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.

An Unwarranted, Unfair Editorial

What the…?

…?

…?

Okay… sorry, I still can’t believe the recent editorial in the local Star Tribune about… yes, that blasted Minnesota Orchestra Lockout of 2012-2014—a half-page editorial that uses the lockout to preemptively complain about negotiations surrounding the Orchestra’s new labor contract with its musicians.

Let’s just drop all the elegance and introduction and get into why this has got to be one of the most idiotic things our state’s “newspaper of record” will publish this year.

And while we’re at it, let me say a few words about why I’m so hopeful about the situation.

Continue reading

Cualli netlācatilizpan! Celebrating Christmas with Aztec Christmas Carols

Colonial Mexico was a spectacular land of opportunity for musicians—composers and performers alike.

By the end of the sixteenth century, Mexico’s great cities were some of the wealthiest cities in the world. Flush with wealth brought in from the lucrative silver trade, the great churches of the region recruited a steady stream of musicians and composers from Europe. A Chapel Master in Mexico City could make a fortune relative to his peers in Italy or Germany, and many musicians eagerly immigrated to the New World to enjoy a standard of living they could never attain in the Old.

Once set up in the New World, these musicians discovered the rich, vibrant musical traditions of the native peoples. These musical stylings hit composers like a thunderclap and led to a revolution in composition that fused European traditions with those of the indigenous people. Soon church composers were taking things a step further, composing religious motets in native languages, such as the Aztecs’ Nahuatl, to reach and engage local audiences that couldn’t speak Spanish or Latin. The result is a stunning musical tradition that crackles with rhythm, drive, and excitement.

Mexican Baroque music was born.

And some of the most delightful Mexican Baroque music being written was to celebrate Christmas, at times using texts in native languages.

That means that yes, there were Aztec Christmas carols. Continue reading

My Favorite Classical Christmas Music

As we charge toward Christmas, I wanted to send along my very best wishes to all my readers who are celebrating this magical time of year. As a musical Christmas Card to you all, here’s a quick list of my favorite classical Christmas music. I don’t claim this is an exhaustive list, or that these they are the best selections, but all are of personal meaning to me.

Enjoy the holiday, stay safe, and may you have many blessings in the year ahead! Continue reading

A Classical Winter Solstice

Today is the Winter Solstice!  It that time of year when we finally—and for those of us in Minnesota, usually far too slowly—start working our way back to summer’s light.  But winter has charms all its own, with fairy-tale frost, crisp air, and wonderful snowscapes everywhere.  So, let me welcome the new season with a playlist of winter-themed classical music.  Some of the following selections are delicate, some melancholy, some dramatic… but all take winter, ice, or snow as their point of departure.  Note that I have deliberately avoided Christmas or holiday music here… Christmas music deserves its own post.

Cheers! Continue reading

Music in a Time of War: Vaughan Williams’ “Dona Nobis Pacem”

The Minnesota Orchestra asked me to provide program notes in Showcase magazine for the upcoming concert of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem. Since I love both the composer and the work, I was all too happy to comply. You can see the pages here; but with the Orchestra’s support, I’m also providing my program notes below.

Please come out this concert if it is at all possible—it features powerful music that calls on us to remember our shared humanity and work for peace. Plus, the concert serves as a reunion with our artistic partners from South Africa! The work will be performed with the Minnesota Chorale, Gauteng Choristers, and 29:11, along with soloists Goitsemang Lehobye and Dashon Burton. Tickets and further information are available at the Orchestra’s website, here.

And look for me among the singers… I’m thrilled to be performing in this concert, too!

* * * Continue reading

Classical Music to Welcome Autumn

Fall is here!

It’s a magical time of year when iced tea gives way to apple cider, and school buses start to nudge out ice cream trucks on neighborhood streets. With dusk coming on earlier and earlier, there’s a new crispness to the air (at least there should be… we’ve had a run of summer-like weather here in Minneapolis…).

In honor of the new season, let me provide a listening guide to some of my favorite autumn-themed works of classical music, listed alphabetically by composer. Please feel free to share your own favorites in the comments. Enjoy! Continue reading

Must-See Musical Event: “La Pasión según San Marcos”

Minnesota Orchestra is finishing up its amazing Sommerfest summer season this weekend… and let me be blunt. I need you to stop reading this post—stop whatever you’re doing—and go immediately to get tickets to see the grand finale, La Pasión según San Marcos (“The Passion According to St. Mark”) being performed on August 2 and 3.  Go.  I’ll wait.

No, I’m serious. Go. Right now.

I don’t care that you think you’re “busy.” I don’t care that you’re actually out of town on vacation. I don’t care who is getting married. Just go get your tickets. You will thank me later.

Okay… back?  Great!  Now, let me say a few words about why I’m so excited. Continue reading