Resonance Ensemble review: context counts

Portland composer's impressive choral composition eclipses concert's other programming

by TERRY ROSS

Be careful with your programming.

This advice would have been well heeded by Katherine FitzGibbon in putting together the June 24 concert of her choir Resonance Ensemble at Portland’s Yale Union. Instead, what might have been a cohesive program of music in support of the featured selection, a very well-crafted piece by a local composer, became a very mixed bag of good, bad, and boring music.

Resonance Ensemble’s Katherine FitzGibbon and composer Renée Favand-See. Photo: Rachel Hadiashar Photography.

The main attraction, Only in Falling, which Resonance commissioned and premiered in 2014, is a 25-minute essay in five parts, each a setting of verses by Kentucky poet Wendell Berry (b. 1934). The poetry itself is very strong in its evocation of nature, especially in the first three movements, and composer Renée Favand-See does it justice in short bursts of sensitive part-writing. The second movement, “For the Future,“ made skillful use of Resonance Ensemble’s seven male singers (eight were listed in the program), and the third, “Woods,” proved a lovely vehicle for mezzo-soprano Cecily Kiester.

The music was just as interesting and even beautiful in the fourth and fifth movements, but these suffered from an overload of text. The fourth, “The Law That Marries All Things,” is in five separate parts, and although soprano Lindsey Cafferky, tenor Les Green and baritone Kevin Walsh sang their solos convincingly, the music dragged out to nine minutes and failed to have the impact of the shorter opening three movements, which lasted a total of eight minutes together. And in movement five, “The Wheel,” the long text, declaimed rapidly, was utterly lost despite the efforts of Mr. Green and soprano Vakaré Petroliunaité.

Still, the overall effect of Ms. Favand-See’s piece is overwhelmingly positive; it shows a genuine composer’s gift in its melodies and structures, and one looks forward to its release on a recording soon. On the other hand, there is no excuse for presenting Nikole Potulsky’s amateurish and lame three-minute song “Baby Mine,” which the composer sang, accompanying herself (amateurishly) on guitar, on which her repertoire consisted of three chords (I-IV-V). However unfortunate it was that Ms. Potulsky was mourning the death of three babies — in her own miscarriage and in a friend’s and a cousin’s still-births — there’s no reason to allow empathy to overrule musical taste and judgment.


Video: Alan Niven, Wolf Traks.

In contrast, Dominick Di Orio’s five-minute You Do Not Walk Alone featured a very effective repeated gesture of pausing on a dissonant chord on the word “walk” before finally resolving into a consonance emphasizing the title’s message. And Steven Sametz’s I Have Had Singing, although only two minutes long, was an excellent setting of a wonderful quote from Ronald Blythe’s Akenfield, Portland of an English Village (1969), well worth printing here in its eloquent entirety:

The singing. There was so much singing then and this was my pleasure, too. We all sang, the boys in the field, the chapels were full of singing. Here I lie: I have had pleasure enough; I have had singing.

A piece called Last Letter Home by the well-known American choral composer Lee Hoiby (1926-2011) was skillful enough in its writing, but it dipped into bathos in quoting in full a soldier’s longish letter to his wife, and it consisted of seven unrelenting minutes of homophony, in which all the singers sang the text together in hymn-like harmony. Jake Runestad’s The Peace of Wild Things, on yet another text by Wendell Berry, also relied monotonously on homophony, although with occasional repetitions.

It remains to mention Oregon Symphony violinist Greg Ewer for a dandy version of J.S. Bach’s famous Chaconne (written for solo cello), although it seemed odd among its surroundings of choral music; soprano Kathleen Hollingsworth for her soulful concert-opening rendition of the spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” in its arrangement by Jester Hairston; and actor Vin Shambry’s three monologues. The first of these introduced, very briefly, Mr. Sametz’s piece; the third, also very brief, came before a concert-closing rendition of Johannes Brahms’s Geistliches Lied, Op. 30 (Sacred Song), in which the Resonance basses demonstrated a furry sound not evident before. Shambry’s second monologue, however, which opened the concert’s second half and came directly before Ms. Favand-See’s piece, was wildly off-target in its impersonation, in a slow, rhythmic rap style, of a Black Lives Matter screed about life on the ghetto’s mean streets and murderous cops, although blacks were not, to my recollection, specifically mentioned. This small bit of actorly free expression was desperately out of place and unwelcome in this setting.

Renée Favand-See’s piece deserved better, much better, than the on-again off-again programming of this concert.

Recommended recordings

• DiOrio
Soft Blink of Amber Light (Msr 1499), 2015.

• Runestad
Reincarnations: A Century of American Choral Music (Seraphic Fire Media 13), 2014.

• Bach Chaconne
Hilary Hahn, violin (YouTube), 1997.

• Hoiby
A Pocket of Time (Naxos 8.559375), 2009.

• Sametz
I Have Had Singing, Chanticleer (Arsis 161), 1994.

• Favand-See, Only in Falling
to be recorded soon

• Brahms Geistliche Lied
Brahms & Bruckner: Motets, Tenebrae, Nigel Short conducting (Signum Classics SIGCD430), 2015.

Terry Ross is a Portland freelance journalist and the director of The Classical Club, through which he offers classical music appreciation sessions. He can be reached at classicalclub@comcast.net.

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58 Responses. Have your say.

  1. Jeff Winslow says:

    I have to disagree about two of the works presented.

    Di Orio’s device of pausing on “walk”, so that again and again we heard “you do not walk”, made me think I was standing at a crosswalk waiting for the light to change, demonstrating a classic pitfall of text setting. Nor was I impressed by the rather graceless treatment of diatonic dissonance. (Have preparation and resolution totally gone out of fashion in the choral composition world?)

