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.

Rescinding DACA is Outrageous

I’d like to take a moment to shine a spotlight on a heroic young man named Alonso Guillén, whose moving story was recently recounted in The Washington Post:

As Harvey’s wrath descended on Texas, Alonso Guillén’s father begged him not to make the 120-mile trek to the Houston area to rescue those stranded in floodwaters.

“It is too dangerous,” his father pleaded, Guillén’s brother recalled.

But when it came to helping others, Guillén, a 31-year-old Mexican immigrant, was headstrong, relatives told The Washington Post. On Aug. 29, Guillén left his job as a radio host early to pile into a white Chevy Tahoe with a group a friends. The volunteers from Lufkin made the drive to Cyprus Creek in Spring, a Houston suburb. Once there, they set out on five boats, using a walkie-talkie app to identify people who needed rescuing.

Late that night, as Guillén and his group were on their way to pluck survivors from an apartment complex, their rescue boat slammed into an Interstate 45 bridge. The collision hurled Guillén and his friend, Tomas Carreon, 25, also of Lufkin, into the rushing floodwaters. A third person in the boat was later rescued, grasping onto a tree, the Houston Chronicle reported.

On Friday, searchers found Carreon’s body. On Sunday, Guillén’s body floated to the surface, his brother, Jesus Guillén said.

“He died wanting to serve,” Jesus Guillén, a 36-year-old truck driver from Lufkin, told The Washington Post. “He could have stayed home watching the news on television, but he chose to go help.”

Alonso Guillén was a hero. He was also a participant in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), an Obama-era program that has shielded 800,000 young undocumented immigrants who grew up in this country from deportation.

Alonso Guillén, from the GoFundMe page his family is using to pay his funeral costs.

Earlier today, the Trump administration announced it was seeking to eliminate DACA. In light of this announcement, I can’t help but reflect on Alonso Guillén’s life and heroic death, both of which illuminate everything wrong with this cutting this program.

I’ve tried to keep my blog tightly focused on the arts, arts management, and cultural events as a whole. Although I have lots of thoughts on politics—thoughts that no doubt trickle through here and there—I’ve tried to keep these under wraps as much as possible. I’m not, after all, a political pundit, and there is a vast number of places people can turn to for this type of commentary, made by people who have much greater familiarity with these various issues.

But in light of today’s announcement about DACA, I must speak out. Continue reading

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Music of the Spheres: Classical Music for the Eclipse

Eclipse mania is gripping the country!  Next week, a huge swath of the United States will be treated to a textbook perfect, solar eclipse that (depending on the weather) should be seen by millions.  Alas, for those of us in the far north of the country, the effect won’t be so total. So I’m consoling myself with a playlist of appropriate classical music, drawing on music inspired by the moon, the sun, or outer space as a whole.

Grab your specialty glasses, and have a listen! Continue reading

Rest in Peace, Dad

My dad has passed away, somewhat suddenly, following a short illness.  And I’m still trying to process things.  I’m a writer and have been for many years now… and while I still feel like I’m drifting around in shock, maybe writing this blog entry will help me organize my thoughts and emotions.

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Peter Chamberlain: July 17, 1942 – August 11, 2017.

Beloved father, grandpa, brother, family man.

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Happy Fourth! Classical Music 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—click here for more info. Continue reading

Classical Music to Welcome Summer

Summer is here!  Well, at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere….  Summer is almost always portrayed as a life-affirming season, if an occasionally lazy one, where life is to be savored to its fullest.

“Midsummer Eve,” c.1908 by Edward Robert Hughes

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I’m tempted to hang up a “Gone Fishin’” sign myself and run off to the lake… but instead, let me share a few classical works from a variety of genres that perfectly embody summer in all its hedonistic glory.

Cheers! Continue reading

Symphony Ball 2017—Celebrating Music, Celebrating Community

You know, there was a time not so long ago that I worried for the future of my very own Minnesota Orchestra.  Even after the contentious lockout ended, there was a lingering fear that the scars left by the 16-month ordeal wouldn’t heal, or that the various parts of the Orchestra family would continue to work at cross purposes.

Let me say definitively that these fears  have been completely put aside.  And this year’s Symphony Ball is a crystal clear example of how effectively—and joyfully—all parts of the Orchestra family are working together right now.

And by working together, they are creating what is setting up to be the Twin Cities’ most exciting party of the year: Symphony Ball 2017. And everyone is welcome.

The Ball is set for June 24 at Orchestra Hall. This year’s theme is A Night on the Silk Road, and I can’t think of a better starting point that captures the energy of where the Orchestra is now.  On the one hand, this theme references a journey, which certainly describes the last few years of the Orchestra’s history.  But more important, it honors the idea of exchange, of sharing of cultures, and a rich tapestry woven together from distinctive threads.  So it is no surprise that this year brings together classical elements, pop culture elements, and world culture elements

For me, the highlight is the musical concert portion (tickets are available here), which looks astonishing. As Kenneth Huber, Chair of the Symphony Ball’s Music/Entertainment Committee, explained in the Orchestra’s magazine, Showcase:

The Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä will perform the world premiere of the Silk Road Symphonic Fantasy, a 22-minute “medley” of excerpts from great symphonic repertoire. The Fantasy, which I helped create during the past year, is a musical journey by composers who were inspired by the Silk Road aura and composed some of the most colorful, exciting, beloved and well-known works in the symphonic canon. Each excerpt has a Silk Road connection—though none are literal representations or examples of music from that era. We’re very excited to have Brian Newhouse, the “voice of the Minnesota Orchestra” on MPR, as our narrator and host.

