Band Management Allegory
Sea Berth Band Lesson
This is a fictional account of incidents that disturbed the harmony in the Sea Berth Dixieland Band. I’m Al, the trumpet player in the band. I joined the group in the early days when they needed a soloist to fill in between the singing, which the band members were surprisingly good at, considering they were primarily wind instrument players.
Kayla, the keyboardist was the exception to the wind rule. She was also the leader of the band with her exceptional organizational ability. And she got gigs.
Joe, the tuba player, was one of the original members, too, and a good friend of Kayla’s. I don’t remember if Vinnie, our clarinet player, was in the original group or joined about the same time as I did. Kirby, on trombone, was a kind of utility brass player until Bazio, our original trombonist suddenly left the band. He moved to permanent trombone and has fulfilled those duties really well.
Things for the band seemed to be going very well this summer, up to a point. Kayla was away in the south of France enjoying an extended holiday. I pushed the idea of having sectional rehearsals. So it was that Kirby and Vinnie joined me where I teach at the College of Musical Knowledge, which is as close to a central meeting point as we could find.
Then, on alternate weeks, Kirby and I met Joe at his house after he got off work as the superintendent of construction on the Trump Tower of Tampa. The situation was as good as it was going to be, considering that the sectional practices were not as much fun as whole band practices. But, we were getting some stuff done that would pay off in the fall when we all got back together at Kayla’s Home by the Sea.
The First Disturbing Incident
Then came the first disturbing incident. Joe sent out an email message that said he was leaving the band. He didn’t give any particular reason. The message had some generalities about needing to be somewhere else. It also hinted that some of the band members could be annoying. I thought he meant me. I can be a grumpy old man with very little effort. Vinnie probably thought it referred to him, frequently putting in his two cents worth of what should be done musically.
Kirby is so polite and reserved, it could not refer to him. In fact, when I tried to talk to him about the situation, he just shrugged, and blew it off with, “I’m only the trombone player.”
I began thinking that maybe I should adopt a similar attitude and let things go.
Second Disturbing Incident
Then, came the next disturbing incident. And let me be up front here. This was only disturbing for me. A trumpet player can be surprisingly sensitive to nuance and social situations. Possibly over sensitive.
Kayla assured all the band members that she would coax Joe back into the band and everything would be as it was. My reaction was, “What? But, we don’t even know why Joe wanted to leave the band.” Yet, Kayla had an answer for that, too. But it was not, I noticed, Joe’s answer.
And the Third Strike
Then came the third incident. We met for the first practice of the season. I had predicted, for myself, and my family, that Joe would give no explanation for his side of the crisis. And that made sense, because I was the only band member who thought there was a crisis, near as I could tell. My prediction was spot on.
Toward the end of practice we began discussing the inconsistency of the kind of music stands we were using. Some were the metal studio type stand, there were some wire type portables, and I had the heavy duty portable I used with the Show Stoppers Community Band at rehearsals.
Kayla revealed, “we have money in our account, we could buy some matching music stands.” To which Joe added, enthusiastically, “and they don’t all have to be black. We could get sea green to match our name.”
Who Is Really In the Band
Then, a memory came back to me. In the early days I began talking to Kayla about being an invested member of the band. She showed me the financial statements and indicated what the capital investment would be. Unfortunately, I thought the expenses should not have been offsets to equity, so I declined to invest. And, perhaps to my discredit, I did not bring this up and attempt to negotiate anything. I just backed off.
So in a moment it dawned on me. Kayla and Joe are the invested members of the band. The rest of us are just side men.[Editorial note: the story ends here. I think it shows something about the importance of communication and the essential basis of being in a band where all the members have the same stake. In many bands, like this one, there is one leader and everyone else is really a side player. refer to The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle to fully understand what that implies.]