    While I struggled to understand every word in Shambry’s rapid-fire second monolog, and did also wonder how it related to the theme of Renée’s work – was there a mother’s perspective on the black victims that I missed? – I couldn’t deny that, as in his other monologs, he was utterly convincing. To go from this to a comforting reading of the English translation of a mid-19th century German religious text is no small feat!

  2. John says:

    I have some ?s for the reviewer regarding his criticism of the monologues:
    1.What evoked Black Lives Matter for you, particularly if black people weren’t mentioned?
    2.Re: your use of the word “screed”- Is there a particular tedious nature that you associate with art related to Black Lives Matter? Or was it the material itself?
    3.You seem to suggest that the material could have been more palatable if the actor had made a different choice. What choice did the actor make that made the monologue desperately out of place and unwelcome?

    • bob priest says:

      You pose some excellent questions that will almost certainly go unanswered. With VERY RARE exceptions, critics don’t believe in responding to their critics. Why? Heck, ask them & be prepared for more silence . . .

      • bob priest says:

        PS
        For an absolutely stellar example of the type of exchange that CAN exist between critics & composers, Google up:
        “Views on Reviews: a composer and a critic square off”

  3. As someone who has worked many years focused on making Portland’s classical music scene a more diverse and welcoming space for genres outside of itself, I am doubly appalled at your willingness to dictate what should and shouldn’t be included on a “classical” music concert. I was moved both by the provocative piece Mr. Shambry performed as well as the beautiful, poignant song of Nikole Potulsky. I thought Shambry’s opening to the 2nd act was totally on point and well within the theme of pain and transformation.

    I understand that art is subjective, so I respect a differing opinion. HOWEVER, and more importantly, what does anything he performed that evening have to do with the Black Lives Matter movement? What text are pulling from for the ghettos/murderous cops reference, for that matter? This presumption, especially, within your criticism leaves me incredibly uncomfortable.

  4. Damien says:

    Mr. Ross,

    Be careful with your reviewing.

    I would think that it is the responsibility of the reviewer to do a little more research, dig a little deeper, perhaps have a conversation with those involved in this eloquent program before making false statements that feed the toxic cancer that is racism in a place where it does not belong – the arts. For the times they are a-changin, and the leadership of this ensemble sees this change and adapts to not only stay relevant, but to further the cause of social justice, and of course to produce high quality music, something I think we both can agree. I wish you had thought a little more about your words. This was an irresponsible and careless review of a very well crafted program.

  5. We are troubled by the macro- and microaggressions against Vin Shambry’s piece “Brother Man.” We write to ask Ross and Oregon Arts Watch to consider the language and ideas they published and to invite our arts community to engage in dialogue about who is in charge of whose art, who decides what is welcome (especially in “classical” music performances), and how we can empower the arts community and, especially, the next generation to represent and witness many voices and perspectives.

    There were a shocking number of problematic statements in the two sentences Ross wrote about “Brother Man.” To call it an “impersonation” implies a kind of caricature or something inauthentic, which follows in the long tradition of minstrelsy and of rendering black performances as inferior to white performances. Vin’s piece was a genuine statement of his own perspective, his daily perspective which is informed by being a man of color living in our predominantly white city and in this time in the United States. Ross cannot understand Vin’s perspective – no one can fully understand another person’s perspective – so to label it as an “impersonation” devalues it and sets it aside.

    Second, Vin’s sung performance had nothing to do with “rap style.” Rap incorporates “rhyme, rhythmic speech, and street vernacular” (Keyes 2004:1). It is astounding that Ross would lump this performance into the category of rap.

    Third, this also had nothing to do with Black Lives Matter, which is an entire movement with a specific set of goals. Again, “Brother Man” expressed Vin’s personal feelings and his experience of daily life.

    Fourth, Ross refers to the “ghetto’s mean streets” and “murderous cops,” neither of which stereotypes figured whatsoever in Vin’s piece.

    Fifth, Ross writes that “blacks were not, to my recollection, specifically mentioned.” Ross’s tone when he refers to “blacks” is not only off-putting but suggests that the experience of all African-Americans, Africans, and African-Caribbeans are the same (and linked with the “ghetto” and “mean streets”).

    And if “blacks” were not specifically mentioned (in point of fact, there is a single mention of “men of color” in the piece), then why did he conclude that the piece was in the manner of a Black Lives Matter “screed”?

    Sixth, and most devastatingly, Ross concludes, “This small bit of actorly free expression was desperately out of place and unwelcome in this setting.” This statement troubled and angered us such that we feel the need to affirm how welcome Vin’s perspective was and is, in the world of classical music and whatsoever. We affirm that concert and theater performances are richer and deeper when they are inclusive of many points of view, both aesthetically and psychologically. (Ross also criticized other styles that were not classically choral, as in his remarks about the inclusion of singer-songwriter Nikole Potulsky, an artist with a national reputation who is just coming off a sold-out solo show in Portland). It seems that Ross has a narrow understanding of what “belongs” on a classical music concert, and indeed, an understanding that does not reflect the fundamental mission of Resonance Ensemble, one of collaboration with many styles, art forms, and communities. We believe that art can provoke and move its listeners. Clearly, Mr. Ross felt provoked by and uncomfortable with the inclusion of Vin’s piece, and we ask him to consider why it did not feel “welcome.”

    The silver lining is that this review has galvanized us to develop several new collaborations to celebrate the potential of theater and classical music to share underrepresented perspectives; showcase the work of actors, singers, composers, and directors of color; and show young people in particular that the worlds of classical music and theater do welcome all of us. We are developing an experimental theater and music piece with Vin, Resonance Ensemble and the Artists Repertory Theatre that will seek to show Vin’s inner thoughts as he walks through Portland as a man of color. We are each continuing and expanding initiatives that reach out to students and families of color. And we hope to continue to reach out to our arts community through our intentional programming choices, panel discussions, and other forms of engagement to continue to help Portland become a more welcoming and compassionate place.

