Monday, December 14, 2015

Arts and Community

My output will likely be down a bit this week because I have rehearsals every night and a performance Friday evening. I'm singing in a community chorus about 100 people who get together every other year to perform a big chunk of Handel's Messiah along with some other seasonal stuff.

We are all volunteers who have real jobs doing other things. I sing in a section with my doctor, a couple of students, my father-in-law, a psychologist-counselor, a few retired folks, including some who used to work building coal mining machinery. We'll be accompanied in performance by a small pick-up orchestra.

We'll perform in the town's one theater, a performance space that was purchased and reconditioned by the local community theater group about twenty years ago. If this goes like most years, the concert will be close to selling out.

For most of the people involved, this is a typical use of spare time. Many of the singers also sing in their church choir. For me, this is how I spend much of my off-duty time. I play in a 159-year-old town band-- concerts on the bandstand in the city park and everything-- that is also filled entirely by non-professional amateurs.  And I work with community theater, also loaded with people who have a real job, but who somehow seek out artistic activities in their lives.

Arts and music are under attack in many school systems. This is not new. They have always been under attack. It's just a little worse now that the forces of reformsterism have been busy stripping public schools of resources; when the budget gets tight, the arts always look like an easy target for destruction. 

The arts matter. We spend a lot of time trying to defend how they matter to individual students, how they enhance the school life of children throughout the system. But the arts matter more than that.

I live in a small place, a not-particularly-wealthy place. We don't have a paid symphony orchestra, a paid chorus, a paid regional theater.Sure, we can travel, or pop in a recording, or watch a video.

But the life of this community is also enriched by people who sing and play and perform and create, and do it all right here. This Friday we are not going to present the best rendering ever of the Messiah, but it will be damn good, and it will be live, and it will be here. Live matters in the arts. It always matters. Anybody who says differently should try kissing a picture of their beloved.

There is a richness and depth to the arts, live and in person and especially produced by members of your own community, that cannot be found anywhere else. The arts are good for students because students who have grown up in the arts are good for their communities, for their families, for their friends. The world is a better place for students who have grown up with understanding and abilities in the arts.

So stand up for the arts in your school system, not just because they are good for your students and your school, but because they are good for your entire community, for the world you live in. Reflect on that as the holiday season advances and we search for meaning in it the best way we know how-- not just through words or essays or speeches, but through the kind of deep and true expression that best comes through the arts.


  1. "My output will likely be down a bit this week...."

    Which means we'll only hear from you once or twice a day instead of three or four times? Bummer. ;-)

    Anyway, your activities sound wonderful. Break a leg.