Below is a statement I prepared and read to our MSO audience at our December 11 (2022) concert, featuring John Rutter’s “Gloria.” This was in response to various arts and humanities programs being cut at MU and other universities in the midwest. Several people have asked me to make it available, and I decided my website was the best place for it.
Statement to MSO audience
December 11, 2022
Before we perform this magnificent choral/orchestral work, I invite you to look for a moment at the people on this stage. There are 140 of us: Ranging in age from 14-90; some are budding musicians, others are seasoned professionals. Some of these people know exactly who they are and where their life is going. Others of us are still trying to figure it out. If you had asked these choristers when they were 13 years old what they might want to achieve in their future, most of them wouldn’t have listed “singing in a big chorus with an orchestra” among their top 10. Why? Because we cannot know what’s possible until we are shown. This is what Universities do. They expand and broaden minds in directions they otherwise might not stretch toward. For many of the last 20 years Pre-Covid, the MU Department of Music has paired with the MSO to create annual opportunities just like this for an entire community of students (all ages and backgrounds). Covid shut that down suddenly, but today’s performance was intended to revive that tradition. Some people believe that the arts are dying, but if history truly repeats itself, they just need a little time to recover and grow some new shoots. Similar to the years following the plague in Europe, scholars believe humanity will experience and produce another Renaissance as we emerge from these catastrophic coronavirus years.
Jacob Soll, professor of history and accounting at the University of Southern California writes, “What really enabled the Renaissance was a deep dive into humane learning. America has done this right before: after the disruption of World War II, the GI bill allowed young men to study the arts and sciences so they could dream, and achieve things their parents hadn’t been able to… It was by mixing the humanities writ large with practical, artisanal skills – and a society ready to use them – that Florence produced Donatello and da Vinci. Ours, too are out there, of all races and creeds. All they need is a chance.”
When I look at the youngest faces on this stage today, I wonder who among them might become the next Michelangelo, William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, or Claudio Monteverdi.
Live music is a strange intangible art form. Basically, it’s just air. Literature, poetry, visual art, film, and recordings are perfected and preserved forever. Live music, theater, and dance changes a little with every performance, even if you’re repeating repertoire. That is why people will always come to the concert hall. There’s this net-less tightrope vibe to a live experience. Not that we want to see anyone fail but, witnessing humans striving together en masse toward a level of artistry that none of them could achieve alone, is riveting and thrilling.
Every one of these talented and busy people behind me could have done other things with the precious 3-5 hours per week they’ve spent preparing this performance, but they chose to grasp this opportunity. For the students it was required but, Mark Nevil, Sharon Lehman and I believed it was important for our ensembles to do this, even though they could not have understood the value of it back in August. They cannot know until they know. Now, it’s December, and they know. The non-students up here signed on because someone somewhere provided them a similar challenging and gratifying musical experience when they were students.
Here we are on performance day. We are each different in some way than we were six weeks ago. Was it easy? Nope. This music is gnarly and full of pitfalls (all of it, not just the big choral stuff). Was it entertaining? No – rehearsals are not entertaining, and neither is sitting in a practice room by yourself. Sometimes it is downright drudgery. Ask the string players about some of the screwy rhythms they are called upon to execute on this concert. Ask the woodwinds about volleying themes back and forth at exactly the right dynamic level in the Franck. Ask the French horns how quickly their lips begin to feel like raw hamburger during the Humperdinck. Ask the tenors about finding that darned elusive beat 2 of measure 66 in the 3rd movement of Rutter’s Gloria. But like all worthy endeavors, the journey teaches you something. The hardest climbs lift you to the most breathtaking summits. If you never take risks and challenge yourself, you miss the triumphant Rocky movie moments — raising your sweaty exhausted fists in the frosty morning air atop all those steps.
Only live music can provide such unanimous, collective exhilaration. Every person on this stage is living proof of the unquantifiable value of this phenomenon. I could not be prouder to stand on this podium and stretch out my arms to lead them. This is what we mean by the term “outreach.” The MSO is reaching out to invite these musicians into an experience they otherwise may never have dreamed they would want or enjoy; to embrace them, no matter their background, beliefs, politics, age, race, or pronouns. We are unified now with one another and with you through music. All are welcome. Everyone belongs. Please join me in unlocking the door to a new renaissance together.