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.

Fauré’s Luminous Requiem

My Requiem has been said to express no fear of death; it has been called a lullaby of death.  But that is how I feel about death: a happy deliverance, a reaching for eternal happiness rather than a mournful passing away…. Perhaps I have sought to depart from what is conventional because for so long I was organist at services of internment.  I’m fed up with that.  I wanted to do something different.

          – Fauré discussing his Requiem in a 1902 letter to Louis Aguettant

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The Requiem—the traditional Roman Catholic Mass sung for the dead—has formed an important part of choral music from the Middle Ages to today.  A vast number of composers from Palestrina to Andrew Lloyd Webber have penned a Requiem, even if they weren’t Catholic… or particularly religious at all.  It’s easy to see why; the Requiem text, like the ritual it is drawn from, is so broadly recognized that it provides as a easily understood starting point to explore universal questions of life, death, and life after death.

In composing a Requiem, there are several approaches that composers have taken.  On the one hand, there those that emphasize the dramatic nature of the words, focusing on anger at our loss, the fear of the unknown, or our terror of Final Judgment.  The Requiems of Hector Berlioz and Giuseppe Verdi are the best-known examples of this train of thought.  On the other hand, there are those that emphasize notions of comfort, solace, and a spiritual release as the deceased is gathered up by a merciful God—the approach recommended by Beethoven himself, who once wrote: A Requiem ought to be quiet music—it needs no trump of doom; memories of the dead require no hubbub.

The Requiem of Gabriel Fauré is one of the best-loved examples of this approach—a work this is luminous and delicate, which emphasizes the idea of consolation.  As Fauré told his friends, “Altogether, it is as gentle as I am myself.” Continue reading

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Christmas Wishes from Mask of the Flower Prince

Hodie Christus natus est:
Hodie Salvator apparuit:
Hodie in terra canunt Angeli,
laetantur Archangeli
Hodie exsultant justi, dicentes:
Gloria in excelsis Deo.
Alleluia!

 

To all my readers celebrating the holiday, I’d like to wish you a very merry Christmas! I hope the day is filled with joy, memories, and wonder. Continue reading

Winter: A Classical Music Playlist

Winter is here, and with it the longest night of the year.  As a season, winter often gets a bum rap—while spring is a season of new beginnings, winter too often gets written off as a season of death and bleak desolation. And indeed, many people start feeling a bit stir crazy this time of year.  So, let me break the seasonal doldrums 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

Classical Music’s Vampires: An October Playlist

Classical music has always had a fondness for the supernatural. In earlier centuries, composers had incorporated Christian miracles or classical myths into their works. But by the nineteenth century composers had expanded the repertoire to include mermaids, witches, phantoms… and vampires.

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Vampires have been a staple in classical music since the early 1800s. The vampire craze really took off in 1819, when John William Polidori’s short story “The Vampire” became an international sensation. Soon, vampires were showing up everywhere, in fiction, poetry, and religious treatises. Naturally, composers took advantage of the new-found popularity and brought vampires to the opera house and concert hall, too. Sometimes the resulting works were dramatic, making them precursors to modern horror films. At other times, composers used the vampire story for comedic effect, giving their bloodsuckers an ironic wink.

As October gets underway, I thought I’d share a collection of 10 vampire-themed classical works from the last 200 years. Enjoy!

Continue reading

Classical Music to Welcome Autumn

Happy Equinox!

Fall is a time 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… it’s supposed to be 90 degrees in Minneapolis today!).

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

About Leonard Slatkin’s New Book…

Years back, I had the pleasure of singing Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky with the Minnesota Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Slatkin. It was a pure delight.  Prokofiev’s music tells the story about crusading Teutonic Knights attacking Mother Russia, causing death and destruction until they are annihilated in the Battle on the Ice. One of the highlights is a choral scream, given when the Crusaders charge the Russian forces. Prokofiev doesn’t give the Knights real words (thus dehumanizing them); instead, their battle cry is just a jumble of nonsensical Latin words, belted out at top volume over the orchestra. The effect is staggering in the concert hall, and a bit ironic. It is a thundering sonic blast that sounds portentous, powerful, and authoritative, but for all that is ultimately a bunch of howling gibberish signifying nothing.

Which brings me to Mr. Slatkin’s new book. Continue reading

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