Tag Archives: politics

Our Tears Will Teach Us: Being A Woman In The 2016 Election

Warning: political discussion ahead! If you think bloggers who write about music should keep their traps shut about politics, ignore this post.

I apologize for not writing much on the blog lately; I’ve been busy with my personal life, and I haven’t been able to give entries the time and thought they deserve. But after the results of the presidential election, I thought it would be therapeutic to check in with you guys. That’s what I feel like I want to do: connect with the people who mean a lot to me. And you, dear readers, mean a lot to me.

Here are where my thoughts have been lately… There are desperately important questions to be asked about politics and race and culture right now, but since I focus on gender on this blog, I’ll drill down into that particular topic. Mainly I want to explore how Hillary’s defeat, and Donald’s victory, made me feel as a woman last night.

Fun factoid: like many other Americans, I’m a direct descendant of Elizabeth Alden Pabodie, potentially the first white woman born in New England. She was born in 1623. Yesterday I kept thinking about her. How would she feel if she could see a woman winning the popular vote for President of the United States? How would her daughters and granddaughters and great-granddaughters and so on and so on and so on for centuries react? She endured so much building America. They all did. What would they say about this election? What insights might they have about the journey we’ve shared with them?


Elizabeth Alden’s grave; photo from Wikipedia

On the other hand, I want to be careful not to idealize or romanticize Elizabeth or her descendants. (It goes without saying that the recognition of her as the first “white woman” is uncomfortable: somehow it seems to negate so many other babies born over so many other centuries on this continent.) I have to believe that I had female ancestors who endured and did heartbreaking things…simultaneously. I’m sure there were women who endured difficult marriages because society gave them no way out. Women who were hit and raped. Women whose personal interests were brushed aside, or who felt pressured to brush them aside themselves. Women who were treated as breeding machines and nothing more. And I’m also sure that there were women who were virulent racists. Women who shunned immigrants. Women who abused their own family and friends. Women who, for whatever reason, chose apathy. In other words, women who were human beings.

But somehow, in fits and starts over centuries, progress was made: slowly, slowly, slowly, yes, but also surely. Later, Elizabeth’s descendants multiplied first by the dozens, and then by the hundreds, and then by the thousands, and then by the tens of thousands…maybe more. They saw so much progress in their collective lifetimes: they saw so many American women doing so many amazing things. I’m so humbled to think about the process. It feels like a dinner party has been going on for centuries, and I’m just now popping in, aware of but unable to totally grasp the significance of what has come before. And that was a feeling I didn’t have until this election, honestly.

I’m looking at this Wikipedia page now – “List of American Women’s Firsts” – to try to put the evolution I’m talking about in perspective. I highly recommend you check it out, and read these women’s biographies.

In 1647 Margaret Brent was the first woman to demand the right to vote.

In the 1700s Henrietta Johnston became the first woman working as an artist in the colonies.

In 1762 Ann Franklin became the first woman newspaper editor.

In 1776 Margaret Cobin was the first woman to serve as soldier in the American Revolution.

In 1784 Hannah Adams became the first woman to become a professional writer in America.

In 1849 Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in America to earn a medical degree.

In 1850 Harriet Tubman was the first American woman to run the underground railroad.

In 1853 Antoinette Brown Blackwell became the first woman to be ordained as a minister.

In 1869 Arabella Mansfield became the first female lawyer in America.

In 1870 Louisa Ann Swain became the first American woman to vote in an election.

In 1872 Victoria Woodhull became the first American woman to run for president.

In 1878 Emma Abbott became the first woman to form her own opera company.

In 1887 Susanna M. Salter was elected the first female mayor in America.

In 1911 Harriet Quimby became the first licensed female pilot.

In 1916 Jeannette Rankin became the first woman to to be elected to Congress.

In 1921 Edith Wharton became the first woman to earn a Pulitzer.

In 1922 Rebecca Felton became our first female senator.

In 1925 Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first woman in America to be elected governor.

In 1931 Jane Addams was the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1932 Hattie Caraway was the first woman actually elected, rather than named, to the U.S. Senate.

In 1933 Frances Perkins became the first woman to serve as a cabinet member under FDR.

In 1934 Lettie Pate Whitehead became the first woman to serve as a director of a major corporation.

In 1944 Cordelia E Cook became the first woman to receive both the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart.

In 1972 Katharine Graham became the first female Fortune 500 CEO, as CEO of the Washington Post company.

