John Palmes, in his recent letter to the Empire, lamented the lack of support by the State Arts Council for local, amateur musicians. I know no one who has been more active and creative in his contribution to amateur music in Juneau than John has been. He has been energetic in the support of his fellow amateurs, and his own artistic creations, often the talk of the town for years afterward, reflect his resourcefulness and ingenuity.
The Alaska Folk Festival, an enormously popular event, is a feather in the cap of Juneau and of John Palmes. Yet, his quick attribution of bias on the part of arts councils toward the funding of serious, professional artists leads me to wonder whether he, if holding the purse strings, would exercise just as strong a bias toward the support of amateur art. I wonder because of an experience two decades ago.
John was in one of my classes at UAS. When I played something by Mozart, he stood and started toward the door. When I asked him why he was leaving, he said that he refused to listen to anything that had been written for the rich. When I protested that Mozart himself had not been rich, he clarified that, despite his own fiscal state, Mozart had composed for the rich.
Yes, Mozart wrote for the rich. Without their support, it would have been difficult for him to write at all. This does not mean that the style of the writing was dictated by the commissioner. John's argument implies, further, that only the rich are reached by the message of such music. This presumes a belief which I shudder to contemplate - that the message of music does not transcend economic status.
The work which Mozart was composing at his death was his great "Requiem," which had been commissioned by an aristocrat. Within days of the Kent State University shootings of 1970, it was performed by local musicians in the field house of Amherst College in memory of those who had died in Ohio. In that town of 10,000, 5,000 attended. So much for music written for the rich!
John B. d'Armand, D.M.A.
Professor of Music
University of Alaska
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