In Duluth, Every Month Is An Artistic Spring

Sam Black

My mind is filled with songs, with two lute players on the same platform, with a very young woman sharing poetry in English and in Persian, and with passionate string players making a public stage vibrate with their intensity. And that only represents the artistic opportunities I chose to attend this past few days.
One of the themes I will share regularly in this column is the flowering of all the arts that happens in Duluth, MN, twelve months of the year, regardless of the temperature or the quantity of snow that has accumulated. In this small, northern village of 86,000 residents, we are more blessed with high quality artists than most cities twelve times our size. I urge you to partake in the cultural feast.
At the moment I am haunted by Farzana Marie, a gifted young woman living in Arizona, who has chosen to bring to our attention the riveting poetry by eight young Afghanistan women, risking their lives by writing in the post-Taliban years of Herat, a beautiful city on the western edge of their country. Published by the Duluth-based Holy Cow! Press, “Load Poems Like Guns” discharges love and concord with more power than an entire battery of murderous mortars. One especially juicy morsel suggests that:
If I invite the sun to this scene, the light will reveal
that my garden is the envy of jewels.
Take a moment this early spring and check it out. The world is made far better by this sharing of passionately humane poetry from a war-torn corner of our planet.
Meanwhile, UMD pianist Tracy Lipke-Perry enlisted sopranos Alice Pierce and Audra Scott, along with violinist Rudy Perrault, to join her at UMD’s Weber Music Hall to celebrate the music of Vermont composer Gwyneth Walker. Many of the songs on this program were written by American women, also celebrating the vividness of their life experiences thousands of miles away from their Afghan counterparts. This luscious, melodic music, written within the past twenty years, speaks powerfully to our world-oriented concerns related to nature, human compassion, and a deep concern for all of life.
Over at The College of St. Scholastica, lute specialist Edward Martin was joined by Thomas Walker in a Saturday evening of music from the 16th and 17th century French world. Tenor William Bastian started off the evening with several richly melodic songs praising life, love, good wine, and beautiful women. Then the two lutenists offered quiet - it’s the nature of the lute - selections from the dance repertoire of those giddy Renaissance decades. Martin lives here in Duluth, when he is not performing in England, Amsterdam, or Munich. Walker lives in the Twin Cities, but he and Martin perform together regularly. How often can you attend a performance by two profoundly competent lute players on this continent?  Welcome to Duluth!
The world of Michael Haydn, Franz Schubert, and Ludwig van Beethoven might have ended by 1828, but their music lives on with energy. Watching violinist Brian Buckstead, violist Rudy Perrault, cellist Betsy Husby, and bassist Adam Booker, kept alive the notion that this music can be deeply stirring in our own time. These string players in motion make me realize that all music from most every era can be performed with passion that reaches throughout any auditorium.
My point is that in Duluth, you and I have access to music and literature that is at the top of all human accomplishments. You don’t have to travel to New York or London, but you do have to get involved with the UMD, UWS, CSS faculty as they perform exceptional music, and also pay attention to local publishers releasing dynamic collections of literature year in and year out. Life at the top of the map is overflowing with a spring of artistic brilliance, and you are invited to sniff the blossoms.