Rochester Music Hall of Fame strays from promised mission

Print More

When established in 2011, the Rochester Music Hall of Fame (whose mission ostensibly is to, “recognize those with ties to Rochester whose talents, efforts, perseverance and creativity have contributed to the creation of musical excellence”), included in their charter class, the performances given in Rochester in 1851 by the “Swedish Nightingale”, soprano Jenny Lind, as well as her performance venue, the long-vanished Corinthian Hall.  Note that it was her performances, not the artist herself, which were honored. Lind of course had no other, “ties to Rochester”.

Interestingly enough, in the succeeding 12 years, no additional artist performances have been inducted into the Hall. On the classical front, the Rochester performances by such world-renown singers/musicians/composers as Enrico Caruso, George Gershwin, John McCormack, Gustav Mahler, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Yo-Yo Ma have been ignored. 

Doubly interesting is that, despite inductions into the Hall having been heavily, almost absurdly, weighted in favor of rock, blues and jazz, the Hall’s  selection committee has taken no notice of the local performances of Elvis, the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and many others.

As to venues, in the last decade only one other, the Eastman Theatre, has been inducted into the Hall.  Conspicuous by its absence is the former Convention Hall, today’s GEVA, despite having been the stage where such musical greats as Enrico Caruso, George Gershwin, Fritz Kreisler, John McCormack,
Gustav Mahler, Paderewski and Sergei Rachmaninoff performed.  A list of talent that certainly equals, if not out shines, that of either Corinthian Hall or the Eastman.

Curious about the historical amnesia which had apparently swept through the Hall of Fame, and  looking for an explanation or at least some insights, I attempted to contact those few members of the Hall’s board whose e-mail addresses I could track down on the internet.  The response was the
proverbial chirping of crickets.

Deciding to take direct action, since 2019 I’ve submitted to the Hall of Fame nominations for the induction of the Performances of Enrico Caruso, the Performances of Marian Anderson, and a venue nomination for Convention Hall.  Unsurprisingly, these nominations also met with the sounds of silence.

Now, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, a cynic might suggest that in 2011 some member of the Hall’s organizational committee, having read somewhere about the Rochester visit of the much-ballyhooed Jenny Lind, sought to grab some quick PR and a little legitimacy by cobbling together a
link between the Hall and the 19th. Century musical legend. 

Whatever the rationale, post-Lind performances, and to a lesser extent, venues,  mysteriously disappeared as eligibility categories immediately thereafter and the Hall’s focus has been restricted primarily to contemporary Rochester-area individuals and groups, apparently to play to the parochial interests of a community sadly unaware of its rich and lengthy musical history.

Michael J. Nighan

The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].

16 thoughts on “Rochester Music Hall of Fame strays from promised mission

  1. The initial criticism of the RMHF reminds me of a child being handed a candy bar, who complains about the wrapper. people are working hard to provide this service to our community. If you have the time to give them grief, you have the time to help them improve. Volunteer your efforts to make the music scene better here in Rochester, as they have, then your voice has merit.

    Personally, as a heart and soul music addict, I am grateful beyond words for any organization that devotes time, energy, and affection toward musicians and the sound of music.

    • Thank you sir. The Rochester Music Hall of Fame is not perfect and we accept criticism and try to respond as best we can, but we will never be able to satisfy everyone and we will never be right all of time. We will strive to make things better. There is a very long list of things that we are working on. As I’ve mentioned, we are an all volunteer board that works very hard. While we do try and balance the genres inducted there are other factors that are involved. This year is a first for Raggae music. Garth Fagan and his group are performers, different from Jenny Lind performances in a different era but performances none the less. We inducted James Rado a few years ago as he wrote and produced the music score Hair, which was a broadway performance on Broadway for years. We even brought in some of Mr. Rado’s performers. Again, we will never please everyone and I’m sure there’s someone out there that will pick apart the inductees I mentioned. Thank you.