    Sincerely,
    Vin Shambry and Katherine FitzGibbon

    • Jeff Winslow says:

      With regard to the Potulsky song, I respectfully submit that having a sold-out show and a national reputation is no defense. A decision to include should be based on the music itself, not popularity.

      Her song had one sweet hook, but there was nothing in the otherwise unremarkable melody and simplistic (and incongruously sunny) harmony that would have gotten across the poignancy of the words if they were played by themselves. That’s fine in pop concerts, where the weight of meaning is carried by the lyrics, but there’s a tougher standard in the classical racket. Even in a choral concert, where text is so important, much more is expected from the music. (Granted, it’s not always delivered, but that’s a different problem and it’s also likely to be the composer’s fault.)

      P.S. I’m confused after reading all these comments about Vin’s second monolog. Is there any way we can watch a video of it, live? I certainly understood the subject was as described above (whether the word “black” was included anywhere or not), but I don’t remember any singing and I was indeed reminded of hip-hop delivery, which seemed appropriate at the time.

      • bob priest says:

        I couldn’t possibly agree more with your first paragraph. But, hey, some folkz tend to believe that “billions and billions sold” somehow means they should line up at the trough for another helping.

        • Katherine FitzGibbon says:

          Jeff and Bob, point well taken! Our intention in citing Nikole’s reputation was to comment on the word “amateurish” in the review. I respect the critic’s, and your, differing opinions on the aesthetic merit of her simple lullaby melody (which, yes, comes from a pop tradition than a classical one).

          Personally, I found it really affecting, and I thought the contrast between the sunny lullaby and the absence of a living baby in the text rendered it more effective. But that’s the beauty of art — we can all have our own opinions!

  6. Katherine FitzGibbon says:

    A link to the video of Vin’s performance is here:

    • Jeff Winslow says:

      Wow.

      Well that just shows how deceptive memory can be. And I understood all the words perfectly this time! (No doubt with the help of the microphones’ perspective.) Thanks so much for posting.

      • Bob Hicks says:

        Nice to see this video; wish I’d seen the performance live. I like both the piece and the delivery. It seems to me more rooted in the traditions of field songs and spirituals than rap. Playing the long game, briefly. I can see how it might fit with Wendell Berry’s interest in elemental matters. Not just the land, but how we use it. Not just the people, but how they’re treated.

        • John says:

          Wow. Great performance, Vin. I am stunned to find that the review was even more off the mark than I imagined.

        • Katherine FitzGibbon says:

          Thanks, Bob. I loved the piece and the delivery as well.

          The question of genre and style is especially challenging. As Vin and I wrote last week, this was a personal expression not designed to evoke a particular genre or style. And my “music professor self” wants to educate about these distinct genres. Rap and hip-hop are both very specific terms, neither of which seem appropriate for defining this (if it even needs to be defined). Again, rap is entirely spoken, usually rhymed and rhythmic. Hip-hop is a whole culture, and some hip-hop music has rap (though some does not). Hip-hop music originally had DJ-ing and scratching with a turntable, and modern hip-hop has beats and sampling, now accomplished through electronic means. It wouldn’t be a term associated with this kind of a cappella delivery.

          The tough question I hope people will ask themselves is — why would rap or hip-hop be terms people would attach to Vin’s performance? Would people have chosen those terms if the same performance had been done by a white performer?

          • Jeff Winslow says:

            First let me say, as will probably be obvious to anybody who knows the subject, my knowledge of hip-hop is rudimentary at best. I used “hip-hop delivery” generically, simply to avoid detailed terminology I know little about.

            Hip-hop is no doubt a descendant of older African-American music, such as the field songs and spirituals mentioned above, but unlike that music, it’s much in the air and associated with black culture today. Also, it’s frequently challenging to the dominant white culture and Vin’s monolog was also, by implication, and appropriately so. I can’t speak for “attaching to”, but being “reminded of” one by the other hardly seems a matter for tough questions – unless one believes there’s something notably unsavory about hip-hop.

            It’s a new music concert, isn’t it? As long as it remains interesting, challenge belongs, indeed, it’s expected.

    • Sarah Whitten says:

      What a beautiful, compelling, powerful, heartfelt piece.

    • Rachel Portnoy says:

      Wow.

      This was moving and relevant and powerful.

      Ross is WAY off base.

  7. Katie Watkins says:

    I would love to know from the editors at ArtsWatch how this review was allowed to be posted with the language around Mr. Shambry’s performance being so blatantly racist. Was this reviewed before it was posted? What is the argument for allowing this type of “review” to be posted?

    • Kirby Jay says:

      Yes, I too demand to know how this publication allowed this critic to publish his opinions, some of which I disagree with!

  8. Megan Elliott says:

    First off, I really appreciate the thoughtful dialogue that has come out of a review that, to me, has overtly crossed the line from critical to downright offensive. It makes me proud to be a part of this musical community, to see people speaking up, whether or not this personally affects them. As a choral conductor and practicing music therapist, I feel the need to speak up about “Baby Mine”. Regardless what this reviewer feels about it or how many chords it has or whatever else, I think it’s important to note that that song is meaningful to a lot of people, for significant emotional reasons. Whether our parents sang it to us as kids, or we sing/sang it to OUR kids, or in the composer’s case, it’s part of GRIEVING our kids, the fact that Mr. Ross felt the need to dismiss the latter reason as an “empathetic” programming choice is really upsetting to me, and insulting to anyone who has experienced such a loss. If we’re not using music from a place of emotion, and especially to emotionally reach out to, and hopefully touch our audience, then what are we doing? That’s certainly not a music world that I would want to be a part of. It also takes bravery (and certainly NOT amateurishness) to emotionally open up to an audience through music, the way Ms. Potulsky did, and it’s quite a shame that it was so callously dismissed in this review. OR Arts Watch, I KNOW you can do better than this.

