February 10, 2021
Mary Ann Feldman: Her Legacy and Her Gift
As the Minnesota Orchestra releases its first-ever televised Young People’s Concert on February 12, we remember an inspirational figure whose support is helping to make this broadcast—and free access to it for students everywhere—possible.
Mary Ann Feldman lived life with zest, always carrying a song in her heart, and throughout her 85 years—including 33 as the Minnesota Orchestra’s program annotator—classical music was essential as food, water and shelter. During a childhood that included the Great Depression and the madness of World War II, she found comfort in creating scrapbooks that paid tribute to great musical masters, and in 1941, at age 8, she attended her first orchestra concert, featuring the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra, as the Minnesota Orchestra was then known.
“I was in the third grade,” Mary Ann said in a 2005 interview with me for the Minnesota Orchestra archives. “I went with my school group to what was a Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra Young People’s Concert in Saint Paul, my native city. When I heard the oboe sound the ‘A,’ it was the Orchestra’s great Principal Oboe Rhadames Angelucci tuning up the players. I heard that ‘A’ and that was enough for me. It was a Pied Piper experience: one tone and I was absolutely entranced, only to see, a couple of minutes later, a high-voltage figure walked onto the stage: It was Dimitri Mitropoulos.”
From that moment on, Mary Ann was in love—with both classical music and the great Orchestra she would serve during her distinguished career. She pursued her musical interests at St. Joseph’s Academy in Saint Paul. As an undergraduate, she studied English and music history at the University of Minnesota, and then moved to New York City to earn a master’s in music at Columbia. Years later she earned a doctorate in musicology at the University of Minnesota during her three-plus decades as program annotator for the Minnesota Orchestra. Her research, writing, speaking and passion elevated her to become one of the nation’s most admired and charismatic champions for classical music.
Following her death on February 18, 2019, Mary Ann and her late husband Harold Feldman left a significant share of their estate to support the Minnesota Orchestra’s Mary Ann Feldman Music Education Fund. Their gift of over $560,000 to the Minnesota Orchestra’s endowment is dedicated to support Young People’s Concerts and “to maximize the impact of orchestral music on youth audiences.”
“I am the product of music in the schools—not of any elaborate orchestral or band curriculum, but of teachers who taught us to read music, sang with us every day,” Mary Ann wrote in her valedictory essay in the Minnesota Orchestra’s Showcase magazine in May 1999, upon her retirement as program annotator and the magazine’s editor. “Above all, they collected our quarters, bundled us up, and from early grades on escorted us on the old Randolph Mahtomedi streetcar, not just once a year, but to every Young People’s Concert performed by the then-Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra.”
While Mary Ann was a fan of many forms of music, including folk and country music, she didn’t want classical music relegated to the back burner for up-and-coming generations. She often spoke about her admiration for how one of America’s rising stars in classical music found a way in 1958 to use television to ensure that classical music remained front and center for youth: Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic.
Mary Ann Feldman next to composer Aaron Copland at his 70th birthday luncheon in 1970.
Mary Ann was a tireless advocate for classical music, dedicating countless hours year-round reaching out to Minnesota’s young people through personal classroom visits. In her 2005 interview for the Minnesota Orchestra archives she said:
“When I go into classrooms, and I often do, I love to confront the senior high students before they go out into the world. They’re making their own lifestyles, and we may have just one last chance to snag them. When I go into a classroom, before the class starts officially, I look around, and especially note the boys. I can see they’re looking at me and thinking: ‘Gosh, what’s this gonna be all about?’ Well, I pride myself on one thing: in 15 minutes they are eating out of my hand.
“But it's not me at all…it’s the music. Then I project their lives to them. I may bring them Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, not the Fifth whose beginning they all know, with its most famous four notes in music. And I describe what Beethoven was doing in this Pastoral Symphony. I tell them that most of them are destined to spend their lives in padded cell offices in front of computer monitors, living their lives in cyberspace, hoping their jobs won’t be outsourced. Never was there a generation who more needed music…needed what Beethoven was expressing in the movement to which he attached the title The Awakening of Cheerful Feelings on Arriving in the Country. It's like getting out of the office, saying, ‘Take this job and shove it!’ and going out into the woods, spending the day, a spring day, in nature.
“I can’t describe what happens when they hear the music. A spell comes over the room. Then I follow it with one of my favorite things, if there’s time: Richard Strauss’ Alpine Symphony, where you’re in a campground in the dark, as dawn comes, and you’re about to make a big climb up a mountain. It unfailingly demonstrates that every person can react positively to a thrilling symphonic experience. Sad to say, we're not giving this to kids, just when they need it. Music education has virtually died out in the schools.
“[With young people I’m] trying to convey why they needed the thrill of the collective musical experience: LIVE music, not just their iPods with wires coming out of their ears, but getting together with people. In the act of listening to music together, their spirits are revived, they can feel wonderful again, no matter what’s going on in their lives. And that’s my message.”
Thanks to Mary Ann and Harold Feldman’s legacy gift, young people will experience the thrill of live, symphonic music for generations to come.
Karl Reichert serves as the personal representative for the Mary Ann Feldman Estate. He worked with Mary Ann while he served as the Minnesota Orchestra’s Director of Public Affairs from 1992 to 2001. He currently serves as Executive Director for Textile Center in Minneapolis.
The thrill of Young People’s Concerts can be experienced on Friday, February 12, at 3 p.m. Central, when the Minnesota Orchestra presents “Musical Menagerie,” a musical collaboration with the Minnesota Zoo, on Twin Cities PBS (TPT-Channel 2), as well as via livestream on social media and our website. This Young People’s Concert will remain available for on-demand viewing.