What is it they say? Oh, right… “May you live in interesting times.”
Look… I did something that was fairly unusual for one of our concerts, especially a Pops-type show, so, it’s not like I didn’t understand there would be consequences of varying types… but, y’know… there comes a point where you can’t sit and bear it. I decided to take part of my early morning so interested parties could have the story or my story, anyway, and take it for what it may be worth, so, here goes.
This guy, Wainwright, is not someone whom I knew anything about until he showed up for rehearsal. I figured our director of Presentations had to know he has a big following of loyalists and that’s why we presented him, because we would have a big crowd. I think that’s great and our recent surplus proves these strategies to be the right ones. I’m saying all that to establish that I had no ax to grind with this guy. I didn’t know him from Adam. I even went to my ultimate source for such things, the musicians of the Minnesota Youth Symphonies, and asked them about him. They had no clue other than he has a famous cover of “Hallelujah” from the movie Shrek. Okay, sounded like a one-hit wonder with a following. My assumption turned out to be wrong but that’s how I went into it.
The rehearsals were fine, as he didn’t do any of his between-tune-audience chats. When he got to Cantique de Noel I was actually happy to hear him do it in French. I was less than happy when he 1) made it clear that he was only going to sing a Christmas tune because he was asked to (thanks for sucking it up and doing us the favor), 2) made a big deal about what a hero he was for singing it in a higher key and 3) decided it would be fun to translate the text so that they would have a double entendre that had as a punchline something about “falling on your knees for deliverance.” Funny guy. I was not among those that found it cute. Fine. I let it go.
The second half was the problem. Before the second tune in which I had an extended solo he found it necessary to rant about the recent and unfinalized tax bill. He was very upset about it and talked about Republicans as being “horrible people that had to be stopped” to the bravos and delight of his followers.
So, I stopped.
Contrary to what Chris Riemenschneider wrote in the Star Tribune I made no gesticulation. I don’t know what he thought he saw other than my securing hold of my horn, turning, and leaving. Hell, I don’t even think I “stormed”. My knees can’t take much storming these days.
Two other trumpeters were in the lounge, as they weren’t playing that piece and I told them to get on stage because I had had it and was leaving. They had heard the rant over the lounge speakers and understood quickly what was happening and got on stage. The woman playing second trumpet, bless her heart, played my solo and everyone did a great job, as I knew they would. The context that’s important to understand is that I was in the position of playing a tender solo after being referred to as basically evil. No, thank you. Therefore, for the folks that think this was some planned event, it was not. It was as spontaneous as that. Remember, no one knew what his on-stage chats with the public were going to be.
Allow me to briefly address a few things. After this whole thing blew up and I was home, I decided to go on the various search engines and social media sites to see what this guy was all about. It turns out he had a rough childhood and some very serious drug use later on. I believe he has resolved what seem like the many issues he has dealt with and he is the place he wants to be. Good for him. It’s not easy to deal with bad things whether at the hands of the universe or self-imposed. Why didn’t I do that earlier? Well, buckle up but I actually never found myself thinking about this guy before the gig other than the times I was around people I could just ask. I didn’t think about him any more than he felt the need to think about me. In fact, I think neither he nor his arrangers thought much of the musicians having to play some of the poorest-written stuff I’ve played in a while. I don’t mean musically, I mean it was very difficult to read and led to wasted time in rehearsal. Scrawling everywhere and multiple parts on one line printed on 8 1/2 x 11 paper instead of the standards we’re used to.
From reading various comments it’s clear people expect us to know what to expect from the artists that come to perform. Somehow, we’re supposed to know who’s edgy and who isn’t. Sorry but we all don’t. Older musicians just aren’t up on the lifestyles of niche artists just as many younger musicians might not know artists of an earlier generation. I can tell you this: it’s the first time in my memory of 37 years as principal trumpet that I can remember a political rant during a December show from either direction. I do remember Mitch Miller ending a show with a plea for people to support the arts from the stage that ended with a political rant veering to the left instead of just staying on point with a positive message about the importance of coming to concerts. It was the last time Mitch conducted a concert here. I was to the center left back then and remember putting my head down and thinking, “Mitch, don’t do this.” He did and that was that. I don’t claim to know that’s what ended his run here but I have to wonder if they got letters (remember those?).
The last thing I’ll address is the new “snowflake” moniker and the self-indulgence of one or both acts, so, for clarity’s sake I looked it up to see what the accepted definition is:
characterized by doing or tending to do exactly what one wants, especially when this involves pleasure or idleness. I did what I wanted. Check.
Neither pleasure nor idleness was involved.
I can’t speak for the singer. I can’t imagine he was speaking out of pleasure because the unfinalized tax bill allegedly had him very upset. I’m pretty sure he got pleasure from the assembled choir of loyalists applauding his hateful statement but again… that’s just my perception. You’d have to ask him. Anyway, there’s the definition and I’ll leave it to you to decide what you wish about both our actions.
Snowflake or not… I’m not sure, either. If someone confronted me on the street or somewhere I had equal footing, I would not look for a safe space. I would engage. I suppose I felt at a disadvantage since he was not talking to me but, rather, about me without any way to respond and have the same audience hear the response as you would have, say, at a lecture with a Question Line at the end. Anyone who actually does know me knows that I enjoy a good talk about pretty much anything as long as they’re ready to listen as much as they speak. I didn’t shout the guy down nor did I interfere with his playing because I provided better-than-adequate substitutes for myself in my absence. His 1st amendment rights were in no way diminished. He had his say. I had mine in the only way I could at the moment and am ready to deal with the consequences.
I fully understand there will be consequences. Some of the Strib comments suggestions ranged from jail time to firing to a 10 concert suspension without pay. The Association has written in support of the visiting artist. My support will have to come in the form of believing what I did was right if not contractually appropriate.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope it answers question you may have had.
Props to Chris Riemenschneider for giving me a chance to explain myself. If I have a criticism of the piece it’s that it treats the visiting artist with more deference. That is, my part of the goings-on were painted as more extreme than his. What, to him, seemed innocuous was more offensive to me (and others not acquainted with Wainwright’s act). Critics have to call it as they see it at that moment.