The Philly Pops Will Live On

The Inquirer‘s music critic, Peter Dobrin, reports in Sunday’s paper that the Philadelphia Orchestra’s newly unveiled strategic plan offers a lot of wiggle room for future invitations to visiting artists and different kinds of music repertoire and concert formats.  What neither Dobrin nor Orchestra president, Allison Vulgamore mention is that the Philly Pops is being cut off from the organization and, possibly, permanently demoored.

However, the long-time music director of the Pops, Peter Nero, has vowed to “not go down without a fight.”  So, for his recent birthday celebration, he and a few of his longest-serving musicians had a strategic session of their own.  The Orchestra had not scheduled anything for the Pops for the fall/winter season, so they were in administrative limbo.  They decided to plan, market, and perform on their own.

What kind of  a venue do they need?  Amplification and a stage that can accommodate 61 musicians, including Nero’s grand piano.

The breaking news is that Nero has already secured funds and the space for its first concert without the Orchestra.  It will be on Sunday, July 3rd, at 7 pm at Independence Hall.  It’s being underwritten, so it’s free to the public.  You’re the first to know.

 

Ethnic Irony

By Hannah Lee

In our relatively enlightened times, it is the heedless individual who utters a blatant pejorative term, be it a racial, sexist, or any other challenging aspect of life.  We have sensitized ears and it is unseemly to appear prejudiced.  There is even an attempt to erase past grievances in the misguided campaign to replace the word, “nigger,” with “slave” in Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, although the climax of the story would be lost on the reader when the character of the black man, Jim, realizes that he’s been free all along.  Good teaching requires putting history and culture into context with all its flawed and malignant chronicles.

There is a companion shadow world of indirect slurs, in which terms are coined with the negative traits attributed to a particular ethnic group.  Amongst linguists, this usage is called “ironyms,” a compound word representing “lexicalized irony.”  Researching this sordid aspect of language development, I came across the fairly unfamiliar terms of Dutch courage (bravado under intoxication), Welsh rabbit (a cheese dish made without meat), and Irish twins (siblings born within the same year).   The more familiar ones in contemporary usage are notably all about monetary use: to gyp (cheat) someone, to welsh (renege) on a bet, and to jew someone down (bargain hard).  The terms incorporating Chinese— Chinese ace, Chinese anthem, Chinese cigarette, Chinese fire drill, Chinese handball, Chinese landing, Chinese puzzle, and Chinese whispers— all connote items or events that are confused, disorganized, or difficult to understand, according to the British usage of the adjective during World War I.

I have long known that Chinese checkers were not really Chinese, but I have since learned that it is a game developed in Germany, whose original name referred to its star-shaped game board.  When the Pressman company introduced it in the United States in 1928, they initially called it Hop-Ching checkers, later settling on Chinese checkers, presumably to refer to the erratic hopping allowed of the gaming pieces.  Other usages of ethnic terminology are maybe less benign, but you could be sure no Frenchman would call his fried potatoes, French fries, (derived from the presumed custom of poor French-speaking Belgians who served fried potatoes instead of fried fish when the rivers were frozen) nor would a Dane refer to the breakfast pastry as a Danish (in actuality, of Austrian origin).

As an immigrant to the United States, I did not encounter Chinese auctions until I came into the Orthodox Jewish community.  It seems to be a popular low-cost fundraiser amongst churches and synagogues.  Not Chinese and not even an auction, it is a lottery in which the bidder purchases tickets for specific prizes within different categories.  It has become my campaign to lobby against its usage, but by the time I hear of such events, the organizers have already spent money on the publicity and are loathe to change the wording.  It’s inconceivable to me that any organization would allow itself to be perceived as prejudiced these days.  Prejudice when it becomes commonplace is even more insidious, because well-meaning people become complicit.

http://blog.pjvoice.com/diary/533/ethnic-irony

 

Survival of the Fittest?

This past weekend, my father-in-law startled me by saying that the assistance that I provide to my refugee clients may not be in their best interest, that it may even hamper the development of their own independence.  He urged me to interview my parents and ask them about the difficulties in their first year in the United States as immigrants.  No one helped them, did they?  No, no one or any agency did.  He continued: This country is great because of the immigrants who’ve come and succeeded– on their own.  We do a disservice to them when we pamper them to the extent of inhibiting their own initiative.

I was so perturbed by this conversation that I sought out my Rabbi for a perspective based more on ethics than on Darwinism.  How could I be doing wrong by my refugees?

