A Master Multitasker

By: Edna Landau

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I am frequently asked how musicians can be expected to handle the various artistic, administrative, financial, and performance related responsibilities they must regularly juggle and still not have their performances suffer in quality. I actually wrote about this in an earlier column entitled Time out for Time Management (June 30, 2011). The question resurfaced when I was sitting in the audience at a recent Musica Sacra concert of some of my favorite choral music and spent part of the intermission reading the program, specifically music director Kent Tritle’s bio. I was so astonished by the number of positions he holds concurrently that I went backstage after the very wonderful concert to ask if he would be willing to meet for coffee and shed some light on how this is humanly possible. Fortunately, he agreed, and I am happy to share what I learned.

In addition to being Music Director of Musica Sacra, Kent Tritle is Director of Cathedral Music and organist at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Music Director of the Oratorio Society of New York, Director of Choral Activities at the Manhattan School of Music, a member of the graduate faculty of the Juilliard School, organist of the New York Philharmonic and the American Symphony Orchestra, and host of a weekly radio show The Choral Mix on WQXR. My first question to Mr. Tritle was whether he had assistants in all of these places (except his organ jobs) and the answer was yes. However, some deeper probing revealed that the assistance he has had over the years didn’t materialize overnight. He worked hard to earn it. When he began his 22-year tenure at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York City in 1989, part-time help was organized on an hourly basis as needed. When he conceived of the idea of a concert series that would open the doors to a larger community and received enthusiastic endorsement from the pastor, he personally sent out letters to potential supporters and met with considerable success. Subsequently,the staff grew to five full-time employees. At the Manhattan School of Music, his only initial assistance was from a graduate student, but he now works closely with the esteemed Associate Director of choral activities, Ronald Oliver. He still gets additional assistance from graduate students who, in turn, get “podium time” conducting sectional rehearsals. Mr. Tritle’s weekly radio show would not be possible without the excellent help of Production Associate, Daniel Scarozza, whose passion for choral music mirrors his own. The selections are drawn from Mr. Tritle’s massive collection of recordings,which number in the thousands.

To keep all of the above in balance, Kent Tritle employs a personal assistant for 12-20 hours a week. However, he credits his Franklin Planner with helping him maintain his equilibrium. It has led him to spend fifteen minutes at the beginning of every day looking at the monthly, weekly and daily picture. He calls this time P & S (planning and solitude). It helps him get a sense of the overall flow of his responsibilities – what can wait, and what really must happen right away. He also orders his daily priorities by A, B and C, with A generally consisting of score study, practice, and exercise. These may not happen at the same time each day but they do happen. In recognition of the fact that there are so many elements of a performer’s life that are unpredictable, he stressed to me the importance of taking responsibility on a daily basis for the things one can manage so as to remain flexible for everything else that might come up.

In looking at Mr. Tritle’s performance schedule, what is impressive, and even touching, is how he brings together individuals from the various institutions for whom he works, affording them enriching opportunities that they might not otherwise have. In the fall of 2011, the Manhattan School of Music Symphonic Chorus performed Walton’s Henry V with the New York Philharmonic, and the chamber choir joined the Philharmonic for a Young People’s concert. The New York Philharmonic’s final concert of the 2011-12 season, Philharmonic 360—Spatial Music from Mozart’s Don Giovanni to Stockhausen’s Gruppen at the Park Avenue Armory, featured the Oratorio Society of New York and the MSM Chamber Choir, performing in the finale of Act I of Don Giovanni. In April 2013, Mr. Tritle will lead the MSM Symphonic Chorus in organist David Brigg’s transcription of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 for organ, chorus, and soloists at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. How exciting for all of the participants in these programs! This cross-pollination seems to be a very natural reflection of Kent Tritle’s humility, dedication, and excitement over every project he undertakes. If he has access to multiple venues and organizations, why not involve as many of the people he regularly works with as much as possible? It must be nice to see familiar faces on stage, and it undoubtedly facilitates communication when rehearsal times are at a premium.

There is one final fact that should perhaps not be overlooked in discussing Mr. Tritle’s ease with multitasking. He has not had a television in his home since 1994.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2012

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