Why It’s Better to Be Better Than Different

Today’s title is taken from a recent blog post by Noa Kageyama at The Bulletproof Musician (Hat Tip to Frank Almond’s Facebook page). Not only is a great example of a catchy yet meaningful headline, but it also provides some clarity in the identity crisis storm that seems to be plaguing too many professional performing arts organizations these days…

Take particular note of the quote Kageyama includes at the end of the article as his One Sentence Summary (I like that feature!):

[sws_blockquote_endquote align=”left” cite=”Charles Mingus (American jazz musician) ” quotestyle=”style03″] “Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can plan weird; that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” [/sws_blockquote_endquote]

Now go back and read the Mingus quote again. Really get’s gears turning, doesn’t it?

There’s a great debate underway within the business that some might surmise as a battle for the soul of live orchestral classical music. One side fears that there’s a wholesale corruption of artistic standards and those changes will ultimately hasten any decline. The other side believes that redefining artistic excellence is an acceptable course of action so radical changes can be justified by an equal shift in the very definition of success.

What do you think? Do you see any connections between Mingus’ quote and this debate?

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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0 thoughts on “Why It’s Better to Be Better Than Different

  1. Drew, as I’m fond of pointing out, there is no right or wrong here; just point of view or attitude. Simplicity IS great! I use it when I compose. But there will always be a tension between the contrasting perspectives you’ve articulated, both externally and halftimes internally. Personally, I abhore the snobbery and uncompromising standards in our business when they alienate the young and dark audiences from our concerts. Everyone should feel comfortable coming to DSO concerts. But on the other hand, I LOVE performing those concerts at such a high quality and the fact that many (but perhaps not MOST) listeners can actually appreciate this.

    Since 1995 I’ve been trying to reach IN to young and dark audiences in Detroit. (I’m dark myself.) I want desperately to open hearts and minds that are too easily impressed by anyone playing an instrument. (They ask me what other instruments I play and to play jazz. I learned to politely answer no.) As long as it’s played AWAY from Orchestra Hall (what I call OFF the pedestal), and given a personal context, they are more OPEN to it. For ME, right NOW, high quality (success) means informally exposing new audiences who avoid classical music, such that they actually MIGHT come to a formal concert. It’s no small feat. It both IS and is NOT simple… but there’s no reason why we can’t have BOTH. We just have to balance WHEN and HOW.

  2. I agree with Rick on this one (hi Rick!), there isn’t a black and white answer. I guess my interpretation of the Mingus quote is that he wasn’t making that point either, rather he’s saying to don’t try to be different just for its own sake. On the other hand, a knee-jerk dismissal of new ideas isn’t healthy either. Clearly it’s a fine line between weird and innovative.

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