His teshuvah(halachic response) is that there must be a balance.  Historically, the immigrants who have succeeded the most– the Jews, the Irish, the Koreans– did benefit from the assistance of their own communities.  They did not wait for government handouts.  Their brethren provided valuable resource in the guise of networking, interest-free loans, and employment opportunities.  Everyone had to undergo the agony of cultural assimilation and the foibles of alienation.  A family tale: My husband’s aunt came to visit her daughter in New York and because her Israeli accent was thick, the driver (who may have also been an immigrant and burdened with an accent of his own) did not understand her stated destination of Roosevelt Island, so he drove her to Riker’s Island, where the main prison is located and from where no taxis can be hailed!  No, no agency could have helped her with her situation.

During this graduation season, I am witness to the different kinds of parenting among my friends and acquaintances.  A woman from my shul told me she was renting a van to drive her daughter to Chicago and would I need anything brought home?  No, I don’t want anything brought back home!  Then, a dear friend told me she’d brought her housekeeper along to clean her son’s quarters upon graduation.  By dint of unusual circumstances as well as personal choice, my daughter left for college by herself with only two bags and she has never asked us to drive her to or back from Chicago.  She will be moving to her new apartment without our assistance.  Her father has given her money for her living expenses, but we have friends who told their children that they are on their own after college (or they could move back home).  I’m glad our daughter is motivated to being independent.

Babies thrive best when they have a safe and stable environment with nurturing caregivers.  We endow our children with the resources of our families.  They proceed to negotiate with the outside world on their own terms, drawing upon the family capital but also drawing on their own strengths and talents.

Immigrants are motivated for success by choosing to leave their families, their people, their land.  You could say that they are pre-selected for success.  However, as my Rabbi has noted, even individual hard work needs the benefit of siyatah d’shmayah (Heavenly assistance).  So, I am relieved to conclude thus: my refugees do need help while they are learning the language and mores of our culture (and more than the 180 days that HIAS is contracted to provide).  The Social Worker had cautioned me about not beguiling them with American generosity; however, she’s met refugees who came off the plane with so few possessions that they filled only two rice sacks!  So, I’ll try hard not to pamper them needlessly.  They will land on their feet and succeed, and I serve as their Advocate, the “angel” (if I could be so bold to say so) who could give them some assistance along the way.

Open Letter

Dear Ms. Vulgamore,

I write as a concerned music patron.  The recent decision to apply for Chapter 11 financial re-organization sets a troubling precedence in the music world and I wonder how Philadelphia would fare in the end?  Since that decision, I have been having weekly conversations with a source within the organization and I was moved to write by our latest chat yesterday.

Yes, we can be proud that the Philadelphia Orchestra is one of the top five in the nation (along with New York, Boston, Chicago and Cleveland), but I was amazed to learn that our orchestra also pays the highest salary of all these as well as the highest starting salary for the musicians (at $70,000, an unheard-of amount in the fine arts)!  Equally amazing facts to me are: the Orchestra does not perform or rehearse on Sundays; the 12-week vacations that some musicians enjoy; and the contracts that stipulate a full orchestra for each performance, necessitating substitute players and a huge substitute salary payroll.

Yes, it does seem prudent to re-think these financial agreements, but what does it mean to throw all the previous years of labor negotiations out the window?  Could every other cultural organization take this “easy” way out of financial difficulties?  What obligations to your employees (and your paying patrons) remain?  But what about the unwieldy 60-member administrative staff?  And why are you still interviewing candidates for the following positions (as listed on your website): Director, Foundations and Government Relations; Institutional Giving Coordinator; Group and Corporate Sales Coordinator; Operations Coordinator; and Education and Community Partnerships Coordinator?  I do note that the part-time position as receptionist is non-paying.

How could you think of retiring Peter Nero, the energetic, two-time Grammy-award-winning pianist and director of the Philly Pops– under the same management as the Philadelphia Orchestra- for 30 years?  His much younger colleague, James Levine, has been suffering from debilitating back troubles, but he has been allowed the liberty and respect to choose when to withdraw from his multiple duties as conductor and music director of the Metropolitan Opera and the Boston Symphony.

I read in Sunday’s Inquirer that the Orchestra will have an abbreviated season at the Mann this summer, because of its previously planned European tour.  Add this fact to the uncertainty over whether there will be a fall season and you leave your patrons puzzled and frustrated.  Do remember that Philadelphia lies within an easy commute to New York and even Washington, so some of your music-loving patrons could choose to leave the city for their listening pleasure.

While I have your ear, could I also add that the Orchestra’s move to the Kimmel Center has about doubled the ticket prices beyond the affordability of the average family with children?  No wonder that your concerts as seen from the stage are often a sea of senior faces with glasses.  What are your obligations to your patrons?  To nurturing a music audience for the future?

If yours were a Jewish organization, I would say shanda for shame.  You are a world-class cultural institution, so conduct yourself with world class.

Sincerely,
Hannah Lee