In 1981 Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to join the Supreme Court.

In 1983 Sally Ride became the first woman in space.

And in 1984 Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman in America to run for vice president on a major-party platform.

And five years later, I was born. And I’m only 27.

Obviously I only scratched the surface. Look at that list of firsts, with each woman working on the shoulders of the women who came before her. When I step back and think of how far we’ve come over the centuries… And when I think about how, in the long run, our setbacks as American women generally seem to be temporary… It makes me want to talk to Elizabeth and ask her:

What do you think?

And: will other demographics be so lucky?


It goes without saying, this doesn’t mean we should be content with where women are now, or stop fighting to improve our lives and the lives of the other and the marginalized. But when a disappointment this huge comes along, after crying a bit at the chance so unexpectedly lost, I feel it is important to take a step back and remember that bigger picture.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I still feel hope in the pain today. I’m someone who deeply values respect of women. (Obviously.) A man who bragged about committing sexual assault has just been elected to the highest office of the land, and somehow I’m not completely destroyed by the idea. (Yet, at least.) (Am I shell-shocked?) My best guess as to why that is? Because I feel like the history I ticked off above is more powerful, more sustained, than any one man or any one movement. Our mothers fought against horrifying odds, and still they put one foot in front of the other and stayed on the path of progress. But…we’ll see.

Also, my mom’s tragic early death, and even watching the Minnesota Orchestra lockout, taught me how catastrophe can cause people to bond in profound ways. Our tears will teach us. Laugh if you will – call me naive if you want – be deeply concerned about what Mr. Trump’s election means to non-white-males, and to the country and the world at large (I’m concerned, too), but also… When you think about us American women, at least, remember our strength, and how many setbacks we’ve overcome before.

You know, I’m not even sure if any of this makes sense, but I just wanted to say something. Given how often I write about female musicians on the blog, silence didn’t feel right. I’m also working to let go all that I don’t control, and fighting like hell over the things I can. And I’m looking forward to finding the dark humor in the struggle (dark humor is the best).

I’m also trying to remind myself how blown away Elizabeth Alden would be if she could know that one of her great-times-many granddaughters, born 366 years after her, had the chance to vote for a female president. And it’s not just me who had the chance; it was many thousands of her descendants. Barring catastrophe, there’s a decent chance we’ll be able to do it again. Maybe soon.

The work goes on, and so does the beat.


Filed under Women In Music

Mr. Henson Goes to St. Paul, Part I

From the Star Tribune website

The locked-out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra issued a unanimous vote of no confidence in the organization’s president and CEO, Michael Henson, on Tuesday.

Here’s a GIF of my reaction to this news:

You can read a list of objections the musicians have to Mr. Henson on their website. Their first is that he misled “the Minnesota Legislature about the orchestra’s finances during his testimony in favor of the orchestra’s bonding request.” There they linked to an mp3 of Mr. Henson testifying before the Cultural and Outdoor Resources Finance Division of the Minnesota House of Representatives in January 2010…and misleading, if not lying, to them. Here’s a link to the mp3. The segment having to do with the Minnesota Orchestra begins at 2:38:55. In the interest of context and thoroughness, and for future reference, I’m transcribing the entirety of Mr. Henson’s appearance here. Apologies at its length, but…it’s long! They always say that lawmaking is like sausage-making: people don’t like knowing how either is made. Well, here’s your chance to watch some sausage-making, up close and personal… If you’re anything like me, the process will make you a little queasy.


Here are the cast of characters (listed in order of appearance), their initials, their political party, and their title at the meeting (if applicable). Information courtesy of this page and quick Google searches…

Mary Murphy (MM), DFL, Chair of meeting

Margaret Kelliher (MK), DFL, then Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives

Michael Henson (MH), President and CEO, Minnesota Orchestra

Greg Davids (GD), Republican, Lead of meeting (he is referenced by Margaret Kelliher; he does not actually speak)

Lyndon Carlson (LC), DFL, ex-officio

Alice Hausman (AH), DFL

Dean Urdahl (DU), Republican

Diane Loeffler (DL), DFL


MM: Rep. Kelliher, 2528.