But that’s hardly the only highlight.  In addition to the Fantasy, singer-rapper-essayist Dessa will perform with the Orchestra in two new pieces that she has created for the occasion followed by a 30-minute set with her own musicians. Dessa’s recent appearance with the Orchestra was a thing of wonder—bustling with sharp intellect, creative energy and musical passion.  I’m thrilled she’s making a return engagement, and hope that her fans will come out to see this inventive collaboration… and to see that they have a place at Orchestra Hall, too.

For those who missed it, Dessa’s first appearance was chronicled on Twin Cities PBS’s award winning program, MN Original:

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But as exciting as this event will be, perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Symphony Ball is how it has brought together the entire organization into a monumental work of love. There is no standing on ceremony, no us-and-them, no silos. This was clear from the very beginning, when Board Chair Marilyn Carlson Nelson and enthusiastically pushed  for audience advocates Paula DeCosse, MaryAnn Goldstein and Laurie Hodder Greeno—all associated with the groups Orchestrate Excellence and Save Our Symphony MN—to serve as the event’s co-chairs.

As Graydon Royce mentioned in his recent Star Tribune article, audience advocate activists are now running the Orchestra’s premiere fundraising gala.  What a sign of trust!

And the spirit of trust and cooperation has infused the entire operation; the co-chairs have been committed to building an inclusive model that draws on the talents of everyone in the organization.  As Co-Chair MaryAnn Goldstein explained:

There are about 90 people on the subcommittee, drawn from the musicians, Board members, staff from virtually all departments, and many additional community members. They’re all volunteering to make this Ball something that really reflects the New Minnesota Orchestra.

Their collective goal was to bring everyone together and to make everyone feel part of the Orchestra’s team. MaryAnn continues:

We envisioned and created the evening to be a manifestation of the “Minnesota Model” in both process and result—and hope we will be able to deliver on more than just a successful fundraiser—inspiring people to become even more engaged with the Orchestra whether they are new, former or current fans.

In effect, Symphony Ball is combing the traditional elements of a gala fundraiser with the idea of crowdfunding to build a stronger, more durable base of support… plus a sense of connection to the Orchestra.

The sense of collaboration is particularly evident in the music.  Kenneth Huber remarked that many of the musical ideas were generated by the musicians, particularly Michael Adams and Doug Wright.  Music Director Osmo Vänskä helped finalize the ideas and give them wings.  All involved raved about the spirit of cooperation and mutual support that infused the process.

All in all this is setting up to be fantastic evening embracing the idea of community, culture, sharing and growing. And, it will help support a wonderful community treasure. But best of all… this sounds like one incredible party!

I’m planning on going, and I hope you will do the same. Special price tickets are available through June 20 here.

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Life, Death and Resurrection: Mahler’s Second Symphony

Mahler is a curious composer—a bold visionary whose art is full of contradictions. His guiding philosophy was perhaps best summed up in a famous conversation he had with Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in 1907. As Sibelius recounted later,

“When our conversation touched on the essence of symphony, I said that I admired its severity and style and the profound logic that created an inner connection between all the motives. This was the experience I had come to in composing. Mahler’s opinion was just the reverse. “Nein, die Symphonie müss sein wie die Welt. Sie müss alles umfassen.” (No, the symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything.)

That quote perfectly captures essence of Mahler’s music. It is a collision of thoughts, emotions, ideas and sensations that are constantly intersecting and interacting with each other. At times, it’s as if you were reading a story where each paragraph was written by a different author in a different style—such as Shakespeare followed by the Brothers Grimm, Emily Dickinson, William Faulkner, Herodotus and O. Henry.

In the end, the cumulative effect is stunning, touching on all parts of the human experience… and vividly recreating the totality of human experience.  It is no wonder why so many love his music.

Mahler’s music isn’t at all hard to listen to, but it is a wonderfully challenging to fully comprehend it. It rewards—if not requires—repeated listening and conversations to grasp its many layers.

The Second Symphony, Resurrection, is a magnificent example of Mahler’s achievement, and one of the easiest to get your arms around. It is a work about loss and a plunge into darkness… before finding inner strength and a renewed hope that allows you to rise to a new level of existence greater you had known before. It is about rebirth and new glory.

And it absolutely has to be experienced live.

Let me explain a bit about why you don’t want to miss Osmo Vänskä, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the Minnesota Chorale’s upcoming performance of it… along with the circumstances that will make this particular performance so meaningful for me. Continue reading