    • Megan Elliott says:

      Slight correction: I wasn’t able to attend the concert and just realized that the song in discussion was a different one than what I was originally thinking of, which I was thinking the composer had a different arrangement of. My fault! However, my overall point has not changed. 🙂

    • Jeff Winslow says:

      I agree that the paramount consideration is to touch the audience. Very likely this song, which I also agree was not amateurish but an accomplished pop song, touched a large fraction of the audience, and in that respect it succeeded. However I, probably Terry and no doubt others, found it jarring and incongruous, precisely because it did NOT emotionally reach me despite its obvious intentions. (I speculate on the musical reasons above.)

      It may seem unfair, but it’s not enough just to be brave, to have needs, to be earnest and sincere and have the best of intentions, to reach an audience. You have to create some kind of magic. For some it’ll work, for some it won’t, and whatever side of that (usually murky) divide a reviewer finds themselves on, they have to call it like they hear it. It’s not therapy, it’s just a concert.

      • Megan says:

        Hi Jeff! I definitely see your point, and did not mean to imply that a concert be treated as music therapy or any sort of therapy. And I totally respect that what’s a good fit for one listener may be a really bad fit for another, including a reviewer. The way it was conveyed just left a bad taste in my mouth. For similar reasons as described in the above conversations. 🙂 Glad to see the comment thread still buzzing!

  9. Fire Terry Ross for his racist dismissal of Vin Shambry’s work. Unacceptable.

    • bob priest says:

      This is a very good time to remember that such incredibly loaded & potentially life imperilling terms/accusations as:

      + racist
      + stalker/predator
      + rapist
      + abuser (spouse, child, parent)
      + pedophile
      + witch hunt
      + nazi
      + trumpkkkin :)))
      etc . . .

      can & SHOULD be applied on a carefully gradated “sliding scale.”

      My overall sense is that demonizing Terry Ross to the degree that some people have been doing here is “a bit” much.

      • Liz says:

        You are absolutely right, Mr. Priest.

        Words carry power – and people need to think carefully when they use words – especially when those words are racist and classist.

        The reaction to this criticism is the result of the inappropriate use of words. Nothing more.

        The only thing that is “a bit” much are HIS words, not ours.

        • bob priest says:

          Glad we agree that words carry power – sometimes potentially career &/or life imperilling.
          Sadly, we don’t seem to agree that the loaded terms I list above should be applied with more nuanced gradations on the “sliding scale” I propose.
          If I am understanding you correctly, Terry’s words are either racist or they aren’t. Period. Black or white (no pun intended), right? After all, a racist is a racist is racist, right again?
          Oh well . . .

  10. Siri says:

    And just to nitpick, “Bach’s famous Chaconne” was not written for solo cello. It is the final movement of the Partita in D minor for solo violin (BWV 1004). This seems like an, uh, amateurish mistake for a classical music reviewer to make.

    • bob priest says:

      I look forward to OAW officially weighing-in on how they view an editor’s role (“blame”) when an inflammatory &/or factually inaccurate review makes it into print.

  11. Mr. Ross,

    Your time may have come. Possibly not; but you are being asked to think beyond the paradigm that placed you and your kind center stage in determining what was “good” and “bad” in the musical arts. The chair’s been toppled, and the makers of music — and change — are forcing all of us, God bless ’em, to question all earlier qualifications of artistic value.

    This is a hard change for older white men. Add “critic” to the qualifications, with its presumed (and assumed) authority, and the potential for an observer and commenter to be hide-bound and fossilized soars.

    I’m not going to try and talk you out of your opinion, Mr. Ross.

    I will say that describing Vin Shambry’s performance as “wildly off-target in its impersonation, in a slow, rhythmic rap style,” was factually inaccurate and indicative of an artists’ observer whose time has perhaps passed.

    Describing Mr. Shambry’s spoken word piece as a “Black Lives Matter screed about life on the ghetto’s mean streets and murderous cops,” is a profound indicator not of what Mr. Shambry said, but of what you HEARD At no point was this piece associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, nor was the “ghetto” nor “murderous cops” mentioned. You watched an African American man speak his piece, a comment on his experience as a man of color in America; you decided it was a Black Lives Matter polemic. “Polemic” is of course “an attack on someone or something”; your critique smacked of fear — fear of being toppled; fear of this tidale wave of change, so unknown to you; fear of being irrelevant. You should have used “polemic,” I think, to describe your reaction: THAT would have been accurate.

    Instead you used “screed,” which is just as telling: “a long speech or piece of writing, typically one regarded as tedious.” We often, when terrified, seek to diminish what we fear. Though your reporting on the piece was nothing but inaccurate, your word choices tell a terrible truth.

    You concede that “blacks were not, to my recollection, specifically mentioned.”

    “Blacks”? Really? You couldn’t spare the word count to write “African American men,” or “Black people” or “culture”? As well, your decision to not capitalize “Black” is again telling. The Chicago Manual of Style allows capitalization of the author or publication prefers it; dictionaries allow both upper- and lower-case treatments. You had a choice. You chose lower-case. The New York Times disagrees: http://nyti.ms/2t8RQwU. You. Chose. Lower. Case.

    That will not stop the tidal wave of change from sweeping in, sir.

    You conclude “This small bit of actorly free expression was desperately out of place and unwelcome in this setting.” Mr. Ross, nearly every word in this sentence seeks to diminish the work and the actor. “Small bit,” “actorly” “free expression” all condescend, while “desperately out of place” attempts to characterize the work as unseemly in a nice parlor where good people site quietly and listen to harmonious music. Finally, you describe the piece, and the performer, as “unwelcome.”

    Look at the horizon. See the rising tide? It’s rolling in, and it’s going to leave every nice parlor with the chairs overturned and the vases afloat. A movement can never be small, and a lion-hearted artist like Mr. Shambry cannot be diminished by a whisper from bygone times. We live in disharmonious times, Mr. Ross. We are going to be tossed on the rocks of our old conceptions.

