Author: pattin1

Orchestra to feature alumni musicians

On Saturday, March 4, the St. Olaf Orchestra will hold its annual spring concert. This upcoming concert will host Jayce Ogren ’01 as a guest conductor, and Kelly Kaduce ’96 as the featured soprano soloist. The concert will feature two main orchestral works: “Four Last Songs” by Richard Strauss and “Symphony No. 2 in D. Major” by Jean Sibelius.

A native of Hoquiam, Wash., Ogren has been building a reputation as one of America’s finest young conductors in recent years. Ogren received a bachelor’s degree in composition from St. Olaf in 2001 and a master’s degree in conducting from the New England Conservatory in 2003.

Afterwards, he completed his postgraduate diploma in orchestral conducting at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm under a Fulbright Grant. He was appointed by Franz Welser-Möst as assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra and music director of the Cleveland Youth Orchestra, where he finished his tenure in 2009.

As a composer, Ogren’s works have been performed at the Royal Danish Conservatory of Music, the Brevard Music Center, the American Choral Directors Association Conference and the World Saxophone Congress. His “Symphonies of Gaia” has been performed by ensembles on three continents and is the title track on a DVD featuring the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra.

A graduate of St. Olaf and Boston University, Kaduce has garnered critical acclaim nationally for her “plangent, amber-toned soprano, glamour girl looks and artless, affecting dramatic style,” according to Opera News. Her past engagements in the 2016–2017 season include Nedda in “I Pagliacci” with Virginia Opera, Liù in “Turandot” with Atlanta Opera, and a role debut as Desirée Armfeldt in Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” with Des Moines Metro Opera. Recently, she gained praise for her role as Wendy Torrance in Minnesota Opera’s adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Shining.” Among her concert credits are Mahler’s “Symphony No. 2,” Barber’s “Prayers of Kierkegaard,” Berg’s “Seven Early Songs” and Argento’s “Casa Guidi.”

Strauss’ inspiration for the “Four Last Songs” came from Josef von Eichendorff’s poem, “Im Abendrot (In the Evening Glow).” Eichendorff’s words perfectly suited his world-weary, post-war frame of mind, which Strauss turned into an orchestral song in May 1948, a year before his death in 1949. Commenting on his composition work, Sibelius remarked that the “Symphony No. 2 in D Major” reflects on “a struggle between death and salvation,” as well as “a confession of the soul.” Sibelius began to work on the piece in 1901 in Rapallo, Italy and finished it a year later in Finland.

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Grammys miss diversity standards once again

Every year during awards season, discussions about diversity and inclusivity are reignited. This year has been no exception, especially following the inauguration of Donald Trump. Celebrities didn’t hesitate to call for unity and diversity in the wake of the election. This seemed a bit ironic considering that these shows have always lacked diversity and celebrities are only now acknowledging the issue.

The debate reemerged during the Grammy Awards ceremony last week. Just as they did with the Oscars, critics argued that too few artists of color were nominated for awards. In response, the Grammy Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said that he does not think that there is a race problem at the Grammys, and that one should join the voting member board if they want to bring further diversity into the ceremony.

In response to his statement, I began to ponder the question: when can something, be it an award shows or other event, truly be considered diverse? After the #OscarsSoWhite controversy last year, the Oscars made a phenomenal “comeback” by nominating seven non-white actors. Nevertheless, it is clear from this particular group of non-white nominees that the so-called diversity only extended to black artists, while overlooking many others who also deserved to be included.

One ought to ask whether diversity is being pursued for diversity’s own sake or for some other reason. Furthermore, will the lack of recognition for artists of color affect aspiring musicians or avid music listeners?

In all fairness, I cannot provide a definitive answer for any of these questions. I do know, however, that in continuing this conversation, one cannot avoid the fact that the music industry itself will soon become just as politicized as the film industry has become. As polarized politics have spread far and wide, soon there will be few – if any – facets of life that will not be highly contested amongst liberals and conservatives.

In some ways, diversity ends up becoming a factor in the machinery that leads to the polarization, instead of being the goal or mindset that this country ought to aspire to.

It’s easy to shrug off those who argued that the diversity controversies surrounding these award shows are merely signs of compliance to the emerging culture of political correctness. Nevertheless, as I mentioned earlier, what good will additional diversity in these awards bring, especially in these times? Will it enable us to create a more harmonious discourse and understanding with those who think differently than us about political issues?

If it does show that America is going down a path of diversification that cannot be ignored anymore, how will it help convince those who voted for Trump that this phenomenon will not alienate them, and that they should just embrace it like many already have?

