Song of the Lark turns seven years old today!
To celebrate, I decided to choose a favorite entry from each of the past seven years, going from my least favorite favorite (lol) to my favorite favorite. I also included the most viewed entry (i.e., your favorite) for each year. Have I said the word favorite enough yet? Good.
Let the countdown commence!
May 2011 – May 2012
Indulgent Claptrap (May 13, 2011)
This wasn’t the best written entry of the blog’s first year, but it became the blog’s thesis statement: I love writing, history, and music, and I can’t choose between them, so I’m going to embrace all three. (This was a radical idea to 21-year-old me.) Plus it features a picture of the cardboard violin I made when I was nine, as well as a Sargent portrait of Lady Leonora Speyer, a concert violinist and Pulitzer-winning poet.
In 1919 she remarked to an interviewer from the magazine The Bellman, “The bird, the wind, the sea, the heart of man, all sing: the musician writes down the melody, the poet the words; the song is God’s. If you have a message and can give it, and can reach another soul with your singing, then all is indeed right with the world.”
Great Female Violinists: A List (August 23, 2011)
Even today this list sees steady traffic, and that warms my dorky heart more than I can say. Nowadays I enjoy writing about all kinds of historical musical women, but my first love remains the great female violinists of the past. It’s such a thrill to see that people keep coming back to this page after so many years. Keep on Googling these ladies, folks!
May 2016 – May 2017
#MNOrchTour: Concert at the Concertgebouw (September 10, 2016)
You made this entry possible! In the summer of 2016 I crowdfunded a trip to travel alongside the Minnesota Orchestra for their first post-lockout European tour. I was jet-lagged and dead-tired every time I put fingers to keyboard, and looking back, I think it shows. But every single entry in this series was a blast to write, and the sheer fact that this particular entry exists lands it in my top tier. Maybe someday we’ll do tour coverage again…
Ahead of rehearsal the stage lights were blazing bright, but the house lights had been turned down, the reds and cream gilds blurring a bloody purple on the ceiling.
RIP Jane Little (May 15, 2016)
In May 2016, the classical music world was devastated by the sudden death of Atlanta Symphony bass player Jane Little, who had been with the orchestra for 71 years (and no, that’s not a typo). I’m so happy this little tribute resonated with so many people. God bless you, Jane Little.
“I thought now why would any girl want to play that big thing, but when I started playing the bass, it was just…I just fell in love with it.” – NBC Nightly News
May 2014 – May 2015
Naked Nymphs and the Atlanta Symphony (October 3, 2014)
When I started the blog, I never anticipated writing about orchestral labor disputes. (Honestly, I didn’t even know what an orchestral labor dispute was.) But after the crash (and burn) course that was the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, labor disputes kinda ended up becoming a blog specialty. And when the Atlanta Symphony printed a season brochure ahead of their 2014 lockout that featured an army of naked nymphs…I had problems with this.
So not only did we get MORE paint, MORE ribbon bondage, and MORE nymphage, but we’ve got a twisted orgiastic lady who is, I’m pretty sure, ecstatically flashing the cello section with her basketball-sized bosoms.
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Facebook Page Loses It (September 11, 2014)
In this entry, also from the 2014 Atlanta Symphony lockout, patron restlessness and institutional obliviousness hit a hilarious new low on the orchestra’s Facebook page. Fun behind-the-scenes factoid: I dashed this off in about an hour before an orchestra rehearsal. Just so all aspiring bloggers know, your most popular entries are invariably going to be the ones you put the least amount of thought into. Heads up.
May 2013 – May 2014
We Finnished It (April 2, 2014)
Once upon a time, I wrote a lot of stuff about the Minnesota Orchestra lockout. But my favorite piece from the entire ordeal is the one that essentially marked the dispute’s end, which turned out to be the 2014 Grammy celebration concert. There was only one big lift left to accomplish: the board agreeing to re-hire Osmo. To encourage the board to do the right thing, huge swaths of the audience wore blue and white, the colors of the Finnish flag, as directed by audience advocacy group Save Our Symphony Minnesota. We brandished signs, we waved flags, and in some cases we even painted our faces. In our rabid enthusiasm, we came close to dangling off Orchestra Hall’s ceiling cubes. It was my favorite concert I’ve ever been to. And not because of the performance (although that was spectacular). It was because of the people.
At the very end of the symphony, the winds mentioned a few unremarkable phrases; the strings answered with commiserating murmurs; then there was — silence. The end of this symphony sounds like a sad woman at the end of a difficult day. She has her troubles, and she grapples with them, but she also sees that she has survived…for now. She will postpone her ultimate despair, her worry over an unknowable future. She will acknowledge the gift that is her present.