    “Welcome” has no more to do with whether artists like Mr. Shambry will continue to pace the room, speaking their heartbeat, and raise armies with their words, any more than we can describe a wuthering wind as welcome. It will blow in, ahead of that wave, and push notions like “welcome” and “unwelcome” aside without a backwards glance.

    Mr. Ross. Your opinion doesn’t matter anymore. We all know what a Greek tragedy is, don’t we: it’s when everyone but the lead knows they’re already extinct. The dinosaurs faced the same dilemma: the scaled reptiles fell somewhere, while others defended turf they’d already lost elsewhere, not knowing that in moments, relatively speaking, their bones would be oil.

  12. Mr. Ross,

    Your time may have come. Possibly not; but you are being asked to think beyond the paradigm that placed you and your kind center stage in determining what was “good” and “bad” in the musical arts. The chair’s been toppled, and the makers of music — and change — are forcing all of us, God bless ’em, to question all earlier qualifications of artistic value.

    This is a hard change for older white men. Add “critic” to the qualifications, with its presumed (and assumed) authority, and the potential for an observer and commenter to be hide-bound and fossilized soars.

    I’m not going to try and talk you out of your opinion, Mr. Ross.

    I will say that describing Vin Shambry’s performance as “wildly off-target in its impersonation, in a slow, rhythmic rap style,” was factually inaccurate and indicative of an artists’ observer whose time has perhaps passed. First, it was not an “impersonation,” which implies the artist was acting, rather than performing autobiographically — as though you couldn’t imagine such a well-spoken man enduring such a life. And I can only ask, impersonating who? Secondly, dear God: classifying any African American’s spoken performance as “rap” is ignorant at least, and racist at best.

    Describing Mr. Shambry’s spoken word piece as a “Black Lives Matter screed about life on the ghetto’s mean streets and murderous cops,” is a profound indicator not of what Mr. Shambry said, but of what you HEARD At no point was this piece associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, nor was the “ghetto” nor “murderous cops” mentioned. You watched an African American man speak his piece, a comment on his experience as a man of color in America; you decided it was a Black Lives Matter polemic. “Polemic” is of course “an attack on someone or something”; your critique smacked of fear — fear of being toppled; fear of this tidal wave of change, so unknown to you; fear of being irrelevant. You should have used “polemic,” I think, to describe your reaction: THAT would have been accurate.

    Instead you used “screed,” which is just as telling: “a long speech or piece of writing, typically one regarded as tedious.” We often, when terrified, seek to diminish what we fear. Though your reporting on the piece was nothing but inaccurate, your word choices tell a terrible truth.

    You concede that “blacks were not, to my recollection, specifically mentioned.”

    “Blacks”? Really? You couldn’t spare the word count to write “African American men,” or “Black people” or “culture”? As well, your decision to not capitalize “Black” is again telling. The Chicago Manual of Style allows capitalization of the author or publication prefers it; dictionaries allow both upper- and lower-case treatments. You had a choice. You chose lower-case. The New York Times disagrees: http://nyti.ms/2t8RQwU. You. Chose. Lower. Case.

    That will not stop the tidal wave of change from sweeping in, sir.

    You conclude, “This small bit of actorly free expression was desperately out of place and unwelcome in this setting.” Mr. Ross, nearly every word in this sentence seeks to diminish the work and the actor. “Small bit,” “actorly” “free expression” all condescend, while “desperately out of place” attempts to characterize the work as unseemly in a nice parlor where good people site quietly and listen to harmonious music. Finally, you describe the piece, and the performer, as “unwelcome.”

    Look at the horizon. See the rising tide? It’s rolling in, and it’s going to leave every nice parlor with the chairs overturned and the vases afloat. A movement can never be small, and a lion-hearted artist like Mr. Shambry cannot be diminished by a whisper from bygone times. We live in disharmonious times, Mr. Ross. We are going to be tossed on the rocks of our old conceptions.

    “Welcome” has no more to do with whether artists like Mr. Shambry will continue to pace the room, speaking their heartbeat, and raise armies with their words, any more than we can describe a wuthering wind as welcome. It will blow in, ahead of that wave, and push notions like “welcome” and “unwelcome” aside without a backwards glance.

    Mr. Ross. Your opinion doesn’t matter anymore. We all know what a Greek tragedy is, don’t we: it’s when everyone but the lead knows they’re already extinct. The dinosaurs faced the same dilemma: the scaled reptiles fell somewhere, while others defended turf they’d already lost elsewhere, not knowing that in moments, relatively speaking, their bones would be oil.

    • bob priest says:

      Seems like you are so enamored with your “treatise” that posting it twice was called for.

      Levity aside, there are plenty of points & supreme examples of nitpickery above that we could banter back ‘n’ forth ‘n’ back again. But, for now, I’ll just pick two:

      1 – Now that Mr. Ross & “his kind” are being toppled, I would really like to know what you believe the “new & improved” music critic of today & tomorrow will (must?) sound like. Or, should we simply do away with critics entirely? After all, some seem to believe that all opinions are equal, yes?

      2 – Actually, Mr. Ross’s opinions matter plenty or you & “your kind” wouldn’t be so generous in your attempts to demonize & shout them down.

      Ultimately, I appreciate the time you took to air your concerns here & believe you should probably thank Mr. Ross for catalyzing you to deliver such a mighty & sustained “screed.”

      • I posted my remarks twice because there were typos I wanted to correct. There are still typos which embarrass me, but I’m going to let them go.

        1. I am not concerned with who replaces Mr. Ross, but how Mr. Ross responds to clear shifts in the arts that embrace a paradigm he’s not familiar with, nor responding to well. That I am not thinking about the answer to your question does not imply there is not an answer; it was, though, not the question I was asking.

