"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Friday, April 14, 2017

Some UMM memories increasingly precious

You will see a display by the entrance to the HFA Recital Hall at UMM. It's a fond look-back.
UMM's earliest history fades further into the past, an inevitable process as the institution moves through changes and new challenges. I look at today's faculty and think "my, they're young." I also think that when looking at policemen. "When did they start hiring kids to be policemen?" It has been said that the latter thought is a primary signal that you're getting old. "When did they start hiring kids to be physical therapists?"
I'm 62 years old and have qualified for Social Security. I am a boomer and thus not inclined to acknowledge much aging at all. But I'm 62 and can recall firsthand observations about some of the historical stuff preserved at the HFA. I'm talking about the UMM men's chorus. It was a pride and joy of my father Ralph.
The heyday of that chorus finally faded. Perhaps there were "political correctness" forces working against it. Maybe a gender-specific choir was no-go as the political sensitivities of the late '60s and '70s built.
Is it possible that "sacred" music was put aside too? Music that presumed a prevailing Christianity? I was college-age in the '70s and could easily see such a snubbing. I would never suggest a push for Christianity as some sort of preferred philosophy. But music is fundamentally art. Christian-oriented art springs from a pure artistic wellspring.
I began sensing a few years ago at UMM that it was no longer taboo to present sacred music. The argument is, I presume, that some of the most inspired art can have a Christian or otherwise religious theme. I realize that religion has caused tremendous strife around the globe. But brilliant art must be acknowledged. When you exclude Christian-themed or Christian-inspired music, the range of choices is thinned.
I have a theory that UMM and other institutions may have been forced to change because of African-American gospel singing that celebrated that culture's contributions to our American art and was Christian-themed. I could just see a conservative campus organization complaining if the gospel/spiritual stuff was allowed and even celebrated, while other comparable Christian expressions on campus might be snubbed.
I remember when UMM people were asked to have little exhibits prepared touting the accomplishments of their own - retirees included. These little displays are up annually for an exhibition. It looks like a high school science fair! I remember considering preparing one for my father. I was immediately concerned, though, about the heavily sacred theme of so much of my father's original (professionally published) music. So I wondered if I would need some sort of disclaimer message.
Seriously, I considered this: "Much of Ralph's music has a sacred/Christian underpinning, but the Williams family wants everyone to know we respect all the world's faiths." I suspected that such a message would be needed to make the little "science fair exhibit" (LOL) palatable. I ended up wondering if the message would be sufficient to make the display acceptable in the painstakingly secular (in my mind at the time) world of the U of M-Morris.
As many critics of mine have pointed out: "Brian, you think too much." I hope it's not a totally worthless quality.
I refrained from considering the display, only to realize as time went on: "UMM seems to not have these inhibitions anymore." I learned this partly through attending concerts at UMM. So I suppose I should have pursued the display.
But instead we have the quite terrific display at the entrance to the Recital Hall. It celebrates UMM's travels in the early 1960s, UMM's heady (bur fragile) early days.
My father took the men's chorus to two World's Fairs: Seattle and New York. I was along for the New York trip in 1964. We were on top of the world or so it seemed. Our chorus opened the Minnesota Day festivities at the Seattle World's Fair. This was in a time when Americans were terrified by the Cuban missile crisis. We got through that.
UMM got through its fragile early days to become the "jewel in the crown."
I have always felt a personal schism with UMM, as I could never really internalize everything the institution stood for. I felt intimidated by it. But today I'm at peace, knowing I can be accepted as a UMM supporter without myself having to be any sort of intellectual.
That men's chorus at the '64 Fair gave unique thrills with its sounds.
Listen to the golden sounds of the original UMM men's chorus by clicking on this link:
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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