At One Year: Annual Exam

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This is one of those posts that gets a disclaimer at the beginning. It’s a post absent of toys or early photos and it threatens to meander, but the editors here at Pictorama will try to keep that to a minimum. The calendar has finally turned the page to my one year anniversary at the new job and that is what is crowding into my mind today as I sit down with coffee and my daily green smoothie. I have written about my days at Jazz at Lincoln Center more than I had thought I would – I never really wrote about the Met while I was there, only after I left. (Leaving the Met was my tribute to the several decades I spent there.) But the challenge of the job and the people there have gotten under my skin in a way I had not imagined – the year has had moments of delight and actual grace, but has also pushed me way beyond what I imagined. The thing is, when you talk and think about testing yourself, you don’t really imagine yourself failing. And while I have not (yet anyway) failed, the very real possibility hangs in the balance still. This is not a neat tale of trial and success – it remains an almost daily and often dogged struggle.

Without getting too far into the weeds suffice it to say that the quandary is actually changing the way we raise money for the organization, to create an underlying structure that provides a stream of annual support, rather than relying on the extraordinary, mercurial, singular gifts that they have largely depended on previously. Of course, the lights have to be kept on in the meanwhile, and the change overall is a little bit like telling everyone that they are going on a practical, diet of green veggies and vigorous exercise. Or, as I have told them, like when a woman gives herself bangs or cuts her hair very short and has to grow it out. There is a long awkward phase you just have to accept. I believe they would like to think they are almost there after a year, pulling the front back into a ponytail at last, and I think we have barely gotten to the pinning it out of the way with bobby pins and barrette stage.

Meanwhile, if this sounds a bit bleak please understand that if the underlying aspects of my job are less than sexy, my success depends on creating magic around what we do. The orchestra brings that wonder to every concert, but somehow I need to summon it on demand. I am constructing the beautiful, jewel-box that I feel this band, and the broader message that it delivers through education and bringing the music to the widest public, deserves to be set in. While small, I want to show that they are the brightest gem, gleaming in the crown of the New York and international cultural world. I really believe they deserve that and I am deeply committed to giving it to them if I have it in me.

On a personal level, this has lead to many sleepless nights (as the newly inaugurated sleeping pills that have appeared next to the bed can attest) and having become more surgically attached to my phone than I thought possible. The successes have been relatively small – an office with just enough skeleton structure that we at least function and grind out the essentials for our donors and patrons; a few extremely elegant events where the addition of Wynton’s magic lifted them to a level I had not really hoped for. I have a staff that, while still occasionally openly suspicious of me (as well they should be) functions within the organization and delivers to our colleagues at least most of what is needed and expected. Some, but not all of their dread of my team is easing a bit within the organization, although they frankly continue to eye me and my crew warily.

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First dinner in our hall, November 2017

 

Slowly, I find that my untrained ear is improving. I found myself lost in a sax solo at the hairdresser the other day in the midst of music I would have ignored otherwise – something I was told was acid jazz from Finland? (I keep meaning to look it up.) While I suspect the complexities of what is actually happening between the musicians on our stage will remain something of a mystery to me that is okay too. I have come to realize that although expanding my horizons about what I like and listen to is great, I do not actually need to like everything.

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Backstage at the Benny Goodman concert.

 

The great moments have often come at unexpected times. Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks, sounding better than I have ever heard them at Dizzy’s last summer. The recreation of the 1939 Benny Goodman concert that the JLCO did this winter that Kim and I heard from a perch backstage that will remain one of the outstanding musical experiences of my first year. There was a moment in London, during a JLCO concert tribute to Leonard Bernstein, when I found myself utterly lost in a sax solo by Walter Blanding and found later when we spoke that we had indeed been thinking of the same exact thing while he was playing. I also remember Walter hugging me in Shanghai when he realized that I was there to fundraise for the band and Frank, our photographer, who quietly made sure the orchestra knew I was there and gently pushed me into their midst over breakfast at the hotel. I have enjoyed conversations and strategy discussions with Wynton that have stretched my mind, not just about what we are doing, but about approaching life at large. The organization demands a constant self-examination of the issues of race and gender which came entirely unexpected to me, but I have found interesting and challenging. I have the pleasure of working with Greg, who I see daily and with whom I share so much in common about life and music, and who battles much of what needs to be done with me daily. There has been just enough success to keep me in the game, but nowhere near enough to say the jury is in and I have won.

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Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks at Dizzy’s last July.

 

If I jumped off a cliff when I left the Met, it would be fair to say I am still in free fall, the war wages on still far from won. Unlike when I arrived and it all seemed cryptic, I now walk through the concert hall with a some authority, a hug for a stray band member I bump into. (May I just mention that there was much less hugging at the Met, almost none, and it is a very special thing about where I work now – it is heartfelt.) Today as we slide toward this year’s big gala, I know the participants and can now recite their giving and table positions in recent years, as well as the number of guests they are hosting, pretty much cold from memory. However, as I try to construct a budget for the coming year, I am still betting somewhat blindly that staying the course I have set will ultimately pay off. I am gambling on myself, as is the whole crew, and that what I believe is the right direction for us is and that I can be a part of a transformation for this organization and grow it into the world-wide profile I believe it deserves. The jury remains out for now – and I thank those readers who have stayed the course with me as I consider my journey so far.

 

 

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