CHATFIELD, MINN. — It’s been more than four years since then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty took a shot at the sheet music lending library in this pleasant community of 2,700 in southern Minnesota.
And folks here haven’t forgotten.
Pawlenty took a shot at the little music library in 2008 when he vetoed a bonding bill item that would have given the city $400,000 to move and upgrade the unique facility.
The governor singled out the library, from among the many items he struck from the bill, and criticized DFL Rep. Ken Tschumper, who ended up serving only one term.
“We’re going to have a sheet music museum, Rep. Tschumper? Is that the priorities for the state of Minnesota?” Pawlenty said on his radio show that spring. Republicans jumped on the bandwagon, so to speak, and attacked DFLers for the music library funding plan in the next cycle of elections.
The memory stings.
“We remember. You betcha,” said Carol Lenz, who plays clarinet in the Chatfield Brass Band.
“That was so mean,” said another resident.
Despite the slight, the music library keeps lending and the town’s brass band associated with it keeps performing, as if it doesn’t even matter what they say in St. Paul.
(Pawlenty made another Chatfield-related criticism in 2010, when he pooh-poohed plans to fund the city’s arts center. The Legislature wouldn’t expand a sex offender treatment program or homeland security facility, he said, “Yet they have money for an art or pottery facility in Chatfield.” It was quite a gaffe from the governor. There is no pottery facility; it’s the Potter Auditorium in the city’s arts center, which looks marvelous after much renovation.)
A return visit
I’d visited Chatfield in the spring of 2008, to write a story after Pawlenty’s veto, and found some bustling activity in the sheet music library’s modest cement building on the edge of town, next to the sewer plant. Thousands of pieces of music for flute, tuba, trombone and trumpet were being lent out each year to community bands around the country, and in Japan and Australia.
While visiting the town again last week, I wanted to see what’s changed at the Chatfield Brass Band Music Lending Library and while there, I lucked out and got a chance to listen in on a bit of the brass band’s practice session at the new elementary school, up on the hill.
Chatting briefly with several band members, I found some still feel Pawlenty distorted the issue to fit his political agenda. And by doing so, they said, a fine institution, doing the Lord’s work, or at least Sousa’s work, was badly maligned.
They still seem really perplexed at the negative rap aimed at the library, and by extension, the town.
Strike up the band
The town’s first band was organized in 1883 but had languished until it was revived in 1969 by Jim Perkins. Now it’s well-known in the region for its summer concerts in the town park, as well as holiday shows and special events.
The music library began in 1971 as an off-shoot of the community band. It was hard to find sheet music for the various instruments, so Perkins put out a call to high schools to send any unneeded music. Tons came in. They stored it first in Perkins’ garage, then at city hall. He did get a $50,000 grant in 1978 to build the current 3,000-square-foot facility on land Perkins donated.
By 2008, it was too small and outdated. But Pawlenty’s veto meant it wouldn’t move into the old school on Main Street.
Moving forward without public funds
Instead, they’ve worked hard at the old location to keep the operation running on a shoestring. The library is open only three days a week and the three employees each work 21 hours a week.
They need a new furnace and electrical work, but rather than relying on state aid, they’re working on seeking foundation grants, said Teresa Cerling, the library manager.
The library gets no ongoing public funding; they rely on donations and charge a handling fee when they lend music to bands.
We’re not talking big money: For a full set of music, there’s a $15 handling fee for members; $18 for non-members. (Annual membership cost run $15 to $100.)
Last year, the library had 700 orders, with 34,808 individual pieces of music checked out.
The previous year it was about 31,000 pieces.
One big improvement in recent years: the library’s collection is now listed in the SELCO (Southeastern Libraries Cooperating) system. That’s increased its reach and made it easier for bands to order music and for the library to lend.
Still, there are boxes and boxes of unsorted music sitting atop the old filing cabinets inside the drafty building, said Theresa Hayden, president of the band/library board.
And they aren’t looking for new music, at this time.
“We can’t accept anymore music; there’s the problem with space and we don’t have the money to pay staff to sort and catalog and file,” she said. “There are at least 1,000 boxes that we need to go through, so accepting more isn’t the right thing.
“Since that brouhaha with the governor, we did receive two large grants administered by SELCO to go through lots of boxes, enough to tell that we’ve made a dent.”
The library got some unexpected help last spring: a retired band conductor and his wife spent two weeks helping catalog music during the day and rehearsing with the band at night.
“They worked like crazy,” Cerling said. “We thought they’d want to do some sightseeing, but they just wanted to help up out.”