Monday, February 2, 2009

Foss and other losses

I was saddened to read this morning that Lukas Foss has passed away. I certainly can't top Matthew Guerrieri's remembrance, and in fact I realized reading his obituary in the paper that I really don't know his music. I certainly ought to, if not for pure edification, for dissertation work. I do remember the entrancing encounter I had with his Baroque Variations in college, a pure chance pick-the-LP-off-the-shelf decision in the music library at Swarthmore (oh, how I miss just random browsing there- now I have to go to the desk with a CD number). The piece has just such a giddy delight of sounds, old and new, washing up on the same shore.

And a few days ago, I read about Brandeis's decision to sell off their art museum. This is a stranger loss, because the works themselves will still be around. They will still end up in exhibitions, maybe some of them will end up more prominent places. And Boston has a number of museums, so I can't exactly claim that the city will necessarily feel it. But nonetheless, it's a significant loss for the school, and what's more, for all of us in a subtle way. My undergrad didn't have an art museum really, just a two-room gallery with rotating shows, occasionally supplemented by random bits of a permanent collection we supposedly had. But in truth, for all the hours I spent in those rooms, the only works that stay with me are ones where I was friends with the artist. So for me the idea of such a big collection at a school is a little strange. But this decision raises the broader question of the place of the arts in education, and more to the point, what that covers. I'd be angrier if they had cut the department and kept the museum, naturally. At Swarthmore, the music program had a number of student ensembles, but we also had a superb orchestra in residence (Orchestra 2001, which can basically be thanked for enlivening my interest in 20th century repetoire), and a range of visiting groups (I still remember a fantastic concert, ill-timed because of finals, by the Colorado String Quartet, with about 6 students in attendance). And to me, that was every bit as vital a part of it. Same for trips to the Philly orchestra, the frequent assignments for art history classes to go to the PMA, the radio station. Sure, the students will be able to head to the MFA or elsewhere (and should!) but I can't pretend it's not a blow. It's like journalism students losing the school paper, sports teams losing equipment. I can only hope the museum was truly appreciated in its time, and that the art program will be first in line when the time is right for increased funding. I don't think they'll ever truly recover, though.

It's not surprising to lose a venerated composer. It's very surprising to lose an even more venerated institution.


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