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Thoughts from a Pops Pianist

Charles Manning
Posted: May 7, 2009 - 2:12:06 PM in commentary_2009

  These remarks were delivered by Charles Manning, Pops Pianist of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, at the induction ceremony for Erich Kunzel into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame May 7 in Cincinnati.  Manning played under Kunzel during the time he served as Pops Music Director for the ISO (1982-2002).

   Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen!

   Maestro Erich Kunzel has received many distinguished awards, because he has done many distinguished deeds. He is distinguished as a musician and conductor, as a producer and creator, as a citizen of the world, and as a personal friend to all.

   All of us here tonight have experienced the magic of being in the audience when Erich conducts. We have seen his incredible television concert spectaculars featuring the world’s most beloved entertainers, and we have listened to his more than 100 recordings in our cars, on our i-pods, and in the comfort of our homes.

   So, what is it about Erich that has made him so DISTINGUISHED and DISTINGUISHABLE?  I have come to the conclusion that it’s his incredibly distinguished EARS.

   As a conductor, Erich can hear every note of every part in the orchestra. His masterful knowledge of the musical scores, and his incredible energy inspire total confidence among his musicians. His sense of style, nuance, and balance are unmatched.

   But Erich is not only distinguished as a musician and conductor. He is also a magical creator. He always has a new concept for a concert or a recording, or a new way to interpret a favorite old piece. His ears provide the gateway of imagination for all of us to hear music in totally new ways.

   In a larger sense, as a citizen, Erich uses his ears to listen to the future – he always tries to help the young musician, the aspiring soloist, the new composer, or the struggling arranger to be heard, to get a chance. His interest is always in the bigger picture – in developing something new – whether it’s a children’s choir or a college chorus, or a rising conductor – just witness the wonderful School of Creative and Performing Arts here in Cincinnati that he has helped to build.

   And finally, Erich has the ears to be a true friend…to listen, to sympathize, and to share his own experiences and wisdom, often with vivid descriptions and colorful humor!

   There are many orchestras around the world that have felt the marvelous energy and creativity of Erich Kunzel’s leadership.  Now, if you were to go 110 miles west on I-74 from here and turn right, you would be at the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.  As you may know, Maestro Kunzel served as the first Pops Music Director of the ISO, from 1982 until 2002. When he came to Indianapolis, we had two or three pops programs each season. Erich tripled the Pops concert season, and the number of individual performances rose from 3 or 4 each year to over 30!  His concerts have always drawn full, even sold out, houses – our Indianapolis audience has had a love affair with Erich that still continues to this day!

   But there is another experience that relatively few are privileged to have – and that is to actually play in the orchestra when Erich is conducting!  As Erich’s Pops Pianist in the Indianapolis Symphony for over 20 years of concerts, I can tell you that this experience was totally unique – the most memorable journey in my whole musical life.

   As a member of the orchestra, I always felt Erich was listening to me, and conducting me personally. There was always a feeling of excitement, anticipation, humor, and joy communicated right on the stage!

   Erich, I am truly honored to call you my friend.  Here, at the American Classical Music Hall of Fame, on behalf of all of my colleagues in the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, I want to present to you this picture of you leading us, the members of the Orchestra, in appreciation for all you have done for us, and with us, as ISO Pops Music Director for 20 years.  We thank you, and we love you!