How Saveoursymphonymn.org Was Named (August 21, 2013)
Statistically speaking, if you’ve read one entry from this blog, it was probably this one. I don’t want to re-litigate the past, so won’t comment on the subject matter, but…yeah. Man, what a crazy August week that was.
May 2017 – May 2018
How Anna Schoen-René Nearly Founded the Minnesota Orchestra (November 29, 2017)
For almost a year now (!) I’ve been writing bimonthly blog entries on various historical women in music. I’m so proud of this project! My favorite to write was the Anna Schoen-René one, mainly because it involved hours and hours and hours of reading old newspapers. The story I found in those newspapers changed everything I thought I knew about the founding of the Minnesota Orchestra. Anna Schoen-René is truly that ensemble’s godmother, and it was an indescribable thrill to uncover the reasons why.
A shout-out to my monthly Patreon supporters who helped pay for that and other research. I wouldn’t have done it without you!
How did a young female immigrant come so close to founding one of America’s great orchestras? Why did her efforts to do so excite such intense antipathy? And how on earth have we forgotten her so utterly?
Bugging the San Antonio Symphony (January 4, 2018)
Who knew that screencaps of charitable foundations’ 990s, accessed via a free five-second-long guidestar.org search, would prove to be so popular? Y’all are super kinky.
May 2012 – May 2013
The Devourer and the Devoured: The Intertwined Lives of Annie Vivanti and Vivien Chartres (May 15, 2012)
Throughout 2011 and 2012 I worked on a long piece about a forgotten violin prodigy named Vivian Chartres. Her story was unusual because her mother Annie Vivanti was an incredibly talented writer, and she fictionalized their relationship in her 1910 novel, The Devourers. Being the only daughter of an intimidatingly talented single mom myself, I was fascinated by Annie and Vivian’s relationship. I still love this entry, especially because the structure of it allowed me to quote long excerpts of Vivanti’s gorgeous prose.
One gets the impression that three-quarters of the novel is, in fact, a memoir. But which three-quarters? Vivanti never says. It is up to us to read between the lines – to draw our own hesitant conclusions about Vivien and Vivanti’s talents, their unique symbiotic relationship, and the all-consuming nature of exceptionally gifted children.
The Key and the Lockout (October 22, 2012)
The first time I met a lot of the Minnesota Orchestra musicians was at their first self-produced lockout concert in October 2012. This entry chronicled that experience and laid down what I felt the stakes were. This entry is way too long and in hindsight comes across as more than a bit hysterical, since nowadays we have the luxury of knowing that everything turned out okay. But I don’t mind. In the moment it was all very real.
May 2015-May 2016
The Marathon (January 28, 2016)
I can’t explain to you or to myself how much I love my mother, who passed away after a six week battle with cancer in March of 2015. I knew I wanted to, needed to, write something that explored the strange new contours of my new life without her. The Minnesota Orchestra’s ambitious Beethoven cycle in early January 2016 became the backdrop for the piece I knew I needed to write. I wrestled with this one for weeks; I didn’t leave my apartment; I remember only getting up to walk back and forth between the kitchen and the computer, feeling like I needed to throw up. The result was a love note to my mom, to my friends, to music, to loss and to new life. It’s my favorite entry from seven years of blogging.
I don’t know what it is about these players and this conductor. I don’t know what it is about this hall and this audience and this city. I don’t know what it is about Beethoven, about this collection of rhythms and melodies and sforzandos. I’m not sure how any of it can speak to a lost and broken woman in her mid-twenties, searching for distraction and meaning and love. It doesn’t make sense that any of it speaks…I just know it does.
In Which I Learn Why There Are No Great Women Composers (September 16, 2015)
I learned a lot from this one Spectator article: namely, people really love reading blog entries taking down dumbshit Spectator articles.
Obscure pieces by men are not recorded. That’s why the Naxos catalogue doesn’t exist.
I don’t know what I was expecting when I first clicked publish on May 13, 2011. It sure wasn’t what the next seven years ended up bringing.
But I do know what I was hoping for.
I was hoping for a few readers. Turns out, I got not only readers, but friends. Best friends, at that.
I was hoping for some feedback. Turns out, I not only got some feedback, I got over half a million views (and counting!).
I was hoping for music. Well, turns out:
It was to music, more than to anything else, that these hidden things in people responded. So wrote Willa Cather in The Song of the Lark.
Thank you so much for these past seven years. Here’s to seven, seventeen, or even seventy more.