Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving is fast approaching (yikes… far too fast!) and in the spirit of the holiday I thought I’d share some things I’m thankful for.

Of course, I’m happy for another year spent in the company of friends and family—the best group of people I could wish for.  I’m extraordinarily grateful to have an amazing wife who puts up with my many idiosyncrasies.  And I’m thankful that our wonderfully exuberant dog hasn’t ended up in the doggie emergency room yet again.

But a concert over the last weekend reminded me of how much I have to be thankful for as a musician and as a member of our music-loving community.

On Sunday I was privileged to perform Mahler’s Second Symphony, “Resurrection,” as a singer in the Minnesota Chorale.  We shared the stage with The Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra (MSO) led by William Schrickel, along with soloists Clara Osowski and Rachel Daddio.  Overall, the performance was hugely successful (I admit I might be slightly biased on this point) and ecstatically received by the capacity crowd.  It also received an enthusiastic review from the Star Tribune.

I’ve had many performances in my time, and hope to have many more, but let me explain why this concert in particular gave me so much to be thankful for.

As an Artist.  On a personal level, I was grateful to have a chance—any chance—to perform right now.  The Chorale performs all kinds of music, and I’m happy to sing in all kinds of musical projects with the group.  But hands-down, my favorite projects are when we get to sing big, full-blown, techincolor choral works in all their epic glory.  Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust, Brahms’ Requiem, Adam’s Harmonium… these are our bread and butter.  We are, at heart, a symphonic chorus—and as such we need a symphony orchestra to practice our art.

With the Minnesota Orchestra locked out… well, we’ve been locked out, too.

I don’t want to compare our situation with that of the locked out musicians—their circumstances are obviously far more painful, both personally and professionally.

But the last year and a half has been pretty grim for us as an organization as well, and it was invigorating to have a chance to get together and actually make music.  To overcome some of the wonderful musical challenges Mahler sets out for us.  To refine our art, and try to make ourselves better artists.  To feel the powerful emotions of that great work, and bring them to life for ourselves and our audience.

This last point is important.  I’m sure it’s a tired cliché, but when artists bring art to life… we feel alive ourselves.  Those powerful feelings of hope, fear, longing, love or transcendent joy an audience experiences when listening to a performance are made possible because the artists themselves feel these things, and are able to communicate them to others.  The audience felt joy last weekend at least in part because I felt joy.  And experiencing that joy together magnifies the feeling ten-fold for all of us.

I am deeply thankful  for an opportunity to work in an art form that allows—no, requires me to feel those profound emotions and to share them so directly with others.

As a Partner with the MSO.  The MSO is a community orchestra, made up of volunteers who perform for the love of the music.  And I am both thankful and honored to share the stage with them.  They were fearless in tackling an absolute monster of a symphony, and determined to rise to its many musical and technical demands.  I have nothing but praise for a group that took on this challenge because they wanted to raise their artistic level… to raise their game.  And they gave it their all—what a joy to watch such determined music-making!  Plus, they did an outstanding job with it, plumbing the despair and anger of the first movement and playing radiantly at the end.  And best of all, their hard work never felt like work in the performance—they were able to let go and say what they wanted to say artistically, to deeply and authentically express themselves in music.

On a deeper level, I’ve long been convinced that for great music to truly live in our culture, it needs to live in the hearts and hands of groups like the MSO.  If only a few prestige orchestras play Mahler for a handful of high-paying elites, Mahler will surely vanish.  Great music survives because ordinary people love it and find ways to incorporate it in their day-to-day lives.  And great music thrives because non-professional players want to experience the joy of music-making for themselves.  These non-professional players realize that music still has a powerful message that resonates today, and want to share it with others.  In doing so, they provide a vital service of keeping our musical heritage strong and vital—and accessible to everyone in the community.

And another point.  Sure, it is great to listen to or to study music, but the best way to truly connect with music is to actually perform it yourself, which leads to new levels of understanding and delight.  I’m grateful that the MSO and all our wonderful community orchestras provide this invaluable service as well—giving interested musicians a chance to come together and perform great orchestral music live.  I am so thankful for what you do.