MK: Madame Chair and Committee members, thank you for your work; I’ve been watching you, and you have a lot of good projects in front of you. I could say something very nice about every single thing I’ve seen. I just hope that Rep. Davids and I don’t have to team up like we had to in my first term in the legislature this year to make some of these things happen. So I really appreciate your hearing a couple of bills today. We’re first here to present our bill on the Orchestra – the Minnesota Orchestra, and Orchestra Hall and Peavey Plaza. And so I’m going to be brief about this; I want to tell you just a couple of things about the Orchestra. The Orchestra was formed in 1903, and since 1907 there have been 680 concerts in 60 communities around the state. There’s a wonderful packet that they’ve put together for all of you, including the impact on your own districts of the Orchestra. But I do love this quote by a Tyler resident, who had only seen the Orchestra once as a young boy. “On Friday night he was hearing the Minnesota Orchestra perform as a whole new experience. ‘It’s a pretty nice deal,’ he said, ‘getting something like this out here.'” He was quoted in the weekender Independent in Marshall, Minnesota, in February 2008. So the Orchestra has a broad scope and reach. Over 80,000 students are served by educational programs by the Orchestra every year. It performs over 200 concerts. And Orchestra Hall has hosted ten million visitors since 1974. And that’s our topic today. This renovation of Orchestra Hall and Peavey Plaza is job-intensive. Over 900 jobs will be created with this little bit of state money, partnered with a lot of private money. This Orchestra is also one of our state’s great cultural exports. The Orchestra has been winning terrific acclaim all around the globe, including the London Daily Telegraph, as well as the New York Times. And you can also know the reach of this Orchestra by the fact that it’s one of the only – it is the only American orchestra with a regular broadcast on the BBC. I think that’s pretty amazing, Madame Chair, and members. And I have to tell you just a quick personal story. My own children got to participate in something very special through our church a few years ago, and it was the production of the oratorio that had been commissioned. And it was an oratorio that the music of course was played by the Minnesota Orchestra. And the singers came from a large pool of singers, including children from the Basilica of St. Mary. They had an amazing experience, being able to record that piece – the first recording of it ever, in Orchestra Hall, by a Swedish company that came in and did that with a Swedish production company. And it has had an amazing and profound impact. The oratorio itself was about the impact – it was actually commissioned by our priest at the time, Father Michael O’Connell – and the story was the story of the children of the Holocaust. And my own children, when they sang in that production, said, “Oh, Mom.” I mean, you could just imagine the terrifying thing that was happening to those children at that time. So I think for me, what music connects, and what a project like this connects, for people, for children, for adults, all across the state, is how music tells the story of people’s lives, whether that story was a long time ago, or that story is today. And so I’m pleased to introduce to you the President and the CEO of the Minnesota Orchestra, Michael Henson.

MM: Welcome, Mr. Henson.

MH: Thank you very much, Madame Chair, and Representatives, and what a great pleasure it is to be here today, and thank you, Speaker Kelliher, for such an eloquent presentation. I’d like to begin by sharing a bit more background on the Minnesota Orchestra with you, and then to update you on the substantial progress we’ve made on our building project since we appeared at the Capitol in 2008, requesting planning funds for the renovation of Orchestra Hall. I joined the Minnesota Orchestra just over two years ago, coming from England, and one of the factors that drew me here was the Orchestra’s reputation. It is one of the top orchestras in the world. The Minnesota Orchestra was founded in 1903, as Speaker Kelliher mentioned. It started touring the state only four years later, and has continued to do so ever since, traveling to every corner of the state. We began our education concerts in 1911 and they continue to this day, too. Today the Minnesota Orchestra performs nearly 200 concerts a year, reaching over 400,000 people, 200,000 additional individuals across the state weekly hear our radio broadcasts, and millions across the country through national and international radio broadcasts. On the financial front, we have announced balanced budgets over the last three consecutive years, and we are facing the current economic downturn with stability. In general, the orchestra is musically enjoying a Golden Period with music director Osmo Vänskä. And we are excited about the many possibilities surrounding our hall renovation. Let me detail the project very briefly. I have to say that I found this project to be an extremely captivating one since the first moment I visited Orchestra Hall. I was struck then by the tremendous potential of a revitalized Orchestra Hall in this community. Since I joined the Orchestra, we have tested and re-scaled the scope of the hall project in light of the very challenging economy. The result is a very focused and feasible project. Our vision for an expanded Orchestra Hall is a $40 million renovation that re-invents our public spaces, better serves our young audiences, and makes certain that Orchestra Hall lives up to its full potential as a beacon in the city, accessible to all in the community. Our general contractor estimates that the project will create nearly 900 jobs. Orchestra Hall was built in 1974 for approximately $15 million. The bulk of these resources were put into the auditorium, which still functions very well. The lobby, on the other hand, was built to last only fifteen to twenty years. We have three priorities in our renovation, and the top amongst these is an improved lobby. The second is to modernize our auditorium. And last, but not least, we have started to regenerate Peavey Plaza in the Orchestra Hall renovation. We believe that the reinvention of this entire city block will have a powerful social and economic impact on our community. I’d like to note that the $40 million figure relates only to the cost of renovating Orchestra Hall, not Peavey Plaza. We are currently working with the City to determine the appropriate costs for the renovation of Peavey. Our private fundraising efforts are going very well, but public funding is critical if we are to reach our ultimate goal. Our private donors are keen to hear that the state is a partner in our project. I thank you in advance for your support of our plans to re-imagine our hall and Peavey Plaza for our new audiences in this century. Thank you very much.

