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Upcoming Performances

October 22, 4:00 pm Eastern
Inaugural recitalist, Allen organ, White Bluff United Methodist Church Savannah, Ga.

November 12, 3:00 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, Charles Town Presbyterian Church, Charles Town, W.V.

February 11
Inaugural recitalist, Casavant organ, Forest Lake Presbyterian Church, Columbia, S.C.

March 9, 2018, 12:15 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, National City Christian Church, Washington, D.C.

March 11, 2018
Guest recitalist, Waldensian Presbyterian Church, Valdese, N.C.

May 13, 2018, 5:00 pm Eastern
Guest recitalist, First Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, N.C.

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Friday
Sep082017

In Search of New Models, Part VIII: Advertising

A quick look at older issues of The American Organist magazine will show that we used to live in a simpler time. The magazine wasn’t the ad farm it is today. Although we’re told we have fewer organ students enrolled in higher degrees and fewer places to earn those degrees, somehow we are up to our armpits in organists taking out ads in the journals.

I always created my ads without professional assistance. I would trawl through my photo archives and pick out something that grabs attention in some way. Then I came up with a clever tag line and designed the ad. That’s it! My ads get people’s attention but only for a moment. A new ad, a new tagline, something clever. And just when I felt I was beating my head against the wall of obsolescence, I would hear someone say, “You have the best and most refreshing ads in the magazine. I enjoy looking for them.” That is encouraging of them to say that, but it dawned on me that I had become known as Joby Bell, maker of clever ads, rather than Joby Bell, organist. And so the time came several months ago to discontinue regular advertising in the magazine.

I certainly won’t presume to instruct anyone in the art of staying visible or even staying alive in this profession. My own journey has been one of some luck, more than some perseverance, and a metric ton of money spent on advertising. My continuum in this business began as a prizewinner in the AGO national competition in 2000. From there, I advertised as a performer, and then my alma mater came calling with an interim professorial position, which turned permanent after two years. I’ve been there ever since. Now I’m involved in a multi-disc recording series that will come with its own marketing – marketing that I don’t have to manage. There are a handful of people in the profession who still remember me as one of those finalists in 2000. Most everyone else just thinks I’ve always been around. It gets interesting from there, because the people who think I have always been around also assume that I went to one of the usual suspects of great schools and studied with one of the usual suspects of great teachers. (I did indeed study with one of the great teachers, but he wasn’t one of the “usual suspects” that come to most minds.)

People also know me as a supremely well-organized individual. My work on the committee for the national competition set a new standard, and people noticed. But I became known as Joby Bell the organized, rather than Joby Bell the organist. That required me to take a step back, once again, from regular committee service in the national organization.

I see two models at odds with each other in career self management: 1) the buzzing bees pursuing a certain model of being sensational to be noticed; 2) someone saying, “Just be excellent, and only the people interested in excellence will come your way,” or, “Just work hard, and it will come to you.” The first group has a self-taught work ethic and is probably comprised of the young, the cute, the driven, and often the male. The second group is waiting for a desired thing to happen, a habit for which I have no fondness. At first, I was told to be in the second group. Later on, I was told to be in the first group. Once I had been around both blocks, I fell back into the second group but with a difference. Now I am no longer waiting for something to happen. Now I do what I do just because I like doing it and teaching others how to do it. My corner of the world is still small, but it’s mine and I made it good. The difference lies in discontinuing the investment in what others think about it. I’ll never be invited to perform here or there, and I’ll probably never be invited to join a management roster, and I’ll probably never be invited to join a faculty of usual suspects. But the work ethic that was instilled in me is still high, ironclad and very useful, and I shall continue to practice and play my very best and let anyone who has ears come and hear. 

My teacher Clyde Holloway could sit and wait for business to come to him. It was a different time in the 1960s when he landed just right in the profession with his supreme performing, his national competition win, and his devilishly handsome looks. When he was older, he told me that in his early days it would anger him to no end when he discovered that people invited him to play because he was cute and not because he played well. He did play very well indeed, but he wanted people to take him seriously for his playing and stop cruising him. But when he related this story to me, he added that at his present age (then in his 60s), he’d now take any attention he could get! Good looks cannot be ignored in this profession and are in fact fairly necessary toward success. The young will inherit the earth.

I have chosen to claim a newer model by ignoring the buzzing bee game, pursuing my passions and being excellent in my way. I use my creativity to offer my students something they can't get from anyone else, and then I advertise that. This is about being “seductive” – making people want to hear more of my something different rather than the same things they see all the time. Sure, I just might achieve fame. But at what point should I consider myself famous? The fame can’t be its own goal; only excellence is a worthwhile goal.

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