During the holidays, I tend to reminisce.
One of my topics of focus in this holiday season has been to remember fondly the time I served during my law school years as chairman of the UT Cultural Entertainment Committee. Our committee would receive several dollars out of each “blanket tax” students would pay, mostly for the right to get to sporting events for free or at very reduced prices. With these proceeds plus minor charges we would assess, we would build and fund a series of performing arts and entertainment programs for the year.
We had a University administrator who staffed our work as well as faculty advisers who would share their views on artists they thought merited our attention. But the final decision-making was left to us.
I want to list some of the highlights of that 1972-1973 season. And then I want to pose a few questions that baffle me, and, through whatever means of social media you encounter this little essay, I would truly like to have your response to the questions.
Let me say in advance that I am confident that the costs of traveling and performing those many decades ago were substantially less than they are today. But, on the other hand, our budget, even in constant dollars, was pretty meager.
Here are the highlights of that season:
- Austin Symphony Orchestra, Aaron Copland conducting
- Edward Villella Dance Ensemble of the New York City Ballet
- Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Georg Solti conducting
- Harkness Ballet
- Alfred Brendel
- Julian Bream
- Harkness Ballet
- Sherrill Milnes
- Julliard String Quartet
- Evelyn Lear
- Pinchas Zuckerman
- Jean-Pierre Rampal with Robert Veyron-Lacroix
- Emlyn Williams as Dylan Thomas
- San Francisco Mime Troupe
- Marcel Marceau
- Emerson, Lake, and Palmer
- Billy Preston
- Fleetwood Mac
- Jazz Festival, featuring groups of McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Pharoah Sanders, and Herbie Mann
- Roberta Flack
- Earl Scruggs Revue
Now, here are my questions: 1) How is it with all growth in population, “sophistication,” and the amazing new venues we have in Austin, Texas, that we do not each year bring this caliber of programming to our city today?; 2) Or, do you believe we do just fine and that my tastes are those of an old fuddy-duddy who just does not appreciate the wonders of the new “global style” or how today’s advances in the music scene are really all that matters?; 3) Or is it that the sorts of artists and groups who traveled way back then just do not do so any more, or that it is prohibitively expensive for them to do so on anything like the scale they did back then?
I am prepared to believe that the answer to any or all of these questions might, at least in part, be yes. But I hope that you’ll forgive me for thinking that we have not advanced as much culturally as we should have, given all the millions of dollars we have put into our new fancy facilities and the high esteem in which we hold our hot-shot selves and our city. Actually, my hypothesis is that, culturally, we have de-advanced.