  2. Just for grins and giggles, I did a quick count of inductees into the Hall to see where they fell out over time. By my count 8 fell in the period prior to WWII, and 55 in the years following.
    With the preponderance of those being post-1980. What a coincidence that over Rochester’s 200+ year history , the bulk of the contributions made to our music scene just happened to be made during the life of the members of the RMHF selection committee.

    • Mr. Nighan, this is my final post regarding this issue. You are obsessed with issues that you have been relentless about since the very beginning. I know that you have discussed these issues with a board member when you say you were ignored or as you said crickets. We try and do the best we can in honoring different genres but we can’t please everybody especially one person. So go ahead and keep counting inductees on our website picking away each year as you have been doing. We will continue to work hard at bringing Rochester something good. Have a nice day.

  3. I would respectfully like to respond to Mr. Nighan’s post regarding the Rochester Music Hall of Fame. First things first. It is a Rochester MUSIC Hall of fame and thus we cans induct musicians, those who have made a contribution to music in our community, venues, and events. The Performances of Jenny Lind is under the category of events. The fact that it was in 1851, doesn’t make it any less worthy than in todays world. When Jenny Lind came to Rochester to perform it was the equivalent of the Beatles coming in the 60s. People crowded Main St. and sat on rooftops to get a glimpse of her. Tickets were in such demand that they added a second show auctioning off tickets and the money went to charity. I disagree that the RMHF is not genre balanced. I also disagree that the RMHF is not accessible to people. Just this past week our board members have responded to over 100 questions on social media. On our website there is a page where people can reach the RMHF. This is checked regularly and responded to. As far as the events Mr. Nighan has selected on our website for future induction, we have hundreds of people on that list, and thus it would explain Mr Nighans comment of a rich lengthy music history. The RMHF can’t tell Mr. Nighan or anyone else when their selections will be inducted as we can only induct so many each year. We were told by other music halls of fame that we would be criticized a lot and that it goes with the territory. Our criteria for induction is always subject criticism and that’s because it can never be perfect. Nobody knows better than our selection committee who agonized months with criteria before finally realizing that it could never be perfect. In conclusion I am proud of our hard working board of directors who donate their time and sometimes money and never get a cent in return but are just happy to know they are doing something positive for our community. I would like to reach out to Mr Nighan to contact me or any of our board members and we would be will to sit down over a cup of coffee to discuss these issues. I applaud your passion and hopefully we can get together. I would suggest after the April 30 induction ceremony as we are very busy preparing right now.
    Karl LaPorta
    Founder RMHF

    • Mr. LaPorta, with all due respect, it’s clear from my letter that I was not raising the issue of why one performer was inducted and another was not. That’s far too subjective a question to interest me. Which is why I’ve never bothered to nominate a performer.

      The question I DID raise was why has the Hall of Fame inducted one, and ONLY one set of Performances in it’s 12 year history. (And to a lesser extent, why only two music venues.) No one, least of all I, has disputed the reputation of Miss Lind. So we needn’t bother with her press clippings. But having established the category of Performances (or “events” as you called it) in 2011, the Hall of Fame board then simply walked away. I’d like to know why.

      As an FYI, a year or two ago, when I tried to track down board members to ask about this situation, and received no replies, I of course sent a message to the Hall’s general e-mail address. With the same result.

      I’d be pleased to sit down with you folks…..if I knew how to get in touch with you.

      • Mr. Nighan,
        I really don’t understand your unrelenting focus on this issue for years. Maybe you should give the RMHF some credit for the good work they do. There are hundreds of nominees who were sent in by the public who have the credentials for induction. We have nominees who have been nominated many times. One has been nominated over 900 times. Through it all we still try and balance things. So if it isn’t you there are others who will take the time to pick apart the RMHF. So we’ll wait for your next criticism of the RMHF which is I believe you are the only one critical of lack of performances and continue to work hard to give the cast majority of our community something they can be proud of.

