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Remembrance: Remembering Morty Manus

Andrew Surmani • • February 5, 2016

Morty ManusI was so devastated to lose Morty Manus, president of Alfred Music, who passed away at his Los Angeles home on January 9, 2016 after a battle with cancer. He was a devoted husband to his wife Iris, a loving father and grandfather, an innovative music publisher, a celebrated author, an inspiring mentor to his staff, and a dedicated friend. Morty was a great man. For me, he was like my adopted father. My life was changed forever because Morty was such an important part of it. I learned about how the music publishing industry operated from him, how to treat customers and employees, and most of all how to produce the greatest products possible, which to this day are still changing the lives of those that use them as they experience the joy of making music.

Morty ManusMorty had a long celebrated life. He was born in 1926 in New York to Russian immigrants Samuel and Ann. Morty proudly enlisted in the Air Force during WWII, received a business degree from The City College of New York, and in the late 1940s, joined his father in the family business, Alfred Music.

When Morty started working at Alfred Music, there were four employees: Morty’s father Sam, a picker, a packer, and a bookkeeper. The important part of this story is Rose, the bookkeeper, who had a daughter named Iris. Morty and Iris fell in love, and as they say, the rest is history. They were married over 60 years.

Alfred Music began in New York’s Tin Pan Alley in 1922 and focused on mood music for silent films. Inspired by the need for quality music education products, Morty–a pianist, clarinetist, and guitarist–reinvented the company in the 1950s. He oversaw the development of an instructional series for accordion, followed by similar publications for guitar, piano, and recorder. Morty is the author and editor of hundreds of tittles in Alfred Music’s catalog, including the enormously popular series, Alfred’s Basic Guitar Method and Alfred’s Basic Piano Library.

Morty ManusWhen Alfred Music outgrew its New York headquarters in the mid-1970s, Morty and Iris moved the company to Los Angeles. As time went by, they split their time between New York and Los Angeles, having many close friends on both coasts.

The company continued to grow under Morty’s leadership. Morty was joined in the business by his son Ron in 1988 and his son Steven in 1992. The family business expanded into the world’s leading instructional music publisher with offices in Australia, Germany, Singapore, and the United Kingdom. In 2005, Alfred Music purchased Warner Bros. Print Publications.

Morty received an honorary Doctorate of Music from Vander-Cook College of Music in July of 2008. Morty and Iris continued to be deeply committed to music education by supporting many music scholarships, competitions, and organizations.

I’ll never forget meeting Morty after I started working at the company in early January 1988. Very soon after I started, we had our very important NAMM Trade Show in Anaheim coming up. Since I had only been at the company a short while and did not have all the product and customer knowledge yet, I decided to man the popcorn machine at the show and also helped the customers connect with their sales reps. I guess that had a big impression on Morty and he took a liking to me early on.

Morty ManusOne of the luckiest opportunities I ever had to work closely with Morty was when we worked on Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory together along with my wife Karen. The VP of Sales, Danny Rocks, had just come back from a trip to the Texas Music Educators Conference and mentioned in passing that we needed to do a new music theory method. Over the weekend I worked on an outline with Karen and then presented it to Morty the following Monday. We met soon after for lunch and Morty gave the approval for us to move forward but he said the book needed a lot of work. Then, he handed over the manuscript, which was bleeding with red ink. After initially recovering from shock, I began what would be a multi-year project working alongside of this genius. It was like sitting next to Vincent Van Gogh while he painted, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart while he composed, or Michelangelo while he chiseled away the marble.

I got to understand firsthand what really made Alfred great in the care and quality put into creating our publications. I honestly believe every single page in that method was re-written at least ten times while Morty always searched for an easier, less cluttered way to explain new concepts in the method. While very frustrating at times, I finally understood why he made the changes he did and in the end he helped create one of the company’s top-selling methods. This was the same kind of sweat equity that he put into writting and editing all of his books, including some of the greatest selling methods of all-time, such as Alfred’s Basic Piano Library and Alfred’s Basic Guitar Method.

I’m lucky to have worked with not only such a genius, but someone with the biggest heart that you can imagine, who along with his wife Iris, showed tremendous love for me and my family for so many years. I will miss him greatly, but he will always live on in my heart, especially when I have to make difficult decisions in my life.

Though terribly saddened by their loss, the Manus family members are now focusing on celebrating his life and the bright light of his legacy. Thanks to his amazing life’s work, generations of music makers will continue to experience the joy of making music. Morty and Iris recently summed up their love for music education and Alfred Music with these words:

“Working a lifetime with music and musicians was not always milk and honey, but it was as close to heaven on earth as we could get.” Morty is survived by his wife Iris; his three sons Steven (wife Sylvie), Scot, and Ron (partner Renée); his three granddaughters Alexandra, Samantha, and Melissandra; and his brother-in-law Jay Kopelman (wife Sherry).

Those who want to honor his life are welcomed to donate to vh1savethemusic.org/donate or cancer.org.

Editor’s Note: Since 2009, I’ve been honored to acquire pro audio and technical tittles for Alfred Music, and have come to regard many at Alfred as close friends and like family. They are clearly a different kind of company to work with, and their family-run status for six years shy of a century is why. This is a big loss for this great family.

 

 

 

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