Monday, September 13, 2010

Shaun Tirrell vs. Mike Manhattan; Sorry, Mike, but you lose

Mike Manhattan, newsman for Savannah's number one TV station, is by all accounts a fine person. He is to be greatly admired for his thus far successful personal battle with cancer, and his voice is of the quality that make women swoon and make men wish for a little additional testicular fortitude. But as a sales pitchman, Mike Manhattan could have partnered with the island of Manhattan and still have been decimated this past Saturday by a fast talking and faster playing piano man who claimed to be a poor salesman.

Mr. Manhattan was emcee for the Savannah Philharmonic's "The American Spirit" September 11th show at the eternally gorgeous, if slightly toasty warm, Lucas Theater. Part of Mike's job was to ask people to support the organization built from scratch by conductor and music director Peter Shannon in ways other than buying tickets to shows; the good old membership drive well known to fans of public radio and TV. In fact, Mr. Manhattan's appearances began to resemble those infamous pledge breaks - his third trip out elicited a whisper of "Lord! Him again?" from a patron seated behind me and my wife.

Mike's intentions were, nonetheless, noble, and there was nothing incorrect about what he said. If we don't support this orchestra, Savannah won't have the music Mike very accurately described as beautiful, exquisite, effervescent, pulchritudinous (okay, he didn't use that one, but dang, with his voice, that would have sounded marvelous). Mr. Manhattan made the requisite request to check out the table in the lobby during intermission or after the concert to inquire about becoming a member and all the benefits of membership, though unlike public TV, membership doesn't get you Dr. Wayne Dyer's latest book "How Bald Gurus Make A Killing Off This Shtick."

Then, during the second half of the show, a man whom some Savannah Philharmonic fans saw at a show last year appeared on stage. Concert pianist Shaun Tirrell, having waived his usual fee to perform, played the bejesus out of the third movement of the Concerto In F, one of George Gershwin's least appreciated compositions among the general public. Tirrell, with a multitude of awards and honors that only the serious music fan knows or cares about, was amazing, not to mention Maestro Shannon and the accompanying orchestra. Almost as stunning was the brief speech and, as it turned out, sales pitch Mr. Tirrell made afterward.

With an 'aw, shucks' attitude more in tune with Johnny Mercer's Savannah than Mr. Tirrell's home of Gaithersburg, Maryland, he made a pitch to support the Savannah Philharmonic that was by far the most effective of the evening. Well, as if Mr. Tirrell's playing wasn't an effective enough pitch, Shaun told us that Peter Shannon was the finest conductor he had played for. Not "a pretty good conductor", not "one of the finest", not "a bloody good musician and a fine consumer of the fruit of the vine", THE finest conductor. You don't have to be a calculus expert to know how many conductors Mr. Tirrell has probably played for.

Even more telling was that Mr. Tirrell missed his son's birthday, which was the day before the show, for the chance to play with the Savannah Philharmonic. That made me want to immediately whip out the check book and join the Philharmonic's "Conductor's Circle", which gets you great tickets to the shows, your name in the concert programs, and car washes for life from the percussion section (I think). Since that check would have been more rubberized than a Goodyear plant, I didn't.

Still, I'd like to think that an endorsement from the likes of Shaun Tirrell would make folks realize that we don't have to wait for the Savannah Music Festival every year to see world class musicians. We already have them here, and helping them put on several shows in a season doesn't really cost you as much as tickets to one Music Festival show.

Mr. Tirrell ended his pitch by talking about his grandfather and how he had introduced him to the music he loved. His 'Pop' was a salesman by trade, Shaun said, an excellent one despite his eighth-grade education, and Mr. Tirrell claimed he could never sell anything as well. Mr. Tirrell was wrong. In my book, he outsold not only his Pop but also Mike Manhattan, who was there in part to specifically sell the Savannah Philharmonic. No offense, Mr. Manhattan, but Mr. Tirrell had me with the first note he played. Let's hope he had most everyone else there by the time he left the stage.

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