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

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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

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.

* * * Continue reading

RIP Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher

What a loss.

Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds—two legendary performers—have been taken from us this week, far too soon.  As a way to work through the shock and grief, many of my friends have been sharing favorite stories of them.  In that vein, allow me to share a story of my own… a story that involves Debbie Reynolds flirting with me in front of my wife Jill, when we were both working at Orchestra Hall here in Minneapolis.

* * *

Some years back, Debbie and Carrie were supposed to appear together at Orchestra Hall as part of the “Unique Lives” series. This was a group of lecture/interview/Q&A sessions with women who had lived particularly noteworthy lives. I was the Duty Manager/House Manager that evening—essentially in charge.

On the night of the presentation, severe weather was hitting the east coast, and Carrie’s flight was cancelled. We tried a variety of ways to have her call in and do the session remotely… but ultimately nothing was really working, and we regretfully cancelled Carrie’s portion of the evening.

Debbie, however, was there and absolutely radiant. She was just quietly hanging out back stage when her agent waved me and some other staff folks over to introduce us, telling her “This gentleman is in charge tonight.” Debbie—ever the performer—immediately brightened. She smiled a coy smile, put a finger on her chin and said “Oh, goodness. Look at this handsome young thing they brought to take care of me….” I believe I turned fire-engine red as I tried to stammer through some incoherent pleasantries, and tried to walk through the schedule. She patted my arm and said, “Oh, don’t worry, this will be fun!” and walked away to go to the podium for a mic check….

…and in doing so I saw Jill, who had taken in the whole encounter with an arched eyebrow.

I may have smiled weakly and started to say something. Jill, however, was one step ahead of me. She put on her best “1940s-broad” accent, and quipped in faux outrage, “Debbie Reynolds, that skank? You tell her to back down! Getcher own goddamn man, Debbie Reynolds!”

My jaw hit the ground, before Jill and I both collapsed into laughter. Those lines have been part of our marriage ever since.

In all seriousness, working with Debbie was a delight. She was remarkable… a consummate professional and a consummate performer. You knew instantly that she knew more about show business than most of us could imagine, but she didn’t for one moment stand on ceremony or have any pretension.  On the contrary, she was deeply humble, warm and gracious. Most of all she was generous with her time and attention.

Put plainly, she was a true and undeniable star, but never acted like it.

I’m so sorry to lose Debbie and Carrie both—they lit up the world with their gifts, and we’re all a bit poorer without them. Rest in peace.

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Xochipilli

Continue reading

On the “Hamilton Incident”

Last week, we had a cultural moment—the “Hamilton Incident.”  Most of the shouting has died down, but before we get too far away I wanted to share a few thoughts on this, as it hits on several important issues that we in the arts grapple with all the time.  And while this is hardly the most pressing national concern at the moment, the whole dust up hits on larger issues that are of critical importance right now, and resonate with me as an artist and as a citizen of the United States of America. Continue reading

A Thanksgiving Story

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to have a greater and greater appreciation for that most American of holidays… Thanksgiving.  It is remarkable, isn’t it? The coming together of friends and family, and the sharing of food and good stories.  The joyous sense of hospitality.

And most of all, the ability to slow down for a moment and to be grateful for what you have.

My Thanksgiving tradition while growing up was to have a mid-day Thanksgiving feast at the house of Pastor Jim, the man who had baptized me when I came into the world.  As the years passed he had rotated to other congregations, but we always gathered at his family’s home.  Although they were an older couple, he and his wife had adopted two African-American children who were close in age to my brother and I, and growing up there were always shenanigans to get into, either indoors and out (the year we kids decided to act out a Kung Fu movie was particularly memorable).  Plus, there was always an eclectic bunch at the Thanksgiving gatherings.  Some were old friends and families that had accumulated over the years, but Pastor Jim’s family always insisted that any Thanksgiving “orphans” with nowhere else to go were not just welcome… they were expected.  Friends of friends, coworkers, travelers… it didn’t matter.  When these extra guests arrived at the door, it was thrown open with hugs around and can-I-get-you-anything? hospitality.  It always struck me as a thoroughly American experience: Thanksgivings at their house were always the E Pluribus Unum variety.

One has always stood out for me.  Continue reading

Great Arts Choices for “Give to the Max Day”

For those of us here in Minnesota, you might have noticed that it is “Give to the Max Day”… that wonderful day where the entire state goes online and donates to their favorite charities.

And brings down the Internet as they do.

Minnesotans are rightly proud of this tradition, as our Give to the Max Day tends to be one of the largest such days in the nation.  Last year, for example, this statewide philanthropy event spurred more than 60,000 people to give $18.1 million to several thousand organizations.  That’s huge!

I’ve been involved with a whole host of nonprofits over the years, both professionally and personally.  There are so many choices about where to give, but I wanted to share a top recommendations for local arts/cultural organizations and explain why I think they stand out.

Stop by GiveMN’s website to donate… or knowing that the site tends to overload and go down, I’ve also linked the organizations’ respective websites directly.  Thank you for your support! Continue reading