A Scientist Turned Musician On The Need For Expertise In The COVID-Era

Over the weekend, Jason Haaheim, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Principal Timpanist, published a thought-provoking piece at his blog about the necessity of expertise in the age of COVID.

The post covers a lot of ground and weaves in and out of direct connectivity to the nonprofit performing arts field but, on this topic, it’s decidedly a strength. Rest assured, there’s still plenty of connectivity:

I believe we’re living through the most teachable era in human history for the necessity of expertise itself. And if that’s true, it means that deliberate practice must play a starring role in reinvigorating expertise across all disciplines

He also works in a fair amount of geekery, and who doesn’t love a narrative that manages to weave cultural references from LOTR, Star Trek, Star Wars, and The Avengers?

Granted, Haaheim is an industrious writer. I don’t think he could clear his throat in less than 250 words, and when it comes to a topic he feels strongly about, you can expect a lot of unpacking. Having said that, it’s important to remember that it’s a worthwhile journey and you’ll be glad you processed everything by the end.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the bits that really stuck with me:

Grieving What We’re Losing, and Preparing Clear-Eyed for What Comes Next

One of my proudest moments in the MET Orchestra was organizing outreach concerts for the Manhattan and Brooklyn Veterans Hospitals with my violist colleague Vinnie Lionti. Vinnie was a pivotal member of our team: he determined viable repertoire, sourced and organized all of the music, and even guest-conducted. On April 4th, we learned that Vinnie had died from Covid-19. Then, on May 26th, we learned that Met staff conductor Joel Revzen had also died from Covid-19.

These are but two nodes of grief in a nearly infinite web of tragedy. We are all grieving, in our own ways, and with different catalysts…but this is a universal human experience right now. This will take time. And I want to honor that. I’m exhausted from being on the edge of tears for over eighteen weeks. (And that’s nothing compared to the ICU doctors, support staff, and public health officials who are orders of magnitude more exhausted, all while being harassed and receiving death threats.) I miss Vinnie and Joel. I miss Anders. And I’ll be missing who knows how many others yet to come.

The Most Teachable Era In Human History For The Necessity of Expertise

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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