Too Many Notes

Too Many Notes

by Dr. Linda Topp, Director of Administration

This title will be an obvious reference to anyone who’s seen the movie, Amadeus.  However, since the movie came out in 1984 (good grief!), perhaps a little review is necessary. In the movie, Emperor Joseph II has commissioned Mozart to write an opera.  After experiencing a performance, the Emperor offers scant praise and then follows with his unforgettable critique:

EMPEROR: … Of course now and then – just now and then – it gets a touch elaborate. 

MOZART: What do you mean, Sire? 

EMPEROR: Well, I mean occasionally it seems to have, how shall one say? [he stops in difficulty; turning to Orsini-Rosenberg] How shall one say, Director? 

ORSINI-ROSENBERG: Too many notes, Your Majesty? 

EMPEROR: Exactly. Very well put. Too many notes. 

After an astonished reply by Mozart, the Emperor tries to help:

EMPEROR: My dear, young man, don’t take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It’s quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that’s all. Cut a few and it will be perfect.

And finally, Mozart asks, “Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?”

This scene sounds very much like conversations in our weekly senior staff meetings these days.  Mark, Lisa, Joy and I are just now fully experiencing the loss of many, many staff hours as the new church year ramps up and there are simply too many notes.  We have collectively, our staff and volunteers, put in place many, many high-functioning programs, some of which have garnered the attention (and envy) of other UU congregations and the UUA.  Our awesomeness shows up in our Beginning and Connecting Points classes, our YRUU program, our Connectors program, our Luminary Program, our all-ages programming at 9:15, our Time for All Ages in every Sunday worship service, our “Take it Home” materials for parents, while our overall excellence shines through our worship associates, pastoral visitors, and every single religious education program, including OWL classes, coming of age and adult programming.

We have lots and lots of volunteers who work on these things, but the burden of nurturing the creative aspects of the programming, recruiting and guiding volunteers and providing much support in the areas of organizing, communicating, and training (along with so much more) falls to staff.

And herein lies the problem.  These programs all grew with a larger staff than we have this year.  That means that now we have too many notes for the available staff hours.  But golly gee whiz, we have awesome music going!  How do we take out notes but leave the melody?  How do we remove tasks from our jobs but leave the wonderfulness?  That is our work for the coming months. 

We are sure our melody is in the shape of our mission and in the actual purposes of our various roles on staff.  What is the core work of this congregation?  What staff SUPPORT is needed to do that core work?  In this time of discernment, we are once again pointed to the wisdom of Susan Beaumont in her book, Inside the Large Congregation.  She writes, “In the effective large congregation, the staff team knows that they do not exist to carry out ministry on behalf of laity.  The staff knows they exist to equip the laity in the pursuit of the congregation’s mission.” (page 191)  These words of Susan Beaumont are a reminder to both the staff team and our cadre of committed volunteers that the selection of which programs to pursue (it’s all about mission!), the excellence of those programs and the work needed to sustain those programs must come from the congregation. 

Now it may be true that we currently have too many programs and administrative tasks to pursue with our current number of committed volunteers.  It is definitely true that, at this moment, the current staff cannot continue to do “what we’ve always done.”  So once again, we find ourselves in that gray area of governance where staff and congregants need to give and take, invent and dismantle, experiment together, succeed and fail together as we seek to answer Mozart’s last question.