Thursday, April 7, 2011

L'Adieu to the Arts?

"But something touched me deep inside,
         The day the music died..."
- Don McLean, "American Pie"

Frédéric Chopin

I'm immersed in thought over what is happening up on Captitol Hill today. The issue of a looming government shutdown is complex and wide reaching, yet how many of us truly realize what that means?

Most of us think it means simply that government offices will close (so what?), politicians will take a break (so what's new?), and maybe a few services will be curtailed (so what's a little more trash on the curb?). 

It seems so much more dire than that to me.

Deep cuts are being proposed to the national budget, many of which are essential to our economic recovery. No matter which side of the aisle your perspective comes from, we all see the need to monitor the ongoing escpades of lobbyists, special interests, and corporate potentates. Everything is up for debate, right?

Everything but the arts, please.

We're locked in struggle, a desperate uphill battle to restore some balance in our society, and this fight cannot be won unless and until we recognize that it cannot be restricted to commerce alone. It is also a battle for the very spirit of our nation...our ethos.

Enter the arts.

I spent a magnificent few days in our nation's capitol recently, and was astounded at the wealth of artistic treasures it contains. The National Gallery of Art is comprised of two beautiful buildings, one historic, the other of new, modern design.  Much of our nation's and world's art is preserved and displayed here.

"The" Smithsonian is not, as we know, one building, but a complex of the world's largest museum and research complex, with 19 museums, 9 research centers (and more than 140 affiliate museums around the world). A shutdown of this facility alone would affect thousands of individuals.

Symphony orchestras, dance companies, and theater groups would be on furlough along with the trash collectors. Is this really what we want for our country?

A free society can not legislate culture, but we can vow to protect it. We can acknowledge the purpose of art, to transcend the mundane and lift us up to the cerebral and ethereal nature of our souls. It fills a void and nourishes us. When we are most desperate, we find sustenance in art. The arts reflect our sadness and struggles, as well as our joys and triumphs. They are a mirror to our national soul.

We cannot live by politics alone. We can and must aspire to sustain beauty in our civilization, to replace noise with music, to insert poetry where there is debate, and to look bravely into a future filled with the beautiful, magificent, myriad reflections of our souls.

Please join me in sending messages of peaceful cooperation to Congress today.

Although I might have selected any number of American composers for this post, of course my favorite composer comes to mind. Chopin wrote this lovely waltz, "Waltz Opus 69 No. 1" in 1835 as a farewell gift to Maria Wodzińska, to whom he was engaged. Although Maria's parents agreed in principal to their engagement, her mother felt Chopin's health to be too frail, and they never married. Chopin died at the age of thirty-nine.

[Nearly half of Chopin's works are alive today because his sister disobeyed his deathbed request to burn his manuscripts which had not yet been published. Hooray for rebellious sisters!]

This melancholy waltz was one of those pieces published posthumously. Its nickname is "L'Adieu" or "The Farewell Waltz" and it is my very favorite piece of music. Ever. Not even Tiny Tim's "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" can compare. This version is played by the brilliant technician, Tzvi Erez. Enjoy.


  1. Excellent post. I can't agree more.

  2. Thanks so much, Tess. At times like these, it just sort of pours out. I have to make myself stop or I'll get totally carried away. Ugh.

  3. AMEN, AMEN and Hallelujah, Reya.

  4. Jo, take heart, Donald Trump has now got the second highest rating by Republican and Tea Party voters for the Republican presidential candidate nomination. What a wonderful world, I'm sure he will run. I've been a liberal for many years, but man, what a temptation to switch over so America could be run by such a force of intellect!

  5. Jo, YOU should run for President! Also Dubby, I agree, what a hoot, that would put a shock in Washington for sure and he loves the arts so they would be saved...

    Beautiful piece of music too...Love coming your way Madame Presidente'....

  6. Hi, Jo. Great post! On a personal note - my sister (from MA) and her family are planning on visiting DC around the 15th - my nephews are 8 and 10 - and they are so excited. Hope they aren't greeted with all the glorious things to do and see there - shut down.

  7. Vicki...I would mandate foreign language learning from Kindergarten through 9th grade, and also require students to learn at least one musical instrument (also K-9).

    I figure by the time they're in 9th grade, they'll be proficient enough at both to continue for a lifetime.

    Studies also show that learning music and foreign languages also raise scores in math and science...a win/win situation for our citizens! for ME!


  8. Thanks Kathy, when our boys were that age they had an incredible experience at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. I SO hope your nephews won't be denied the same great opportunity!

  9. Why is it the the arts are always the first to get the ax? Up here, in the schools, art, music and school libraries were all drastically cut in the last round. It puts the onus on us to promote and support museums, galleries and artists wherever and however we can....but it's unreal to think that we can go for long without government funding.


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