        2. HIs opinions don’t matter to the extent that they will stop change. This was my point. In other ways they do matter in that they promulgate an old-school, white patriarchal valuation of arts’ merits, which is regardless changing under his feet. But that wasn’t the focus of my comment.

        3. I don’t need to thank Mr. Ross for my catalysis; this exists freestanding. Ending your comment with a passive-aggressive insult merely makes you look like a dick.

        • bob priest says:

          Well, Mary, I could easily counter your male anatomy grossity with a female equivialent but my guess is that you can well imagine what such a uselessly provocative term might be. Wear it well & grow up.

          PS
          Nobody cares about your typos, it’s the “substance” of your “screed” that troubles me & possibly a few others.

          PPS
          Do you have any familiarity with the particulars of The Salem Witch Trials &/or The McMartin pre-school debacle?

          Yeah, didn’t think so.

    • Jeff Winslow says:

      Bravo! Great speech!!

      I’m serious, but as it happens, this 62 year old white male reviewer isn’t exactly quaking in his boots. You overplay your hand when you try to take the discussion from a discussion of one reviewer’s biases to a discussion of “all earlier qualifications of artistic value” and invocations of rising tides rolling in. You yourself, barely noticeable typos aside, apparently spent considerable effort crafting your speech. I’m sure, from the effectiveness of Vin Shambry’s presentation, that he also highly values craft. As long as that kind of respect for craft exists, qualifications of artistic value won’t change all that drastically.

      Now it’s a hot afternoon, in a couple of different ways. Who’s up for a cooling walk on the beach, watching the tide roll in? Sounds good to me.

      • “I’m sure, from the effectiveness of Vin Shambry’s presentation, that he also highly values craft. As long as that kind of respect for craft exists, qualifications of artistic value won’t change all that drastically.”

        I’d like to know more what you mean here: I don’t understand it.

        Sadly, you’re wrong about the time and energy it takes me to craft my thoughts on topics like this. I tapped it out on my laptop while waiting for my iPhone screen to be replaced at the Apple Store. I say “sadly” because the this topic, and related issues, often present themselves and as such participating in the discussion takes no more time than the time it takes to type it. Hence the typos, which never won’t embarrass me.

  13. Kyle Martin says:

    Let me get this straight… a “critic” shows up to an obvious community performance and instead of offering actual criticism (of which, why would you? How much were tickets to this event? Did they present themselves as a professional group of performers? What professional critic goes to community based performance?), calls one performance “lame” and declares another piece of art as unwelcome…? Give me a break.

    Mr. Ross, Would you like to know what is unwelcome? Your attitude. You know what is lame? Your attempt at scholarly critique that is full of opinion about the quality of performance and completely lacking in the substance of the meaning of the performance and its poignancy.

    To call a performance of music as amateurish when a person is bearing the raw pain of loss might be accurate in a basic sense, but the entire point of art is to make the audience feel. Was the performance effective? Did she succeed in conveying her intended message while making you feel your own emotions about the subject? Then she succeeded in making art. Perhaps the discord of her guitar signified something? Was it an intentional choice? If yes then obviously you missed the performer’s entire performance. If not however, then no shit Sherlock: it sounded amateurish. She is obviously new at that specific form of expression. Calling her out for this obvious low hanging fruit and in such a callous way doesn’t challenge her to improve. It says you deem her unworthy to try. Instead of picking her up, or at a minimum citing areas where she can improve or where she failed to achieve her intention, you lamented her medium with the most tedious of complaints possible: that it was amateurish. The only thing about the performance and your response that could possibly be deemed amateurish is your pathetic attempt at critique, but I digress.

    Sir, having watched the entire night’s performances it is beyond clear to me what the point of the evening was: stories of the human experience. The bathos you complain of in Last Letter Home is actually quite fitting. You might not know this if you never served in the military but bathos is one of the most important methods of management of stress a soldier has when facing excruciating fear. You might have taken the time to wonder at its inclusion, but that seems to be a theme with you: refusing to question if a quality of the performance is intentional. Allow me to educate you in this moment: bathos within this letter absolutely was intentional.

    Now with regard to Vin Shambry’s performance, allow me to tell you what exactly you missed: connecting with another’s experience as they attempted to share.

    I can understand this unfortunate circumstance, not everyone has the empathy given to most three year olds. Not everyone cares for the experiences of others. Not everyone likes the “Blacks” (as you so callously refer to the Black Community, African Americans, People of Color, ect). While unfortunate, none of those attributes are required to be a citizen of this country, and therefore receive the protections of the 1st Amendment. That being said, while the 1st protects your right to speech, it does not protect you from the repercussions of your speech, nor does it guarantee you an audience whenever you feel like opening the dumpster you call your mouth. You piece exposes either your extreme White Privilege, or something far more ominous.

    In short, your review of the Resonance Ensemble exposed you for what you truly are: at best a privileged ignorant buffoon who has some talent in singing (I looked you up to see what made you feel qualified in the first place to offer these critiques and found your own involvement in choir ensembles) and at worst a not so subtle, angry racist miffed at the fact that a chant style performance (a very valid form of expression in a choral setting) would be taken up by a Black man whose voice, tenor, and presence succeeded and was felt throughout the entire space.

    Either reason would disqualify you as a valid critic worthy of consideration. Do you know what that makes you? A cranky little troll attempting to belittle and diminish those you deem unworthy. The unfortunate fact however is that despite the obvious fact of your true troll nature, you are still given reputable space to spew and an audience to absorb your diatribes.

    I would encourage your publishers and editors (whose judgement also has to be questioned: who thought it was a good idea to publish this steaming pile of shit as it was written?) to reconsider the privileges they have mistakenly granted such a troll because currently they are nothing more than enabling abuse, privilege, and racism.

    (Do you now see the difference between valid critique and ad hominem trolling horseshit? One hopes)

  14. bob priest says:

    Name call much?