MM: So Rep. Kelliher, was the orchestra heard on BBC before Mr. Henson came to Minneapolis?


MH: I’ve had a close working relationship with the BBC for twenty years. That has obviously helped; however, we have a world-class orchestra and if we were not a world-class orchestra, we would not be appearing on the BBC. So I think there is a very good synergy between a world-class orchestra and another world-class broadcaster.

MM: Good answer. Very good. Rep. Carlson.

LC: As ticket holders, my wife and I might be interested in where will we be attending during the construction period?

MH: I think in the construction period we actually looked at a variety of options. One was to close the hall over a three year period – six months each year. What we decided to do is to close the hall for one season, and we are currently in advanced stages of negotiating where we’re going to appear in the downtown. We’re aiming to maintain the vast majority of that orchestral series, and the object has to be to actually retain that audience, so that when we close the hall and reopen it in a year’s time, we have retained as much of that audience as possible and retained that enthusiasm. So hopefully in the next couple of months we will be announcing that, and we are trying to minimize the amount of disruption.

LC: So the main point is that you’re still going to perform.

MM: Maybe in Duluth. [laughter and chatter]

LC: He never said which downtown.

MH: If I could also supplement that, we’re also aiming to increase our state touring for that year as well. And we’ll be looking at between two to four weeks of activity. So I think we’re going to see a smaller main season, but we’re also going to take that in terms of increasing our presence across the whole state.

MM: Representative Hausman.

AH: Thank you, Madame Chair. I believe it is this weekend we have the opportunity to hear the Minnesota Orchestra performing together with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and as the newspaper account says, those conductors who have international experience had really great things to say about the quality of the musical experience we have available in this state.

MH: That’s extremely pleasing to hear, and I know the orchestras are working as we speak at the moment, and I think it is going to be a truly splendid series of concerts.

MM: Representative Urdahl.

DU: Thank you, Madame Chair. Mr. Henson. I have had occasion a couple of times to attend the performances at the [?] Performing Arts Center, and enjoyed that, particularly with my Finlander wife and Mr. Vänskä. But if you’re looking for a home, you know, I’m sure that a good deal could be struck with the [?] Performing Arts Center. [Editor’s Note: I can’t make out which performing arts center Rep. Urdahl is referring to! Please listen to the mp3 yourself to judge and leave your ideas in the comment section. His comments are at 2:50:05. I’ll edit this entry if I get any clarification…]

MK: What a generous offer, Rep. Urdahl.

MH: Thank you very much.

MM: Rep. Loeffler.

DL: Thank you, Madame Chair. And Mr. Henson, I’d like to put something on your short list of alternative locations. Just about two miles north of where you are is the original home of the Minneapolis Orchestra, which became the Minnesota Orchestra, at least it did all of its original recordings in the Edison High School Auditorium, which had perfect acoustics. I don’t think they’ve changed that much since then, and it’s in the official arts district of the city, and you’ve never toured to our area, so I think coming back home and maybe re-playing some of those wonderful classics that were done and recorded there would really be a really interesting thing, to tour within – for your home city and back to something that is the historical roots of the Orchestra.

MH: Thank you very much for that very helpful suggestion.

MK: Madame Chair, I feel like we’re being lobbied as much as we’re lobbying all of you today.


MM: Any other suggestions for their off-season? [laughter] Thank you very much.


I’ll have more thoughts on this transcription later. If you have any corrections to my transcription, let me know.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts?


Filed under Not My Writing