Last Saturday I was invited to see a Minnesota Orchestra performance. I have a little history with this organization, and if you'd like to get THAT scoop, just revisit TRILLOQUY opus 14.
Anyway, I was invited by Afa Dworkin, the President and CEO of Sphinx, whose husband was to narrate the premiere of "An American Rhapsody". If you know me, you know that I support all things black, so I was there with bells on, as they say.
I walk into the hall and I instantly get this feeling of PTSD. Who are these people? Am I welcome here? Will this be an experience I'll remember? As the usher brought Dell and I to our seats, I settled in and prepared myself for whatever was to come.
Fast forward past the first two pieces (which included Jessie Montgomery's "Starburst" - shout out to her), and you have "An American Rhapsody" - music by Afro-English composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor, with the narration of words by George Washington. Here's a bit of what was in the program, regarding this work:
I should have known what was coming up with the use of the phrase, "human frailty that all too often renders our valor imperfect". The music was beautiful (and was performed decently), but the words! I'll have to find a transcript, but my biggest takeaways were Washington's words on slavery - specifically HIS slaves. Washington's "valor" was found in his desire to free his slaves. It was just a desire, though, because they were only to be freed after his wife passed, and after the harvest. The final words of the narration were, "Tis well". Is all well?
Dell and I left after intermission - I'd heard enough. It would be one thing if these events were painted with the truth and rawness that are the words of a slave owner - the ownership of the human body and spirit as something that should NEVER be forgiven. But this wasn't the case. At the end of the performance, people stood up, applauded, and cheered with that sense of "yes, tis well! Washington was just a man of his time, and even WANTED to free his slaves!" It reminds me a lot of this scene from Django:
I didn't mention that kids from one of the Twin Cities' black schools were paraded on stage as well, to show how culturally competent the orchestra is, right? I ALSO didn't mention that this concert was planned ONLY because the orchestra's midwest tour was cancelled, so they didn't even want to do this in the first place.
I'm tired. Orchestras are not going to willfully address how inept and incompetent they are when it comes to community engagement and cultural equity. If you call them out, they try and come for your job. This isn't new information, or even a new experience for me - just showcasing another example of why I left the stage for a job in media.