The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Did anyone else hear Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony and think of Donald Trump’s America as well as Stalin’s Russia?

November 21, 2016
15 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has to agree with a knowledgeable friend.

If you heard the Madison Symphony Orchestra, under music director John DeMain, perform the famous Symphony No. 5 in D minor — the same key as Beethoven’s Ninth — by Dmitri Shostakovich almost two weeks ago, you heard a performance that rivals or surpasses any other one, live or recorded, you’ve probably heard.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The performance was nothing short of stunning. And it was especially moving, given its timing in coming right after the presidential election in which Republicans Donald Trump and Mike Pence won an upset surprise victory over Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine.

mike-pence-and-donald-trump

So here is what The Ear wants to know:

Was The Ear the only one who found himself thinking that the symphony proved an especially fitting, perhaps perfect, choice even though it was programmed a year ago? (You can hear the moving third movement, a lament with such pathos that people cried at its premiere, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Was The Ear the only one who identified with Shostakovich, who felt an even deeper empathy with the oppressed composer (below), who, fearing with good reason the dictator Joseph Stalin and his reign of Terror in the USSR, always kept a small suitcase packed with pajamas and a toothbrush by the front door in case the KGB secret police came knocking at 3 a.m., the usual arrest hour?

dmitri shostakovich

The symphony is dark music for dark times. And The Ear hopes he wrong when he fears that America is headed for some dark times of its own, times when various people and members of our society will live in constant fear and dread of what they might suffer?

This is not to suggest that President-elect Donald Trump can be equated to the murderous Joseph Stalin (below), or the United States in 2016 to the Soviet Union in the 1930s.

jospeh-stalin-2

But it is to suggest that some comparisons — if not equations — might be in order.

It is to suggest there will be a constant and unsettling anxiety in the US created by a new ruling order that seems based on insults and intolerance, that excludes and condemns what it doesn’t approve of, that seeks to suppress or destroy opposition?

Like Latino and Syrian immigrants.

Like Muslims, Jews and other non-Christians.

Like African-Americans, Native Americans and other non-whites.

Like poor people.

Like liberals and progressives, dissenters and protesters .

Like LGBT people.

Like women and women’s health advocates and organizations that favor reproductive rights.

The list could go on and on.

But you get the idea.

If either as a musician or an audience member you agree – or disagree – leave a COMMENT.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Presidential debates should include questions about funding and supporting the arts and humanities

October 27, 2015
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, well.

Tomorrow night — from 7 to 9 p.m. CDT on CNBC — there will be another presidential debate.

The always astonishing and amazing Republicans, led by the always astonishing and amazing Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson, will debate in Boulder, Colorado.

Republican presidential debate

The Ear has watched three presidential debates so far — two Republican and one Democratic.

But he still has no idea of where the various candidates on both sides stand when it comes to government support of the arts –- including music — and the humanities.

Please tell us, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, what you think?

bernie sanders and hillary clinton in presidential debate

And you too, Donald Trump and Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum and Chris Christie and Jeb Bush and Rand Paul and John Kasich and ….

Do you want to defund PBS?

pbs logo in black

Or defund NPR?

npr

Or will you support these important and historic cultural commitments? Why or why not?

Along the same lines, do you want to defund, sustain or enhance the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities?

Why or why not?

Some funny reasoning is going on here. Some of the candidates want to eliminate all subsidies to the arts, which are a form of economic development after all – at a time when a lot of conservatives don’t mind funding big rich corporations in the same name of economic development.

The arts create a lot of jobs and spark a lot of spending and stimulus. Or don’t the culture-challenged charlatans realize that?

Stop and think a minute about the local situation. The Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Wisconsin Union Theater, the Overture Center (below), public schools, the University of Wisconsin and its School of Music — all rely in part on public funding. They employ a lot of people and generate a lot of value.

