Classical Music and Never Let an Engineer Write a User’s Manual

If you are a parent (and even if not) you have probably experienced trying to assemble a child’s toy or a BBQ or a piece of furniture from IKEA using the supplied reference manual.  Take bolt “B” and insert into socket “BB”.  Sounds simple, but before long a pile of parts lie scattered about the floor and the your blood pressure is reaching the explosive point.  “Who wrote these d#%!! instructions, a moron?” you scream.

If you get too close you can’t tell the forest from the trees!           -Anonymous

No, just a person so close to the intimate details and the specifics of the product that they write the user’s manual from “their own point of view”.  They understand it perfectly, it makes complete sense, to them.  But most of us are not technical engineers, we are humans with opposable thumbs and a short attention span.  We don’t want to read a list of technical jargon just to put together a BBQ, we want to cook, now.

The reason I am delving into this subject is that the basic principle, which most people, especially technical or professionals often ignore, is that to be successful, products or performances must be designed  from the “user or audience” point of view. They are the ones paying for the experience, not the performer or designer.  This became blatantly obvious this evening at our third classical concert, this time in the small village of St. Couat du Razes in the south of France.

Several months ago we came up with the idea to have one of the young violin soloists play a particular opera aria on the violin, and then to sing various parts as well.  Usually singers sing and violinists play and mixing the two is very rare.  And as it turned out, very controversial as well, especially among the music professors supporting our Young Virtuosi charity and others steeped in the technical aspects of music.  “Too much distraction for the player.  She can’t give the piece the technical concentration and professional effort it deserves.  It’s not good to mix. It won’t work.”

Good points, from the technical point of view.  But the Executive Director of the concert series felt differently.  It’s not about the notes or the singing, it’s about the audience.  Will they enjoy the experience?

So, you decide!  Here is 13-year-old violinist Stephanie Childress playing and singing the aria Laschia ch’io pianga from George Frederic Handel’s opera, Rinaldo, composed in 1711. Piano accompaniment by Kumi Matsuo, Masters graduate of the Royal College of Music.  Arrangement by Stephanie Childress.

Here is the English translation from the Italian:

Let me weep
my cruel fate,
and I sigh for liberty.
May sorrow break these chains
Of my sufferings, for pity’s sake

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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2 Responses to Classical Music and Never Let an Engineer Write a User’s Manual

  1. mimijk says:

    Why can’t I have opposable thumbs and concentration like Stephanie? What an amazing girl with immense talent! I’m with the Executive Director – I don’t think anything gets lost or diminished by her beautiful expressions on the violin and in voice. True, I am not an engineer and lack the attention to detail that engineers typically have, but my creative spirit is completely enthralled (no directions included).


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