These are the questions that one ought to ponder and reflect on as they navigate ongoing diversity discourse, not just during awards season but throughout the whole year. This is also important here at St. Olaf, as the college diversifies its student body. We’ve already become politically divided according to the songs and movies we enjoy based on whether or not they’re representative of all.

In 2007, a poll by the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California showed that classical music is the most popular genre among both conservatives and liberals, with “world” music being the greatest source of disparity between them. In addition, out of 15 different genres, conservatives were more likely to listen to country and gospel, while liberals’ musical preferences were spread out over rock, punk, hip-hop, blues, reggae and jazz. On that note, for those of you who are truly interested in the politicization of the arts, the next time you see your friend with their earphones in, you might want to ask what type of music they are listening to.

Samuel Pattinasarane ’17 ( is from Jakarta, Indonesia. He majors in Asian studies and political science.

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Respectability politics necessary for progress

Two weeks have gone by since Election Day and it doesn’t take a sharp eye to see that Americans are still processing the fact that Donald Trump will be their next president. College campuses have become a stage for debates between Trump’s supporters and detractors that are beginning to take shape. At St. Olaf, multiple rallies were held to support those who are fearful and uncertain about how a Trump presidency will affect their lives. The St. Olaf administration sent out an email to students the day after the election, calling for respect for every student on campus, including the 10.33 percent who voted for Trump.

This action reflects the general opinion that fostering a sense of antipathy towards Trump supporters will only serve to deepen existing divisions. One could argue that the college administration was trying to establish a “middle ground” environment to facilitate discussion between these two sides in order to strengthen our flimsy sense of unity.

As an international student, I tried to understand the possible reasons that could have led over 10 percent of St. Olaf students to support Trump. Perhaps they were holding steadfastly to party lines. Maybe they felt disappointed by the policies passed under the Obama administration. Or maybe students who simply aren’t as progressive as the majority of the student body felt ostracized. The possibilities are endless, and there is no definitive answer.

I have already felt the repercussions of this election to some degree. There have been incidents of harassment of international students on campus, leading me to feel unsafe on the Hill for the very first time. The Trump administration also announced that they will be increasing scrutiny and placing quotas on people visiting the United States who are from predominantly Muslim countries. If these policies are implemented as he claims they will be, my parents could have a difficult time attending my graduation ceremony next year.

One could argue that these two examples are feeble, if not irrelevant. Nevertheless, since the examples affected me on a deeply personal level, I find it hard to show respect to any Trump supporters for the decision they made several weeks ago. It is already challenging enough for me as an international student to face issues of cultural appropriation on this campus, but now I am asked to show additional understanding and restraint to peers who voted for Trump. It is as if I have two different crosses on each of my shoulders.

But if I’m going to say that I still have a shred of basic human decency after this election, then the very least I can do is lend a hand to everyone on this campus, even to students with whom I deeply disagree. It is one thing to oppose the logic and rationale of these people, it is another to completely demonize them. Still, there is a lot of work to be done in order to bridge this division and earn genuine respect from students who are hurting.

I, for one, and many others as well, am tired of constantly having to take the helm and steer this community in the right direction. So I say to you, the 10 percent: Come forth and take this helm too, because it isn’t going to do us any good if your contributions are merely sticking Trump banners on your dorm room walls, ranting on social media or adding to already existing wounds.

Sam Pattinasarane ’17 ( is from Jakarta, Indonesia. He majors in Asian studies and political science.

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Lecturer offers political realism

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, the Institute for Freedom and Community hosted a lecture titled “Democracy for Realists and the 2016 Presidential Election,” with the aim of offering a pragmatic perspective to the U.S. presidential election. Professor Larry Bartels from Vanderbilt University was the main speaker of the event, which was based on the realistic perspective he discusses in the book “Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government,” which he co-authored with Princton University Professor Christopher Achen this past spring.

This lecture is the second in the series of events held by the Institute this past semester. The first event, held on Oct. 20, titled “Who’s in Your Wallet? Hamilton, Jackson, Tubman, and the Presidential Election,” discussed the 2016 presidential election in the context of the debate over which American figures should be pictured on the $10 and $20 bills.

Bartels began by pointing out two contemporary perspectives to democracy, the first one being the populist ideal, which emphasizes the significance of citizens in determining major public policies. The second ideal is the leadership selection ideal, in which citizens get an opportunity to accept or refuse their leaders. Based on these two perspectives, Bartels argues that most citizens assume they are using the election as a way to express their views of current societal events.