OvertureExteior-DelBrown_jpg_595x325_crop_upscale_q85

Don’t these issues deserve a public airing? Doesn’t the arts consuming public have a right to know where the various candidates stand on these issues? Shouldn’t voters know what they might be getting in those areas?

As The Ear understand its, one flank of the attack has to do with the so called left-leaning liberal or progressive bias and politics of PBS and NPR.

Plus, there is the view that the art that public taxpayer money is helping to create doesn’t defend the so-called family values that the most radically conservative Republicans and Christian fundamentalists and Evangelicals want defended.

The other flank of the attack has to do with the stance that government should be smaller and that therefore should be funding less in general.

Makes you wonder just how the radical “freedom coalition” and Tea Party people in South Carolina, Texas and California feel about having a smaller government when it comes to providing aid for victims of torrential floods and devastating wildfires. And how is that kind of help for those in need different from funding education or health care?

California wildfires 2015 nbcnews

AUSTIN, TX - MAY 25, 2015 Extreme flooding takes place in Austin, Texas May 25, 2015. (Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)

AUSTIN, TX – MAY 25, 2015
Extreme flooding takes place in Austin, Texas May 25, 2015.
(Photo by Drew Anthony Smith/Getty Images)

Anyway, wouldn’t it be appropriate for some of the panelists to question the candidates on the issues pertaining to the arts and humanities?

The Ear is reminded of Sir Winston Churchill’s comment during World War II. Some members of the British Parliament asked him if funding for the arts shouldn’t be cut and used instead to fight Hitler and the Nazis. He said no and added, “Then what would we be fighting for?”

winston churchill

Tell the Ear what you think. Leave a COMMENT.

Maybe, just maybe, someone else will read it and pass it along and we will finally get a substantive discussion from the candidates about where they stand on arts and humanities funding by the federal government.

 


Classical music: Oh say, Can You See Common Sense? On Independence Day -– the Fourth of July -– let us recall how the national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner” has evolved. Standards of social justice and definitions of independence should also do so.

July 4, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today –- July 4, 2014 — is Independence Day in the United States.

TETRRF-00024113-001

We will celebrate with food, drink and fireworks as well as parades and social events.

But make no mistake: Our celebrations have changed, necessarily, with history.

Despite what some misdirected U.S. Supreme Court justices like Antonin Scalia (below top), Clarence Thomas and others think with their so-called “originalism,” we all live in history.

antonin scalia rants

Supreme Court 2010

The assumptions and interpretations of Originalism have been debunked by many scholarly professors who specialize in 18th-century American discourse and law, and whose research disproves those same assumptions and interpretations to be mistaken.

To The Ear, it is kind of like hearing the radically conservative activists of the Right Wing accuse leftists and liberals of being activist: Name-calling hypocrisy dressed up in new clothes.

Here is a link to an overview critique of Originalism, both the new and old kinds:

http://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/new-originalism-a-constitutional-scam

It amounts to this: Whether as individuals or a society, we all change through time.

And so justice and so does music.

The Ear recalls the movements, once fringe and now mainstream, that brought us period instrument and historically informed performances.

That is why we now hear such Baroque masters as Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel and Antonio Vivaldi so differently.

It is also why we hear many other Baroque composers and early music masters that were ignored before.

That is why we now say, “The United States is,” while before the Civil War we said “The United States are.”

Usage evolves. It has to.

That is also why we hear and sing the country’s national anthem -– “The Star-Spangled Banner” -– differently today than we once did. (below is a first edition of the national anthem from the Clements Library at the University of Michigan.)

Star-Spangled Banner first edition Clements Library University fo Michigan

Here is a line to an extended story with more details about the historical evolution of our national anthem in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/29/arts/music/the-star-spangled-banner-has-changed-a-lot-in-200-years.html?_r=0

Have a Happy and Safe Fourth of July.

And here is the most popular version — with more than 7 million hits and many outrageous listener comments to read — of the national anthem that The Ear could find on YouTube:

 


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