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May an uplifted face in the audience help heal musicians’ hearts

Photo by John Whiting
Now there is news that Tony Ross, center at front of stage, has been offered the principal cello position at Chicago’s Lyric Opera.

Many supporters of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians may remember a particular patron we were all introduced to during the lockout, Eriko Matsukawa of Sendai, Japan. She sent a beautiful letter of support, along with a donation to the musicians, which you can and should read about here along with a stunning mobile of 96 hand-folded cranes that is now hanging in the musicians’ lounge: one crane for each member of the locked-out orchestra.

Now the lockout is over, if only in name, but the fallout continues. Last week one of the original 96 made the difficult decision to leave colleagues, friends, family and the city he loved. Comments to the Strib article about Burt Hara’s resignation last week ranged from the mournful to the sadly predictable (“It will take literally hours to find someone who can fill this position adequately!”). Thanks for that, fdrebin. Some of us are eminently replaceable in our jobs, and I count myself as one of them. Not so for Burt. But nobody in this ensemble would deny the wisdom in his decision, agonizing as it surely was.  

Now there is news that Tony Ross has been offered the principal cello position at Chicago’s Lyric Opera.  His departure — should he decide to leave — would mean the loss of one of the orchestra’s most vocal leaders, on stage and off. One can only imagine how the MOA would feel about that.

Challenges to morale

The musicians are damaged but not undone. But the maddening lack of leadership and insight in all aspects of this organization, from ticket sales to customer service to board management, continues to chip away at their morale. It is not an easy place for them to walk into every day. It is difficult to sit in their chairs onstage with a view of MOA President Michael Henson in his first-tier box — he who has yet to speak a word of explanation to his employees or his patrons.

Last week, the sixth week of the post-lockout season, the orchestra sat down to rehearse another program of Masterworks with another guest conductor. There have been many changes in personnel from week to week, as those of you in the audience have surely noted. This time there was an addition onstage: Eriko, the MoMO “Superfan” if you will, had a seat of honor next to the clarinets.  

Eriko is in town for three weeks. I asked her what her plans were, other than sit in on rehearsals. She answered, smiling, “Listen to the Minnesota Orchestra, talk about the Minnesota Orchestra, hang out with the Minnesota Orchestra.”  

She sat through Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony perfectly still, eyes closed as always, listening with her entire body. Most of us receive music passively, but you could tell by looking that this was an active experience for her. Elgar’s Enigma Variations elicited copious tears — and that was during rehearsal. The musicians took their break mid-day and found hundreds of treats and gifts from Japan had been left in the lounge by Eriko.  

Sending good wishes

If you were at the concerts last weekend you might have noticed a Japanese woman holding her white cane, sitting near the front row, wearing a scarf of “MoMO” green. This was Eriko, listening with closed eyes and sending her good wishes to the people onstage who have become her friends. Her own words describe the experience she is having so much better than mine ever could:

In good times, I feel my joy multiplied by your music. When going gets tough, I can immerse myself in the world of your music, and you comfort me, heal me and rejuvenate me. Your music has consoled me each and every time I thought I would never smile again. You always seem to know where to find broken pieces of my heart and how to put them back together, then, through that out-of-this-world sound, you simply hand it back to me so I can get up and find a courage to face the world again.

My hope is that when those onstage look out into the faces in the crowd at next weekend’s concerts, their eyes are drawn not to the first-balcony boxes, but to the uplifted face of Eriko — or of any other listener feeling the music with their entire bodies and souls, because she is not alone — and that they also find a way to put together their broken hearts and all the loss of the last two years.

Rena Kraut is a freelance classical clarinetist who performs, writes and lives in Minneapolis.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Misty Martin on 03/20/2014 - 02:18 pm.

    I agree with Eriko

    I agree wholeheartedly with the words of Eriko expressed in this article. Although I have never heard the Minnesota Orchestra, I am sure that the music that they create does indeed lift the spirits of all the listeners and fans out there, as does the music from the many musicians, singers, songwriters, artists that I have been so privileged to enjoy and listen to throughout the years. Music has a healing element that passes from the singer-musician to the audience-listener. Thank God for all the dedicated singers and artists, musicians, songwriters and poets everywhere. Where would the fragile human race be without your dedication to your craft? Thanks to all of you for the inspiration that comes from your gifts and the beauty you create in our own individual imaginations every time we stop to listen and soak it in, like rays of sunshine on a dreary day.

  2. Submitted by Michael Wunsch on 03/20/2014 - 05:02 pm.

    Thank you, Rena

    Thank you for a beautiful article that beautifully summarizes the reason why classical music is meaningful and needs to be sustained. I can relate to Eriko completely; I, too, immerse myself completely in the music and turn to classical music for spiritual sustenance and renewal.

    Sadly, I think it is clear that the board of the Minnesota Orchestra, acting through CEO Michael Henson, does not understand this perspective. The lockout is over, but the philosophy and goals behind it endure; what the board failed to achieve with the lockout, it is now achieving by other means. If they were not interested in achieving the remainder of their original goals, they would have released Henson – why else would any organization retain a toxic CEO who is directly causing reduced ticket sales and donations? The board is deliberately destroying the orchestra under the false pretense of fiscal prudence, and we and our children will be the poorer because of it.

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