However, Bartels continued by arguing what is commonly called the retrospective voting theory, which suggests that election outcomes are more contingent upon voters’ perception of the performance of incumbent politicians than on voters’ belief systems. Several historical examples help to solidify this point, demonstrating that voters will often vote for seemingly irrational reasons. For example, incumbent President Woodrow Wilson lost his home state of New Jersey in the election of 1916 because many voters believed that he failed to adequately react to shark attacks in the state that year.

Bartels continued to argue that voters often vote based on social identities. He suggested that these identities shape how people think, what they think and where they belong in the party system. Using statistical analyses, he showed how Americans have voted based on social identities such as religion, economic class or party identification dating back to the 18th century. As time progressed, these analyses showed that elections have done little to constrain the ideological preferences of the political elites or shift the ideological preferences of the voters.

As for voters who believe they are truly well-informed, Bartels argued that their perception mirrors their social identities, and is a reaction to what party leaders have instructed them to think. Despite the constant presence of information through social and mass media, Bartels remarked that people will not necessarily use the available technology for the purpose of obtaining information, often opting to seek out entertainment instead. The political belief systems of the average citizen are “generally thin, disorganized and ideologically incoherent,” Bartels said.

Nevertheless, Bartels sees positivity in democracy. In his view, the essential randomness of election outcomes prevents one single party or group from becoming entrenched in power. Furthermore, groups who feel neglected or ostracized from the democratic system make attractive targets for recruitment, making democracies relatively inclusive. Finally, democracy stems politicians who seek re-election from violating any consensual norms.

These points reflect those made in Bartel’s and Achen’s book, in which they conclude, “Group and partisan loyalties, not policy preferences or ideologies are fundamental in democratic politics. Thus, a realistic theory in democracy must be built not on … the devotion to human rationality and monadic individualism, but on the insights of the critics who recognized that human life is group life.”

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Muehleisen’s Pietà reflects on loss, injustice

In the midst of the heating disagreement, antagonism, hostility and polarization that surround the world, this country and our college, it seems peculiar to find a tone that speaks out for compassion, mercy, love and justice — especially in the form of art.

On Sunday, May 1 that particular tone rang out from the Hill when St. Olaf Choir, in conjunction with the voice ensemble Magnum Chorum, performed the passion oratorio Pietà (pity). Pietà was composed by John Muehleisen and was first performed in March 2012.

The oratorio is set on three timelines: the present, as sung in the prologue and epilogue, World War I, sung in the first two scenes and Biblical times, specifically during Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection, sung in the third and fourth scene. Muehleisen uses multiple passion interludes for this piece. He drew specifically from the Byzantine and Russian Orthodox hymns, as well as from Bach’s choral works. The text is drawn from a variety of sources including the Bible, Bach’s choral texts, poets Wilfred Owen, William Blake, Violet Fane and excerpts from the funeral homily of Matthew Shepard.

Singing along with the St. Olaf Choir was the 60-voice ensemble Magnum Chorum. Based in the Twin Cities, the ensemble was founded in 1991 in the choral tradition of St. Olaf College. Its membership was originally limited to St. Olaf graduates, but beginning in 2005, auditions have been open to all singers who have a passion for choral music. The ensemble’s current artistic director is St. Olaf Instructor in Music Mark Stover ’01, who also serves as the conductor of the St. Olaf Chapel Choir and Viking Chorus.

As Muehleisen sees it, Pietà focuses deeply on the connotations of “compassions” and “mercy.” Noting the continuing decline of civility in political rhetoric, social discourse and individual interactions, he hoped that his music would bring back the values of compassion, kindness and humility in society.

“Our nation, our culture and our world are desperately in need of healing, and in need of following a higher standard of interaction and discourse, both interpersonally and internationally,” he said.

For St. Olaf Choir conductor Anton Armstrong ’78, this piece has a whole different significance on its own. Armstrong first encountered Pietà during his 2014 sabbatical. He remarked how he has never been more deeply influenced, both intellectually and aesthetically, by a musical work from the 21st century. In his view, this piece can express the need for compassion, mercy, justice and love to the campus in light of such issues as Madeleine Wilson ’16’s activism concerning St. Olaf’s sexual assault policy and the college’s Black Lives Matter movement.

“When rhetoric can be so deeply polarized — as in our time now — art can be a prophetic voice that speaks out new reasoning. And through this piece, we want to gather everyone and help them to relate with one another, so that we could create more understanding between us all that could lead to a more positive solution. Quick judgment, cynicism and anger alone will not benefit our community,” Armstrong said.

John Eliot Gardiner, an English conductor, once said, “Bach helps us to hear the voice of God but in human form, ironing out the imperfections of humanity in the perfection of his music.” As the audience sprang into a roar of applause for an amazing performance, I could not help feeling how Gardiner’s statement really rang true for this concert as well.

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