to start calling me Guy. The same thing happened in the arts academy, where I teach. The first letter I received that was addressed to Herr Professor Konzertmeister. I answered, but then I told them that if I see that title again, I will throw it in the garbage, without even opening it.”

He has a wonderfully refreshing sense of non political correctness.  If he said this in America, he just might get sued by someone:

For the first time in the history of the orchestra, none of its three leading musicians is German. “A Japanese, a Pole and a Jew,” says Braunstein. “They are the leading musicians. It sounds like the beginning of a joke.”

So I suppose where I’m heading with this is that the world of academia could always benefit from looking over its collective shoulder at the world outside of the campus. 

Postscript: I would like to issue the following memo to the world of academia about a pet peeve of mine that relates to this subject. 

To: The world of academia
From: Drew McManus
Re: Stop the madness and return to common sense

I would be grateful if those of you that establish policy and degree requirements would institute the following requirement as a mandatory stipulation before receiving a doctoral degree:

The only degree candidates permitted to insist that society use the prefix “doctor” in front of their name can only be those that actually hold a degree in medicine.

Thank you.

If I have to call one more person “doctor so-and-so” when their degree specializes in the works of Jean-Baptiste Lully (a dreadfully dull composer) I’m going to scream.

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.