Chris Marks

This is the last col­umn I will write as Chair, and by the time it appears in print, a new Board of Direc­tors will have tak­en office. In my pre­vi­ous col­umn, I reflect­ed on the sig­nif­i­cance the OHS has had in my musi­cal growth over the eight years that I have been an elect­ed offi­cer of the Soci­ety. For this final col­umn, I’d like to reflect on oth­er things that I have learned. Through observ­ing and imple­ment­ing the many changes to the struc­ture and oper­a­tion of the OHS over the last eight years, I’ve learned an enor­mous amount about gov­er­nance of orga­ni­za­tions, in some ways lead­ing to a new direc­tion for my own career, towards aca­d­e­m­ic administration.

A turn­ing point for me per­son­al­ly and for the OHS was the 2013 con­ven­tion in Burling­ton, Vt., the first time that we engaged a par­lia­men­tar­i­an, Marie Wil­son, to help run our annu­al meet­ing. I was tru­ly impressed at the dif­fer­ence Marie (who is still work­ing with us) made in the effi­cien­cy and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty of the meet­ing. Hav­ing sat through some unruly fac­ul­ty meet­ings and committee meet­ings at my uni­ver­si­ty, I quick­ly saw the util­i­ty of under­stand­ing par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dure. The basic prin­ci­ple of par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dure, embod­ied most notably in Robert’s Rules of Order, is to allow every mem­ber of an orga­ni­za­tion to have a voice in col­lec­tive deci­sion mak­ing. Used well, these pro­ce­dures can be very effec­tive in help­ing peo­ple work togeth­er to reach consensus.

Not long after this, I par­tic­i­pat­ed in rewrit­ing the OHS bylaws, the goal of which was part­ly to estab­lish a new Board of Direc­tors, along with some oth­er struc­tur­al changes, and part­ly to make them sim­pler and eas­i­er to fol­low. This was an eye-open­ing process that helped me under­stand gov­er­nance and struc­ture in a way I nev­er had before, and not just relat­ed to OHS. (Since then, I’ve helped write bylaws in two oth­er orga­ni­za­tions!) Like par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dure, bylaws are intend­ed to make a struc­ture in which peo­ple in the orga­ni­za­tion can func­tion more effec­tive­ly togeth­er to achieve a larg­er set of goals.

In the same way that my musi­cal expe­ri­ences with OHS inter­sect­ed with oth­er parts of my musi­cal life and broad­ened my hori­zons in unex­pect­ed ways, the con­cepts and skills I have learned about gov­er­nance, meet­ing man­age­ment, and orga­ni­za­tion­al struc­ture have sig­nif­i­cant­ly impact­ed my dai­ly work. My inter­est and recent work in aca­d­e­m­ic admin­is­tra­tion is in many ways a result of these expe­ri­ences that have sup­port­ed my abil­i­ty to func­tion well as an administrator. 

Odd­ly enough, all of these rules” of par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dure and bylaws — which many peo­ple find dry and imper­son­al — are about peo­ple. Like any oth­er orga­ni­za­tion, the OHS is not just a struc­ture and a set of rules and goals. It is a group of peo­ple who love the pipe organ, who want to learn more about the instru­ment, share their enthu­si­asm, and ensure the instrument’s recog­ni­tion as a sig­nif­i­cant part of our Amer­i­can his­to­ry and cul­ture. It is the peo­ple — you, the mem­bers — who are impor­tant, not the struc­tures in which we oper­ate, even though those struc­tures allow us to oper­ate more effectively.

I’d like to con­clude this final col­umn with two points based on all of the above thoughts. One: you, read­er, are one of the peo­ple who make up the OHS, and the OHS needs you. Be active, vol­un­teer, par­tic­i­pate in gov­er­nance, vote in elec­tions; oth­er­wise, the orga­ni­za­tion becomes a struc­ture with­out any pur­pose. Each mem­ber has a unique set of skills and expe­ri­ences that can ben­e­fit the OHS. Two: you nev­er know how your work with the OHS may ben­e­fit you in unex­pect­ed ways, as it did me. Although ded­i­cat­ed involve­ment in an orga­ni­za­tion like the OHS takes a great deal of time and ener­gy, the pay­off in unpre­dictable and some­times intan­gi­ble ben­e­fits to you will be worth it. As I end an eight-year jour­ney as an elect­ed offi­cer of OHS, I can only reflect on how much I’ve grown, musi­cal­ly and per­son­al­ly, through that expe­ri­ence. I encour­age you to par­tic­i­pate, too, and look for­ward to see­ing you at future OHS conventions.

Chris Marks