About Scott Chamberlain

Hello and thanks for reading. I’m Scott Chamberlain, a resident of the fair city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Welcome to my blog. It came about primarily because I was commenting extensively on the labor dispute involving the musicians and management of the Minnesota Orchestra—long-standing professional and personal ties to the organization have led me to follow the situation closely. Over time I’ll try to reprint some of my commentaries here to give them a more public airing, but I’ll try to keep current with my posts and comment on developments as they unfold. Although that’s the genesis of the blog, I like to comfort myself by believing I have other things to say. So a bit of background. For most of my life I’ve balanced two more or less equal passions: a deep fascination with the past and a love of music (mostly, but not entirely, of the classical kind). I’ve alternated between these two passions in terms of study, employment and recreation since my days as a very wee lad. On the “past” side of the equation, I’ve been an ethnohistorian working on the pre-conquest cultures of Mexico and a traditional historian specializing in Central American urban and cultural history. (I’ve been known to do people’s astrological “chart” in the Aztec manner. It’s a great party trick.) Along the way, I’ve lived or spent much time in Spain, Costa Rica and Mexico. On the “music” side of the equation, I’ve been an active classical singer (currently with the Minnesota Chorale), and an arts administrator with the Minnesota Chorale, Minnesota Orchestra, and One Voice Mixed Chorus. I’ve performed several operas, although my true calling as a performer is choral works. The blog name and cover shot are a fusion of these two trends. It’s named for Xochipilli, the Aztec patron god of music and the arts, and specifically for his public visage that hides his inscrutable true nature beneath. The illustration comes from the Codex Becker, a pre-Colombian Mixtec manuscript, and shows an ancient Mexican orchestra composed of flutes, whistles, trumpets and various percussion.

South Africa: A Reading List

Back in 2015 when I traveled with the Minnesota Orchestra on its historic tour to Cuba, many readers expressed an interest in me putting together a Cuban-related reading list.  I was happy to do so—having taught Latin American history for many years, it was easy to update the reading list I used to inflict on my students.

Some have wondered if I’m putting together a similar list for South Africa, as a set up for the tour to South Africa.  I was hesitant to do so… South African history is not a particular area of expertise.  In fact, since learning I’m going on this tour (both as a performer and a member of the media), I’ve been working overtime to dive into the country’s history, culture, politics and natural history.  But this gave me an idea for a new post—sharing some recommendations from the South African reading list I essentially assigned to myself.

I don’t pretend the following list is comprehensive, exhaustive, or the final word on South Africa… but it does provide a list of books I found particularly interesting and/or useful, and came highly recommended to me.

If the Minnesota Orchestra/Minnesota Chorale tour has captured your attention, and sparked an interest in learning more about South Africa, read on!  Continue reading

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Preparing for South Africa: This Is Why We Sing

It was one of those Moments…the kind of moments you are lucky to have every once in a rare while, in a career as a performing musician.

Funny enough, it came not at a performance, but at a rehearsal this week. And really, it didn’t involve me at all… I was just there to witness someone else’s Musical Moment.  No matter—it was a rare gift, and one that will stay with me a long, long time. Continue reading

Vive la France! A Classical Playlist for Bastille Day

Vive le France!

Today is Bastille Day for our good friends in France, and I thought I’d celebrate here on my blog with a collection of great French works.  But upon further reflection, I thought I’d take slightly different approach.  It is, of course, easy to assemble a collection of French favorites: slap together some Debussy and Ravel, throw in a dash of Berlioz, and tack on Fauré’s Requiem for good measure.  But ultimately I decided to focus the list more, and provide 10 of my favorite music that celebrates Paris itself—works that seek to depict its boulevards, cafés, architecture, its people… or simply life in the City of Lights.

Please note that I’ve deliberately sidestepped opera here, although Puccini’s La bohème, Verdi’s La traviata, and Massenet’s Manon certainly fit the bill!

Enjoy!

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A Perfect Fourth: A Classical Playlist for Independence Day

It’s Independence Day!  The Fourth of July remains one of America’s favorite holidays—a time for patriotic celebration, cookouts with families and friends, and plenty of fireworks.  In almost all of these events, music is an absolute must, ranging from military bands and John Philip Sousa to Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”

In keeping with my blog’s overall theme, I’d like to share a list of classical works to help my fellow Americans get into spirit.  And while everyone seems to love having Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture as background music for their firework displays, I bet I can find a few more honestly American-themed pieces for you to enjoy….

So grab a sparkler and have a listen!

And as long as we’re on the subject, for a great patriotic concert experience, check out PBS’s annual concert, A Capitol Fourth, which is broadcast live on July 4th from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. It’s always a big hit, with performers this year ranging from Chita Rivera and Renée Flemming to Jimmy Buffet—click here for more info. Continue reading

Nicolas Fouquet and Château Vaux-le-Vicomte: The Danger of Eclipsing the Sun King

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
     Down to a sunless sea.”
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge

 

“Vaux is the estate that I considered my primary seat, and it is there where I wanted to leave a mark of the status I had.”
~
Nicolas Fouquet

 

There are, of course, many great attractions to see in and around Paris, and many great country homes that stand tribute to France’s rich history.

One of the most remarkable is Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte—the great estate of Nicolas Fouquet, and a testimony to his extraordinary life. But beyond its stunning beauty, it has one element that makes it stand apart… an absolutely jaw-dropping back story.  A back story that involves the celebration of great art, deadly games of intrigue, high drama, sudden reversals of fortune, and a cast of characters involving many of France’s most legendary figures. And best of all… one of the most famous parties in French history….

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, as seen from the gardens

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America’s Immigrant Composers: A Playlist

Over the last few days (and really, the last year), the issue of immigration (legal or otherwise) has made headlines across the United States, and provoked deep, emotional discussions.

For me, immigrants are central to the American experience, and have played a vital role in shaping nearly all aspects of our country’s development since the first days of the Republic—in politics, the economy, medical breakthroughs, scientific discovery, and in the success of its armed forces. America has been profoundly enriched by the contributions of immigrants for centuries.

The contributions of immigrants are particularly noteworthy in music and the arts. Again and again, artists from distant shores have relocated to the United States and found shelter, found new opportunities, and created astonishing new works that have shaped and re-shaped how we view the world.

Don’t believe me? Here is a partial playlist of great composers who immigrated to the United States, along with some of their most noteworthy works… many of which that speak to their experiences as immigrants or their connections to their new homeland. Enjoy! Continue reading

South Africa with the Minnesota Orchestra and Minnesota Chorale: Beginnings

It’s difficult to believe, but the Minnesota Orchestra/Minnesota Chorale tour to South Africa is fast approaching. I was fortunate enough to accompany the Orchestra’s tour to Cuba in 2015 as a part of the media contingent (my blogs about Cuba and the stories I wrote for MinnPost while on the tour can be found here), but this time around I’m also taking part as a performer—singing as a member of the Minnesota Chorale in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and a variety of South African music.

And you better believe I’m thrilled to be taking part!

Well, after much preparation and planning, rehearsals are finally under way.

And it’s already been remarkable. Continue reading