    • Kyle Martin says:

      I write what I felt was a well reasoned and informed response, and only ever said (at the very end of my post) that he was either a privileged ignorant buffoon or a not so subtle angry racist and then proceeded to call him a cranky little troll. (My 8 year old has better insults) And out of everything I said, including where I specifically point out the difference between critique and ad hominem attacks (which my name calling would certianly be, if it weren’t for the fact that I question the motives of the writer and used my statement as an example of attacking the argument vs attacking the person but let’s just say, for the sake of argument that I engaged in ad hominem, sometimes you have to let a buffoon know of their buffoonary), and all you can come back with is “name call much?”

      I had hoped for more. I expected better. I’m hurt.

      Maria, I don’t know who you are directing the “troll much” at, so I will reserve comment until I better understand your argument.

      Bob, what words were misused in your opinion? If you believe you have been mischaracterized as a troll perhaps a more precise understanding of your position might help alleviate that belief. You first agree with a person critiquing the critique then question other’s various critiques of the article. It is the type of behavior that a troll engages in, however for the most part you have been a bit more well spoken than the average one. You certainly don’t owe anyone here an explination of your intent or positions, but at a minimum I will say it is hard to guess at your intentions and easy to believe them trollish in nature due to your previous statements. I will await further activity on your part before I make up my mind.

      • Mary McDonald-Lewis says:

        I’m confident Ms. Chicano was replying to Priest.

        • Mary McDonald-Lewis says:

          Ms CHOBAN, of course, is who I meant. An interesting, but inaccurate, autocorrect.

          • Maria Choban says:

            Thanks, Mary. I did indeed direct my “troll much?” to Bob Priest. I did not stutter when I hit the reply button under Priest’s comment. I think both you, Mary, and Kyle Martin have captured and articulated my own anger at the OP, Terry Ross. Although I’ve never had to deal with overt 24/7/365 racism, I did have “Greasy Greek” chanted at me by my school “friends” for about 2 weeks in 4th grade when I’d board the school bus. And just that little bit of exposure to racist insults resulted in initial confusion within (I was a pretty quiet kid who thought I got along with everyone), to uncontrollable anger directed first at me (for not responding to my “friends”) and over the years to anyone who looks/feels like those “friends.” I’ve never been able to cool down enough to parse my anger in a rational way. Thank you so much for helping me Both of you wrote what I couldn’t untangle and now maybe I have a shot at healing and doing something less reactive with my explosions. Yes, I’m Greek, not Hispanic.

          • bob priest says:

            I would prefer posting this directly to Maria but there is no reply option underneath her post.

            Thanx for finally coming aboard with some of your painful & valuable impressions – they are most welcome & helpful within a thread of this nature.

      • bob priest says:

        Kyle: If you find my posts to be examples of being “a bit more well spoken than the average” troll, so be it. I stand behind what I’ve written above & imagine that some folkz here might get where I’m coming from.

        As for your initial “screed,” your name-calling is both direct & slightly indirect/oblique:

        + no shit Sherlock
        + the dumpster you call your mouth
        + not everyone has the empathy given to most three year olds
        + spew
        + steaming pile of shit
        + ad hominem trolling horseshit

        I’ll add that your fairly extreme condescension is a not-too-distant cousin of name-calling, as well.

        That you &/or others here simply insist on demonizing “racist” Terry & “racist enablers” Oregon Arts Watch in ways that troublingly come across as “black or white,” let me refer you back to what I wrote earlier about how such incredibly loaded & potentially life-imperilling terms/accusations as “racist” (etc) can & SHOULD be applied on a carefully gradated “sliding scale.”

        Now, unless someone here has a truly new perspective on this “debate,” maybe we should stifle-it-up a tad until after the editors @ Oregon Arts Watch weigh-in with their stance. I imagine we are all equally curious as to where they stand &/or fall on this matter, pravda?

        • Kyle Martin says:

          Oh Bob,

          You really need to learn the differences between the types if ad hominem attacks: name calling and insults for a start.

          I only called him two names, but I insulted him directly and indirectly multiple times. The beauty is that an indirect insult isn’t considered ad hominem if done correctly. You have multiple times in your “screeds” (a term you seem quite fond of, time to open the dictionary and learn some new ones) indirectly insulted the person you are adressing. Let us not pretend any of us are perfectly on the side of the angels here.

          And I totally agree that words how power and accusations such as racism should be applied on a sliding scale. Notice how I accused him of being at best a privileged ignorant buffoon or at worst a not so subtle angry racist? That would be applying that sliding scale you are so fond of. I didn’t say he was a racist, only that his actions lead me to believe he is either a privileged ignorant buffoon or a not so subtle angry racist. See the difference?

          As for your point by point analysis of my “name calling” I called him Sherlock. Ok, is that an insult now?

          Saying the dumpster he calls his mouth isn’t name calling, its an insult.

          • Kyle Martin says:

            (Stupid phone posted my unfinished response for some reason, sorry about that)

            How much more oblique could someone get than by making that observation that not everyone has the empathy given to most three year olds. Even if I had said that HE doesn’t have the empathy… it still wouldn’t be name calling, but another insult.

            You get to call other’s critiques a screed but I don’t get to call his speech spew? That seems like an epic double standard, regardless, that is me attacking his argument, not him.

            I called his article a steaming pile of shot. How is that name calling against him? I insulted his written work, certianly, but again that’s an attack against his article not him.

            Lastly “ad hominem horseshit” is again directed at his piece, not him directly. Seriously, how are you so touchy as to not see the difference between name calling and insults, and when direcing an insult or an attact against at a person vs their work?

            And I chose to name call/insult in my response to him because he chose to name call/insult in his. Fighting fire with fire as it were. The hope being that he would learn the difference between true critique (discussing a piece of art and its meaning, discussing its merits, its weaknesses, and how it could improve) vs insulting ad hominem horseshit like calling someone’s performance ameturish and another’s unwelcome.

