Pittsburgers! Spring is here, and we are staring down that long glorious water slide into summer, and it brings to mind a burning question: Do you like music? “Hell yes we do,” I imagine you yelling at your electronic device screens, “What kind of monster doesn’t like music?” I imagine you continuing. Well, that may be a little harsh of you, imaginary Pittsburgers, but your point is well taken. What kind of monsters, indeed?
I will tell you.
Our dear friends at the City of Pittsburg (“CoP,” because it has a certain lyrical quality), it turns out, absolutely hate music. And, if that music is coming from exuberant lively youngsters giddily engaging in a civic right, ooh, that really infuriates the CoP. They hate the sound of happy youths raising their voices in song, like a pre-midnight Ebenezer Scrooge faced with rosy-cheeked wassailers, they will harrumph an angry “good day to you… I said good day!” And slam the city doors on any revelers.
Our own mayor and the city council demonstrated more than their usual measure of tone deafness recently, to underscore that the only thing they hate more than even implicit criticism, is the beautiful sound of music. As we discussed recently, the CoP drummed up an artificial financial crisis only a few months after swearing that an ongoing sales tax would provide financial bounty for years to come, when nothing had changed in the intervening few months. The City used the looming crisis to justify some pretty drastic, even fatal cuts to many beloved events, programs, and of course, to the California Theatre, which had of late been putting on some amazing shows and drawing large crowds of people from out of town. Threatened with the prospect of a successful business district in Old Town, the CoP gamely said “not on our watch,” and proposed ending the California Theatre’s success, because the CoP believes in the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, break it.”
So, on May 1, there was a city council meeting scheduled at 7:00 pm, and a lot of people showed up in support of programs on the chopping block, including the California Theatre. For reasons that were never explained, the CoP stayed hidden in closed session for a long time. 7:30 pm rolled around, and there was not a peep from behind closed doors. What were they talking about? Silly, that is why they have closed doors, so we can’t hear them. But then, out they came! And, as they came out, a troupe of performers in the current PCT/California Theatre production of Hairspray started singing outside the council chambers. And it was stunning. I mean, wow, these kids can sing!
And what they sang was “I Know Where I’ve Been,” which, in Hairspray, is the song that is sung in a protest march against segregation through the streets of Baltimore. It is beautiful. Stop reading this and go find a recording and listen. Just listen. I challenge you to not get a catch in your throat. It is a song of protest, it is a song called freedom, it is beautiful and calls upon every listener to take a stand for what is right, to try to become a better person. It performs the unique magic that music can create in our hearts and reminds us that what unites us is so much stronger than what divides us. And the troupe sang the shit out of that song. Man, it was quite a moment, a moment that made you think, you know what? This place is pretty cool.
But, for the CoP, the troupe may as well have been screaming verse after verse of “I’ve Got a Loverly Bunch of Coconuts.” The uplifting sound of music was nothing more than a nuisance, one to be scorned and then ignored. So, our mayor took the most tone deaf approach possible, and though the CoP had already delayed the assembled citizens for half an hour, decided that in no way could the start of the meeting wait for the end of the song, ordered the doors to the council chamber shut, and – I am not making this up! – she immediately ordered the police chief to lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. The chief cannot be blamed for following the direct order of the mayor, so the mayor managed to create an instantly surreal scene; showing a profound lack of respect for peaceful protestors, for beautiful music, and for the Pledge of Allegiance, all in one minute! While she created an interesting auditory mash-up for the crowd, I am sure this was not the intent. It was as if the CoP, huddled behind their closed door for half an hour, had decided that they would rush out, steal whatever spotlight they could, and insult as many good things as they possibly could in as short a time as possible. It is a good thing there were no puppies present, because I am sure someone in the CoP would have tried to kick them.
Of course, the meeting then started in earnest with the City Manager(?) announcing that the CoP was not there to discuss whatever all the people there wanted to discuss, and the mayor promptly lumped any and all public commenters under a single umbrella so she could justify cutting everyone’s time to speak from three to two minutes. After the unexplained late start, they were suddenly concerned with keeping a schedule. So, too bad for the public.
But, really, what do we expect from people who hate music?
As of post-time for this piece, the CoP has announced that they heard the outcry after all, and that based on the community support for the theater, they are rescinding the proposed cuts! Just kidding, they said they are trying to figure out how to do more with less. That is, they heard the song, but they are going to do what they planned anyway, and are just going to make the theater figure out how to survive with whatever cuts they come up with. So… did they actually respond to the public? Hmm.
The proposed budget cuts are coming up for discussion again, Pittsburgers, May 15, at the convenient-for-no-one time of 5:00 pm. Maybe if we keep trying we can find a song the CoP might actually hear.
Also, go to a show at the California Theatre and show your support while we still can.