I’ve been a musician for many, many years. I’ve played thousands of gigs. But I’ve also worked in customer service. I was fortunate to combine aspects of both of those careers at Seattle, Washington’s Experience Music Project, where I was employed from 2000 to 2004. — What a great place to work if you’re a musician/music lover! I felt right at home working and spending time in the very odd, colorful building, which was designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, and financed by Seattle’s own Paul Allen.
I was a dedicated team member in EMP’s Visitor Services Department; but I often worked with the Education Department. I was one of the lucky “EMPeeps” who got to greet school-busses full of students, young and old, give them an orientation, and then launch them into the amazing world of EMP.
The door through which the students entered the building happened to be located near the EMP café.There were always plenty of empty booths in the café where we Education staffers could regroup while waiting for the next bus-load of youngsters to arrive. It just so happens that, on several occasions, I encountered in the café, the drummer for the great prog-rock band Yes — Mr. Alan White. Alan was a friend of another unique, brilliant and spirited man, whose name was, actually, Reek Havok. Reek’s contribution to EMP was as an interactive designer for the award-winning “Sound Lab” gallery, where I also worked (if you can call it that!). He was a very creative, cordial human being, and a great musician. I would find Reek and Alan in the café, where they would invite me to join them for coffee. I’m not exactly sure why Alan White was there. He was good friends with Reek, and they obviously enjoyed each other’s company; perhaps he was consulting with EMP. Alan and Reek worked together and with several other great people, to persuade the State of Washington to issue a “Music Matters” license plate. Proceeds from sales of the plates help fund music education in our state.
Yes was a very popular band at EMP. If you visit the high-ceilinged Sky Church, the Jimi Hendrix-inspired space which features the huge video screen, you will see a Yes time capsule set into the floor. It consists of a clear tile, covering a container which holds Yes artifacts.
I enjoyed a coffee break with Alan White on several occasions. We talked about how special EMP was — how good it was to share its amazing exhibits with the many children and students who visited. – The importance of music education. I don’t think we ever discussed music per se, or Alan’s role as Yes’s drummer. And we most certainly didn’t discuss the fact that Alan was the drummer for former Beatle, John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band. Alan was not one to boast. He never brought up his accomplishments. He just participated in our light, inspiring conversations. (These conversations took place among staff members all over EMP – we workers talked often about how great it was to be working there. At EMP, it seemed to be part of the culture. By banding, and bonding, together, we forged a better EMP.)
One thing that definitely never came up during my conversations with Alan White was the fact that he was the drummer on what has to be one of the greatest recordings of all time: John Lennon’s “Imagine”. I’ll tell you — had Alan dropped that factoid on me, I think I would have lost my mind!
I haven’t seen Alan in ten years. Were I to encounter him, I would simply say, thank you so much, Alan, for helping create a recording that literally changed the world. “Imagine all the people….”