Joseph T. Green was elected as Minnesota Orchestra board chair in 2021 and will complete his tenure this month. These two years of service have been eventful ones, seeing audiences return in full capacity at Orchestra Hall, the appointment of a new music director and so much more. He adapted this essay from a speech he delivered at a pre-concert gathering in 2022.
Green retired as Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of TCF Financial Corporation when it merged with Huntington Bancshares in 2021. He is now an attorney in private practice in Minneapolis with Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, and will continue to serve on the Orchestra's board of directors.
I am thankful for much in life, especially for all the things that sadly, I often take for granted. As I near the end of my term as Minnesota Orchestra Board Chair, I have grown increasingly grateful for the gift of music and for those who make it. Perhaps because it is so ubiquitous, like the air we breathe, it is easy to forget how important music is in our lives.
History is replete with events demonstrating the power of music. During most of the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II, Hitler banned public performances of Frédéric Chopin’s music. Why? No doubt the Third Reich realized what enormous power that music held to mobilize resistance among the Polish people. In Russia, Dmitri Shostakovich’s newly completed Seventh Symphony was performed in August 1942 in Leningrad, when the starving city had been under siege by the Nazis for months. The musicians brought together to perform it were members of military bands weakened by hunger and disease, several of whom died as the orchestra was being organized. Why on earth would people worry about making music at a time like this? No doubt it had something to do with the power music has to give hope during the bleakest times.
Music offers the means to express ourselves when words fall short. Perhaps this is why major religious and holiday observations, as well as ceremonies commemorating milestones like weddings and school graduations, are tied to music. Music can also have profound effects on our physical and mental health. It can lift us to the loftiest realms of emotions, and it can help us deal with the depths of despair through its cathartic and healing power.
Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Designate Thomas Søndergård recently led our Orchestra in Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. When that ballet debuted in Paris in 1913, it was such a departure from artistic tradition that it provoked a riot. Poet T.S. Eliot said the piece transformed the “barbaric cries” of modern life into music, perhaps to help us deal with them, and it is now regarded as one of the most important classical works of the 20th century—one that influenced the development of music in other styles as well.
What is going on here? How do we explain why music can produce such incongruous results as a riot, sustenance in war, inspiration in houses of worship and successful medical therapies? We may never know exactly how it does what it does, but music speaks to us in ways that are fundamental to our humanity and lodged in the depths of our souls. This is powerful stuff, and what a privilege it has been to sit with others when they experience this joy in Orchestra Hall.
I am proud of all the Minnesota Orchestra has done to bring the best in orchestral music to our community, our students and others around the world. I’m gratified by its work to present a range of talented composers and artists, including those whose voices were not heard widely in times past because of bigotry and ignorance. And I’m thrilled that our Orchestra is open to new ideas and continues to honor its traditions—a melding that will keep our Orchestra in its long-held position as one of the finest in the world.
There are many other talented musicians, ensembles and artists in Minnesota who make the Twin Cities one of the most vibrant creative communities in the country. Our business leaders know human talent is their most important asset and attracting that talent is more critical than ever. Our arts community is a magnet that draws the finest minds from around the world to Minnesota and helps entertain, engage and inspire them once they are here.
There was a time in my life when I considered music and art to be luxuries—that is, things we can focus on once we have taken care of the basics, like the “Three Rs”: reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic. I now believe that these art forms inform who we are, and who we aspire to be, as human beings. If we lose them, we lose our way in life.
We need music, and I am so thankful for those who help us make and celebrate it.