The Schubert Club Letters Collection – How to Breathe Life Into Them

By March 10, 2014Commentary

I’ve written before about presentations in The Schubert Club museum and our goal of bringing the museum to life. In the case of the instrument collection, one fairly obvious way to achieve the goal is to invite musicians to perform on the instruments which are in playing condition, and to give demonstrations of those that are less robust. However, in the case of the 100+ letters and documents we have in our Gilman Ordway Manuscript Collection, breathing life into them requires a little more creativity.

Last Thursday evening, Vern Sutton (distinguished tenor, actor and retired university professor) rose to that particular challenge with an extraordinary presentation of music and exploration of six of the letters currently on display. Vern was joined by soprano Maria Jette, violinist Michael Sutton and keyboardist Donald Livingston. I myself have read through the six documents (written by Schubert, Wagner, Haydn, Barber, Richard Strauss and George Gershwin) multiple times, but the music and slide show presentation which Vern and friends delivered was far more enlightening and entertaining than a simple read-through. Vern talked about the writer, the recipient, the likely purpose behind the letter and the individuals, events and situations mentioned in the letters. He also made some educated guesses about unwritten background and always with enthusiasm and a certain twinkle in his eye.

In spite of the fact that the event had been rescheduled due to one of our nastier winter storms of the past few months, we still had a full room. At the end of the evening Vern and his fellow collaborators were enthusiastically applauded. It got me thinking about what other ways we could share his insights. For example, we might well try to produce short video clips with some of the interesting content Vern researched. These could be viewable in the museum as well as online. And we’ll certainly ask Vern if he’s willing to tackle another group of letters for another season.

In the meantime, the preliminary rounds of our 91st Competition named for former Schubert Club Director Bruce Carlson, took place on Saturday at Macalester College. It was a long but invigorating day, and congratulations and thanks are due to Kate Cooper and Education Committee Chair Marilyn Dan for pulling it off with apparent ease. More about the competition in a future blog.