The Royal Unharmonic Orchestra

The Royal Unharmonic Orchestra

August 4, 2018 The Church 0

A cautionary tale for a leadership crazed orchestra.

The Royal Unharmonic Orchestra had just concluded their most successful season yet with packed houses sold out. The orchestra had been set up to bring glory and honour to the King through its orchestra and choir.

The leading conductors of the orchestra were having a meeting to decide the next five-year plan to grow and develop the orchestra and to impact the city and beyond. After much back-slapping and congratulations all round they got down to business. They had hired a business consultant to advise them on their new strategy. After observing the orchestra and taking a hefty fee the consultant came to two conclusions. The first conclusion was that they needed many more conductors to bring out the best in the orchestra. The second recommendation was that they needed more volunteers to move chairs around and adjust music stands and general administrative functions.

With the launch of the new five-year plan, there was great excitement. A series of seminars and training sessions were given to aspiring conductors. In these seminars, there were sessions on selecting the best batons and how to most effectively twirl these. A particularly popular seminar was based on how to make the baton relevant to ordinary people living in the city. Small groups were set up to attract more conductors and an intern programme for the most promising of these.

Many of the existing musicians abandoned their instruments and started baton twirling full-time. Some of the more experienced musicians increasingly felt marginalised and their considerable experience and skills despised. A group of these met with the leading conductors to express their concerns. The conductors listened most politely but advised these musicians that they needed to catch the vision and suggested they attended some of the conducting classes to help them do this. In private these musicians were accused of being cynical and were treated with suspicion which resulted in them being further marginalised.

When the orchestra met to rehearse, the bulk of the time was spent practising conducting skills. Most of the other musicians were reduced to observers but called on every now and then to help the volunteers move the chairs and music stands. In an attempt to liven up the rehearsals special craft sessions took place on how to build the best baton. There were also competitions to see who had the biggest stick.

Increasingly conductors were held in higher and higher admiration. They were often too busy attending meetings to properly relate and care for the orchestra members. As the five-year plan developed they lost touch with what was really going on mistaking the views of their own group for reality. Many of them began international speaking tours on how to transform the orchestra with conducting. Much status came to them through these and the series of books on conducting they published were very lucrative.

Meanwhile, the orchestra was haemorrhaging musicians with groups trying to form their own orchestras. These groups met to practice but spent more time criticising the situation they had come out of than making music. When they did play together the music was poor and uncoordinated because they refused to let anyone conduct. The truth of the matter was that they did need a conductor. Other musicians decided to go solo with many of them becoming buskers in the city centre. It was still their heart’s desire to glorify the King but on their own this aim was greatly limited.

The numbers of the orchestra did not seem to be reduced because whenever a musician left they were replaced by a baton twirler. Towards the relaunch performance of the orchestra, the entire string section had been replaced with the youth conductor’s section, the wind section by intern conductors and the brass by the conducting home groups.

On the day of the first performance of the relaunched orchestra suddenly the volunteers realised there were only conductors left in the orchestra and no other musicians. They decided they needed to try and get some musical instruments and help with the performance. They discovered in the orchestra rooms that all the instruments had been sold to fund ever more elaborate batons including gold and jewel-encrusted sticks for the chief conductors. They were also told by the chief administrator that there was no funding in the budget for musical instruments. In desperation, the volunteers got some loo roll from the toilet and used their own combs to make kazoos.

The time of the inaugural performance had come, and the auditorium was packed. The King was sitting in the royal box. The ‘orchestra’ came on to the stage and the lead conductor tapped his baton and all the other conductors tapped their batons to see if they were in-tune. The volunteers nervously tested their home-made kazoos. The main conductor entered and was greeted with rapturous applause. A silence fell across the hall and the orchestra started its performance. The conducting was truly awesome, and the various sections of the orchestra waved their batons with great passion, skill and dexterity. The volunteers did their best on their kazoos to keep up with the frenzy of conducting that was taking place.

The performance ended and there was a stunned silence from the audience that was quickly replaced with thunderous applause and a five-minute standing ovation. People were shouting how good the orchestra was and how great the conducting skills had been, however, there was no mention of the King.

The King stood up and with tears running down his face quietly left the hall. As he departed he was heard to say, “The orchestra is not one member, but many.”


What is this story really about?

How much is reality and how much is a parody?

What can we do to avoid this issue in our experience?

I Don’t Get It!

Click on the footnote for an explanation of the main point of the story.1We all live in a culture. This culture influences our attitudes and thinking in ways we are not conscious of. Something we are not conscious of, if not correct, can remain unchallenged in our lives and be unhelpful to us. Increasingly our western culture has moved away from many of the values of Christianity. There are therefore things within our cultural mindset that can be unhelpful to our churches. There is a need to recognise these things and challenge them. If the church blindly follows the culture all around them they can end up moving increasingly away from the practices and beliefs they seek to follow. An example of this can be a cultural pressure on people that would move them away from serving Christ and others to serving themselves.


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Ken Allen