I’ve been following the “Minnesota Orchestra kerfuffle,” (Readers Write, Dec. 6, 12 and 14, referring to events at the Dec. 2 Rufus Wainwright concert with the orchestra). Principal trumpet player Manny Laureano suddenly left the stage in protest of Wainwright’s comments disapproving of the Republican tax bill. I’m surprised by the common thread among commenters, who seem to claim that music shouldn’t be political. In a Dec. 9 article, Laureano said he “found [Wainwright’s comments] to be beyond the pale of what that evening should be about. It’s a time of the year we’re supposed to all come together.” A Dec. 12 letter brushed off Wainwright’s comments as being of no consequence. A Dec. 14 letter argued that Wainwright “was paid to sing, not pontificate about politics.”
The fact is that music has always been political, and it is naive to think that art can ever be divorced from the social and political context in which it is created. Giuseppe Verdi’s “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” from his opera “Nabucco” became an anthem for the Italian nationalist movement in the mid-19th century, and many scholars believe Verdi intended this reading of the work. The opera “The Marriage of Figaro,” arguably the crowning jewel of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s vast body of work, was adapted from a Pierre Beaumarchais play banned upon its publication in Vienna by the emperor for its message denouncing the privilege of the aristocracy.
I’m not convinced that either Laureano or Wainwright was wrong to take a political stand at the concert. This event highlighted the dilemma many orchestral musicians face as artists whose primary job is to interpret and perform the work of other artists. How can we reconcile performing the great operas of Richard Wagner, knowing that he was a vocal anti-Semite? Or performing Johann Sebastian Bach’s epic cantata St. John Passion, whose portrayal of the Jewish chorus is often viewed as anti-Semitic? Carl Orff’s choral work “O Fortuna,” famous for its (and countless plagiarisms’) use in movie scores, was written for the Nazi Party.
Is there merit to performing the work of artists with whose politics we don’t agree? I say yes. Our work lies in thinking critically about the politics of the music we perform just as we wholeheartedly commit artistically to putting on the most convincing performance possible. We live in a moment when people don’t want to empathize with the experiences that may lead others to the opposite end of the political spectrum. Maybe music and the concert hall can be a place where, as Laureano says, we “all come together” to face our differences head-on. How revolutionary.
Martha Mulcahy, St. Paul
The writer is a student at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
Indeed in a ‘strong position,’ thanks to efforts by many
As a former (now retired) employee of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, I feel that the Dec. 18 letter “As superintendent departs, consider spending patterns” was very misleading.
Neighborhood parks are at the core of the Park Board’s recreational services and provide the critical building and site infrastructure to support recreational programming. Before Jayne Miller became superintendent, neighborhood parks had no funding stream for capital improvements other than playground and pool replacement. Funding was woefully inadequate to maintain and replace critical park components such as buildings (roofs, mechanical systems, etc.), paving, lighting and play fields. Despite the best efforts of planning and maintenance staff, the condition of our neighborhood parks was in decline and needed a massive infusion of capital.
Starting in 2014, Miller, along with the current board, the citizen group “Save Our Parks” and Park Board staff, worked tirelessly to research and develop a strategic plan (“Closing the Gap”) and necessary support to address the deferred maintenance of neighborhood parks. In 2016, Miller and the board successfully negotiated an agreement with the city to provide $11 million per year for 20 years to address deferred maintenance in neighborhood parks. Neither Miller nor the current board received the credit they deserved for this visionary work.
The agreement to provide the infusion of funding took careful planning, skillful negotiation and tenacity. Miller, the current board, certain City Council members and Save Our Parks deserve all the credit for making this happen. As her memo to Park Board staff stated, Miller is indeed leaving the “MPRB in a strong position.”
I hope that the new board is capable of responsibly administering this financial and much-needed gift to our beautiful park system.
Deborah Bartels, St. Paul
A chance for competition and camaraderie, if sportsmanlike
With all of the financial struggles Minneapolis schools are facing, the suggestion to eliminate school-sponsored sports is worth a look (“Let clock run down on organized school sports,” Opinion Exchange, Dec. 9). To fill the potential void that school sports offer, perhaps a new vision of club teams will emerge — one that emphasizes sportsmanship over wins and participation over exclusivity. Costs can be controlled by limiting travel and shortening seasons. In the meantime, please be aware that Minneapolis Park and Recreation offers youth sports up to age 18 for hockey, baseball, softball, basketball, volleyball, and track and field. Our experience with Minneapolis youth sports has been nothing but positive. The competition level is better than you might think, while still encouraging kids of all abilities to participate. Most important, my son has become friends with kids he never would have met had he stuck to his school teams.
Ryan Sheahan, Minneapolis
• • •
My 7-year-old son skated off the ice after a recent hockey game. I gave him a fist bump, since he had played an awesome game. I followed him into the locker room to help unlace his skates, and I could see something was wrong. Tears welled in his eyes because a kid on the other team told him he sucked. His female teammate was told she was slow and could never get the puck.
I told our coach what happened. He acknowledged that it was wrong and told me he would speak with the other coach. Then he said, “Look, that’s just how it is.”
I refuse to accept that answer. I demand better for my son, his teammates and all hockey players in this state. Bullying is never OK. My hope is that every parent, coach and player who reads this letter will model positive behavior both on and off the ice, with zero tolerance for bullying. Be nice. Choose to be kind. For it is only when we all do these things that we are truly Minnesota nice in this great state of hockey.
Jennifer McVean, Shoreview
TRAUMA AND HEALING
Story about effort at YMCA was inspiring, illuminating
I want to thank Breanna Buckhalton for her courage in sharing her personal story of trauma and healing (“Y is helping girls recover from trauma,” Dec. 21). I am also grateful for the visionary leadership of YMCA President and CEO Glen Gunderson and his team for recognizing the important role that community-based organizations play in providing an array of health and healing services to those in need.
Perhaps when we are as outraged about the violence perpetrated against this young woman as we are about alleged waist-grabbing by politicians, we will begin to see true gender equity in this country.
Suzanne Koepplinger, Minneapolis
So this is what it’s like
As a retired Minnesota school superintendent, I find it unfathomable that, while the website 24/7 Wall St. recently recognized Minnesota as the “best-run state” in the union (despite obvious rancor between the executive and legislative branches), I am still waiting (three months down the road) for a vehicle title I should have had back in late September. If this is an example of “best-run,” heaven help those poor folks in other states.
Jon E. Bathke, Crystal