“He was friendly, but schoolteacherly: we had to respect him, but at the same time he gave us the impression that he wasn’t stiff—that you could joke with him.”
-George Harrison on Producer George Martin from The Beatles Anthology
It all started with a necktie.
Aiming for a more grandiose angle, one could say that the trajectory of 20th Century Popular Music shifted due to an impish remark by a 19-year old George Harrison to Producer George Martin in June of 1962. George was a member of a little-known band from the North of London. This pop quartet had just concluded an audition for the EMI recording label.
George Martin was lecturing this young group about the recording studio standards. The various members of the band seemed to be inactive in their engagement with Mr. Martin. For many years, George Martin had established himself as a solid presence in the recording industry. He was head of the Parlophone label, a small eccentric subsidiary of the global record giant known as EMI. Martin was an impeccable professional with a classical music background. His Parlophone label was the home to comedy and variety recordings. One of the artists on that roster included the comedic genius of Peter Sellers.
As George Martin noticed his listless audience, he pressed pause on his lecture and gestured for the band to share if there was anything that they didn’t like about the proceedings.
Without missing a beat, Lead Guitarist George Harrison responded, “Yeah, I don’t like your tie.”
The ice was immediately lifted and the natural charm of the auditioning band shifted into high gear. Their natural humor and infectious camaraderie gave George Martin notice. Soon after, he signed this band to the Parlophone label. History is made. The Beatles become “the toppermost of the poppermost” in Europe. America is conquered two years after this audition. The world quickly becomes a global playground for Beatlemania.
Fast forward to February 1967. George Martin is standing on a conductor’s podium attempting to explain to a 40-piece orchestra how to achieve a “giant orgasm of sound” during the “Sgt. Pepper” sessions. The Beatles are gathered with family members, friends and associates for a celebratory recording session for their song entitled “A Day in the Life.”
George Martin’s relationship as producer for The Beatles had evolved from a directorial approach in 1962 to one of supportive collaborator. As The Beatles grew as songwriters and musicians during this short period of time, George Martin grew with them. He became an invaluable and literal sounding board for the band. Merging their imaginative ideas with his trained background in musical composition, scoring and studio recording proved to be a template for timeless recordings ranging from “Yesterday” to “In My Life” to “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
By early 1967, The Beatles had taken Pop Music through the audio looking glass with their many innovations in form and function of the traditional radio-generated hit. George Martin proved to be a necessary ingredient in the The Beatles approach to song. His ear was tuned in to their collective ideas and he proved to be a willing accomplice in their quest for innovation.
The Pepper Mindset is the full realization of this collaboration where The Beatles attempted to do something bold and different within the realm of what a Pop Album should be. George Martin’s production technique is a textbook example for all scholars and musicians of the 20th Century recording studio. Whether it was merging the Indian Raga sensibility of George Harrison for his “Within You Without You” or attempting to capture the smell of sawdust in John Lennon’s carnival jaunt of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” George Martin became a Merlin providing his studio alchemy with his four King Arthurs.
As an educator and principal, I often look to George Martin for inspiration. I marvel at how he was able to collaborate with and build a foundation with a band that truly changed the course of Music. As an unabashed fan of The Beatles, I believe that Producer Martin had my dream job. When I find myself in those “times of trouble,” I often turn to Sir George Martin and ask myself the question, “What would George do?”
If George Martin was a school principal and The Beatles served as his faculty in the school known as Abbey Road Studios, what would George do as principal?
My guess is that Principal George Martin would be a sincere and positive presence for his teachers and students. He would be open to ideas and encourage his school to be a laboratory for big ideas. Perhaps, he would encourage his teachers to “think symphonically” when it came to designing lessons to engage students to be creative. His office door would be open to all but I don’t think you would see Mr. Martin dwelling in his office. Mr. Martin would be out and about visiting classrooms, coaching teachers and connecting with students to be creative thinkers. I see Principal Martin listening to and inviting crazy ideas to create a school culture where innovation is a mainstay. I see Mr. Martin have an artisan approach to his leadership having great pride in contributing to something positive in the schoolhouse.
A principal leads humbly with students and teachers at the center of their agenda. As he did with The Beatles, Martin was in tune with their musical gifts and encouraged them to soar to new heights as a band. Even when The Beatles rejected his suggestion for a sure-fire hit during their early days as a band, George Martin humbly stepped aside and accepted their original composition. Upon recording their alternative, George Martin announced to the band that they had their first #1 hit. George Martin’s prophecy turned out to be true when “Please Please Me” did do just that.
The Pepper Mindset is more than just studio trickery or throwing an ed tech tool in a classroom, hoping that changes student lives. Collaboration has to be nurtured and encouraged in an environment that is positive and inviting for creativity to ignite. George Martin was able to do that with his steady hand collaborating with The Beatles and igniting a revolution in Music. A school principal has to take on the role of lead learner and encourage the same moves in the schoolhouse for teachers in service and support of all kids.
Tuning into the possibility of ideas in the name of creativity made George Martin an effective producer and collaborative leader for The Beatles. School Principals are called to turn a similar dial on the studio mixing board that is the schoolhouse. Educators are faced with the glorious quest of bringing the 4Cs of Education (Collaboration, Creativity, Communication & Critical-Thinking) alive for our students.
Let’s take a page from George Martin’s inspiring musical score and lead the schoolhouse towards embracing The Pepper Mindset.