100 years ago this past week, Nelson Riddle was born into the world. You may have missed the celebration. I did. Up until last week, I had never heard of the man. Why would I? Even though his work has impacted millions—and still does, what he has accomplished has often gone unnoticed.
Why? Nelson chose to be an arranger, and this explains everything. In the music industry, arrangers are some of the most neglected people. In his article, “Nelson Riddle’s Backstage Brilliance,” John Edward Hasse describes those who do musical arrangements as all but invisible. They rarely appear onstage. You won’t find them in movie scenes. Even books on jazz hardly mention them. If they get any credit, they are often in the fine print.
But ask a Frank Sinatra, a Nat King Cole, an Ella Fitzgerald, or a Linda Ronstadt, and their work would have been a mess without Riddle. He teamed up with Sinatra to compose 300 songs alone. It’s the work of arrangers to influence the name of songs, determine the keys, as well as the size and instrumentation of the ensembles. They help arrange the tempo, the feel of the music, the overall architecture, the number of instruments that play at any given moment, the volume—and more. Riddle, we are told, was one of the best. He would stay up all night to meet the specifications of artists. He scored such movie musicals as “Carousel” and “Guys and Dolls.” But who knew?
Hasse’s article caught my attention for a couple of reasons. First, it’s descriptive of so many. I’m guessing people might read it and think—that’s me. Like Riddle, much of what you do in life is behind the scenes. Though it might be backstage brilliance, you can’t help but see yourself as an inconspicuous functionary. You might be the MAX train operator hardly anyone notices, the one making announcements next to no one hears. Some may not know, but you are the custodian working the night shift, or the speechwriter who watches while the messenger gets the applause. You may not be a musical arranger, but like one, much of what you do is overlooked. The credits, if any, are found in the fine print. And maybe this is okay—more than okay. It may be your personality. You are an introvert immune to the lures of attention. Or it may be you simply find deep satisfaction in anonymity, of being the unsung hero behind the scenes.
I just received my edited book back from the publisher. Editors have had it for two months, and God knows what work lies ahead. I have prayed for them every day—that what they send will show no evidence of “tin-eared butchery.” Most of all, my hope is that they will have discovered every flaw that needs to be addressed. I do need their firm hand, even if it is with terrifying clarity. And one day, when the book is published, most will never hear of them (but then, most may never hear of my book!).
Maybe I was also drawn to this article because it is such a refreshing contrast. There are many who want to be noticed. My writing has taken me to some depths in understanding leadership, and most leaders prefer the stage. It’s natural. Leaders are up front, and some are tempted by its power and attention. They lust for fame and recognition. They glory in receiving glory.
In their book, Leaders Who Lust, Kellerman and Pittinsky talk about leaders who chase after success, legitimacy, and legacy. Unlike arrangers, they live to be noticed. They are determined to have their names in the bold font.
These are the kind of leaders who are on a quest for recognition that goes beyond all apparent reason. Even if they achieve phenomenal success, they still want more. They are driven out of a need for “acknowledgement to the point of adulation.” And maybe, down deep, this sounds like you. You find yourself asking—“Is anyone taking notice of me?” “Shouldn’t I be getting the recognition I deserve?”
Could this be what is driving so much of our present generation? There seems to be a collision of voices that scream to be noted. Grandstanders, virtue signalers who wrap their behavior in high flying moral language, turning their moral talk into vanity projects. Could this need for recognition be what drives so many Tweets, Facebook posts, and soundbites by politicians?
Have you noticed that God does some of his best work in obscurity? Some of his best leaders are refined in the rigors of the quiet where no one sees. His strategy for advancing his kingdom is likened to tiny seeds that powerfully work under the surface of the soil. Salt and yeast are also his metaphors of choice to describe his way of making impact. The leaders he summons tend to be people like Moses. dreadfully timid and found in obscurity. Looking at the religious types who pranced on stage with a lust to be seen, Jesus told his disciples to be different, “They have received their reward in full” (Matt 6:2). You may not receive recognition this side of eternity, but God misses nothing. Getting noticed by him is what matters.
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