As a Member of this Community.  And of course I am thankful for our community, and its deep and abiding love for the arts.  Minnesota doesn’t just maintain a comfortable respect for the arts, but genuinely celebrates them.  On a chilly day in the heart of football season, 1,800 people packed Central Lutheran Church to hear us perform Mahler’s sprawling Resurrection Symphony.  The church itself hosted a post-concert reception with—seriously—beer and pretzels.  And what a crowd it was!  People brought children dressed in their Sunday finest.  Young people dressed in jeans crowded together with retirees.  Some folks brought their own scores and followed along, while others simply lost themselves in the sound.  People who grew up taking music lessons mingled with those who couldn’t carry a tune to save their lives.  But we were all there, sharing an astonishing moment together.

Why is this important?  Well, the performing arts need an audience to really come to life.  That is the essence of a live concert—experiencing the emotions both individually and collectively.  It is that magical connection between performer and audience, and audience members to each other, that truly makes a performance.  A bad or even indifferent audience can make an otherwise stellar performance feel flat and empty for everyone… onstage and off.

Fortunately, we did not have an indifferent, dutiful audience on Sunday.  They were wonderful, attentive, and clearly swept up in the performance.  I don’t measure that simply by how loudly they clapped at the end, but in how rapt they were in quiet passages.  How excited their murmuring was between movements.  Their faces as they realized that almost imperceptibly, the chorus began singing.  I was so thankful that in today’s world of multiple distractions, they gave us their attention.

One final thought.  I’m also thankful for all the new friends, and renewed friendships, that have come about as a result of this blog.

So… all told, I have much to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!




8 thoughts on “Giving Thanks

  1. I am thankful for you, Scott, and the wealth of clarity, knowledge and vision you continue to bring to the music scene at a time when we really need it. As a fellow singer with you in the Minnesota Chorale, I also appreciate and second your thoughts about the Mahler performance on Sunday. It was really amazing, and the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra played magnificently! As a community musician myself (cellist in another community orchestra – the Minnetonka Symphony Orchestra), the role of the community musical artist does truly keep music of all kinds very much alive and in our hearts, as well as our audience’s. In the Twin Cities, currently there are an estimated 30 community orchestras. For the skeptics who believe that classical music is not a priority, there are thousands and thousands of musicians here actively proving them wrong every day. Happy Thanksgiving!


  2. Thank you for articulating much of my own sentiments about the importance of making music at all levels, and the crucial value of bringing live music to many different audiences. However I must point out that a great many musicians of both the MSO as well as the Chorale work/perform in the “music biz” – that they volunteer to be in either ensemble is a testament to their ongoing devotion to the art (there are no jaded freelancers here).

    I must confess that I struggled to hold back tears during the finale, in order to play my horn. Yes we were all performing magnificently, but it was the audience who got to me – my vantage point as one of the “offstagers” coming in to join the group at the end allowed me to observe the state of our listeners. Already I sensed the deep emotional listening going on, and then I scanned the faces of audience members – transfixed, eyes closed, some with eyes and cheeks wet with tears. The collective experience of sharing our understanding of this work nearly toppled me to my knees at the penultimate fortissimo cadence with the choir.

    Moments like these remind me how fortumate I am to be a musician. Being part of this performance also reminded me how fortumate we all are to have music that allows us to embrace our beautifully poiginant humanity, especially (or despite) some of the worst of times.


    • Thank you for the reply, and you are exactly correct that many musicians are in “the biz” and are certainly music professionals. My 11-year old niece just started violin with one of the MSO players, and this concert was her first classical concert!


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  4. Happy Thanksgiving, Scott. I have really enjoyed reading your blogs over the past months. It is nice to read a post that is so positive and heartfelt after so much about the lockout. I was an attendee of this excellent concert, and I had a perfect view of Sarah Schmalenberger as she played the horn. I feel very lucky to live here in this community of music lovers, both as a performer and as an audience member. Years ago, I had the chance to play the Mahler 2 with MSO (under Manny Laureano’s baton). I don’t think I fully grasped the magnitude of this work until I had the chance to be on the other side, as a listener. This well-attended concert provides proof that the Twin Cities has deep passion for excellent classical music, and that we are willing to support it. May the beauty of this performance buoy us all through the coming days. Thanks again for your thoughtful words, in this post and in so many others.


  5. Pingback: A Musical Puzzle: The 9 Symphonies | Mask of the Flower Prince

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