            Two notes: first, condescension is not name calling, it isn’t even a direct insult. It is a conversational art all its own. More importantly, you condescendingly criticize me and my responses while trying to act like a saint that has not done any of the sins he is accusing others of. Why? Why are you allowed to name call, insult, and be condescending but no one else is? I used condescension against Mr. Ross because his piece was dripping with condescension. There is something to be said about fighting fire with fire, or in this case using Ross’s techniques against him. Much like you are attempting to do with those you are commenting on.

            Secondly, as a note about that sliding scale: racism amd privlege are DEEPLY ingrained in our national identity and methodology. It’s a sad fact, but no less a fact. Helping others understand when they act with privilege or when they are being racist is key to fixing the problem. Unfortunately too many people don’t understand that like everything else racism has a sliding scale. You are acting with racism when you see a Black man cross the street and you lock your car doors, and you are also a racist when you lynch a Black man or burn a cross in his front yard. I don’t think anyone is ignorant enough to say that those are equally racist. We can understand that one is worse thanthe other. And yet they are all racist actions. Understanding your bias, understanding the way those biases transform into beliefs and actions, and understanding what you have to do to change those beliefs and actions, thereby changing bias is critical to us ever shaking off the shackles of racism and privilege in this country.

  15. bob priest says:

    Kyle:

    Your reply is pretty much what I expected.

    Name-calling, insults, sarcasm, frontal &/or lateral attacks, condescension are all basically related (some more distantly than others) in these sorts of kerfuffles & you know it. Do you really mean to pretend that once such a loaded label as racISM is bestowed upon someone’s statement/review that assuming that said person is a straight-up racIST isn’t all that far behind? If it comforts you to believe that your flimsy rhetorical delineations here make any sort of significant difference in the overall tone of your highly judgmental arguments, well, what more can I say? Yes, yes, I know, “fighting fire with fire,” right? Heck, maybe we should all just go full-on “Burn, Baby, Burn” here & then worry ourselves with rebuilding from a new, highly idealized, ground-zero at a later date? As silly (?) as that last comment was, I sometimes worry that that’s exactly where we’re headed in this country.

    Now, before stepping out of this wind-piss saturated ring for a spell as I await some sort of official weigh-in from Oregon Arts Watch, I’ll leave you with a question that I don’t believe has been aired here so far: Do you (or anyone else here) think that a fundamental aspect of this “well-meaning” dog-pile of demonization on Ross & OAW is possibly generated by over-compensation for so-called collective white guilt? In other words, is “scapegoating” of this magnitude really called for in this instance?

    OK, basta from me.

    Over to you, OAW . . .

    • Kyle Martin says:

      Uh, assumptions much… I have no clue how many people who have chimed in here are Persons of Color, and assuming that anyone who is here complaining is White is the same kind of ignorant bile thay got me going with Ross’s ridiculous post.

      And you are choosing to not read my response or try and understand what I am saying, and further are ignoring points I have tried to make. I NEVER called Mr. Ross a racist. I never called the OAW racists. I questioned their editorial judgement for posting this without editing and for giving the kind of platform they have given to Mr. Ross. I never said burn baby burn, as all I had to say in regards to this entire “kerfuffle” was fuck that guy and been done with it. But I didn’t. I actually took the time to explain what was wrong with Ross’s piece. What was wrong with his thinking, and further what was wrong with his approach in that specific order in my origional post, but did you take the time to read it or even attempt to understand what I was trying to say? No. You leveled charges at me and I answered them, but you ignored what I had to say and just keep trying to dish it out.

      For me, that seals it.

      *Troll alert everyone, go about your business, nothing and no one to worry about here*

      • Kyle Martin says:

        Sorry, minor correction that would make my intent more understandable:

        I never said burn baby burn nor has that been my intent. If that were my intent all I had to say in regards to this entire “kurfuffle” would have been to just say “fuck that guy” and been done.

        Hope that clarifies what my intent was.

      • bob priest says:

        Uh-huh, blanket summations/condemnations much?:

        + “Ross’s ridiculous post”
        AND – wait for it . . .
        + “White . . . ignorant bile . . . ” )

        OK, you’ve amply earned the following . . . YAWN (perhaps your next post will help me, uh, graduate to zzzzzzzzzzzzz?)

        Maybe we’ll meet again post-OAW statements of policy?

        Then again, hopefully NOT – I know you and “your kind” & am truly sorry I’ve wasted as much time on you as I have.

        Now, back to my “stepping out of this wind-piss saturated ring for a spell” – dammit, this time I mean it!

        • bob priest says:

          PS (the morning after)

          Kyle: I lost my head a bit last night & would now like to dial down the heat a few notches as succinctly as possible.

          Simply put, I failed to respectfully note your acknowledgment & examples of a gradated sliding scale in matters of racism. As far as I can tell, you are the only person in this thread to have come out on this key concern of mine so explicitly. Thanx!

          You see, after being pummeled here by such nonsense as “Fire Terry Ross . . . ” & “Why are we even discussing the foul words that came out of the mouth of a fucking racist?” (paraphrase from a private conversation), I briefly misplaced my own sliding scale & angrily lumped you in with the above peoples of the either/or. I’m sorry.

          I won’t bore you with my personal history, but let me assure you that I’ve experienced & observed molto serioso racism, anti-semitism, scapegoating & how mass hysteria can imperil someone’s career &/or personal safety. We live in acutely dangerous times wherein black or white thinking/actions will most assuredly inch us ever-closer to a potentially fatal impasse.

          Now, if OAW hasn’t already issued a statement on the Ross case, I’ve heard via back channels that they will be doing so shortly.

          Avanti . . .

          • Kyle Martin says:

            Bob,

            Thank you for the apology. I accecpt. I appreciate you taking the time to reread my words to better understand what I am saying. This is obviously a debate that people feel passionately about and with you, I anxiously wait to see if OAW responds.

            Thanks

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