      • Mr. Nighan,

        There are a few things I left out of my last post. After the induction ceremony please go to our website and leave a message. I will then contact you and we can maybe get together for coffee. I know that you have talked to Bill Hunt who was a RMHF board member and I believe I responded to you years ago. Although I’m not clear on exactly when I believe it wasn’t long after our first induction ceremony unless I’m thinking of someone else. I can also address in greater depth your questions rather than writing a longer post.

  4. All I can say in response to Michael Nighan’s letter about the Rochester Music Hall of Fame is: “get in line.” Every music lover in Rochester has strong opinions about what/who the RMHF should be honoring and — as someone who is friends with several people on the board — I know they’re not quiet about airing them. Forget making everyone happy all the time; the RMHF board members have become a favorite target for complaints. However, they are not blameless. One of the major problems that the organization has always faced is its annual Induction Ceremony in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. In order to support having their show in that large, prestigious venue, the board is forced to consider carefully what performers will sell tickets (or how they can pair the inductees with performers who will draw). Another huge, related problem is that the RMHF does very little fundraising (especially submitting for grants) — although it is a non-profit — and is all volunteer. “Well, we do the best we can” is not really a viable tagline. Virtually every arts organization everywhere is a non-profit with a volunteer board. Additionally, as Mr. Nighan points out and I’ve read and heard many times, community input is often met with crickets. This is likely related to a zero-staffing issue (due to lack of funding) but — again — every arts organization has to figure out how to raise money so that it can fulfill its mission and serve its constituents in a responsible way. The RMHF seems to revel in having a high profile while not really facing its challenges. It’s still pretty young, though — founded in 2009 — and there are so many of us who want to see it succeed.

  5. I agree with you. The Music Hall of Fame event is not a well-balanced one. It caters to a demographic that will attract a larger audience to the induction. While most people, if asked, “Who’s Jenny Lind?” would scratch their head, there have been some great performances that have been overlooked, whether classical, rock, jazz, or R&B. It’s really become more about selling tickets to the event, modeling themselves as a “mini- Kennedy Center Honors”. There are so many overlooked potential inductees, and many not really worthy of the honor.
    I’ll go on record by nominating Lou Ouzer, the iconic photographer who documented all the great musical artists who came to perform with his camera and his keen eye. His work is worthy of induction. Case in point: a black and white photo of a young man alone in an Eastman practice room playing the piano with gloves with cut off fingers, worried about microbes on the keys before a Rochester performance. The young pianist was Glenn Gould, the world-famous pianist known for his eccentricities including hypochondria! Many of Ouzer’s equally stunning photos line the walls of the Eastman School of Music, itself, worthy of induction on its own merits.

    • I would ask you to visit our website and go through the list of inductees and you will find that the RMHF has inducted a well balanced group. Yes Lou Ouzer is certainly a nominee for future induction but one of our charter inductees is photographer Paul Hoeffler Hoeffler
      As far as patterning ourselves after the Kennedy Awards, you are correct. We have our induction ceremony at the Eastman Theater and we treat the whole event as a first class operation. While we certainly have to sell tickets, you may not know that when we induct someone, they have the option of bringing someone who was very instrumental to their career. Steve Gadd brought in Paul Simon, James Rado who wrote the very successful score Hair, brought in the Cowsills who performed in Hair. Every musician is either an inductee or associated with that inductee. We don’t just try and find a big draw not associated with our inductees just to sell tickets. We do have bills to pay including renting the Eastman Theatre so of course ticket sales and ad sponsors and donors are important to keeping the RMHF going, but to say that it is about selling tickets first is incorrect. We are a non profit organization whose members donate their time and in some cases their own money. We are not perfect but we do the best we can for our community

    • Please check our website inductee page and you will find it is pretty well balanced regarding genres of music Yes, we pattern the RMHF after the Kennedy Awards because we wanted showcase Rochester as a first class music community which it is. Our inductees have contacted us praising our induction ceremony as a top notch presentation. Yes we need to sell tickets. The RMHF has bills, including the Eastman Theater rental for our ceremony. We however never bring in anyone who is not an inductee or not affiliated with an inductee just to sell tickets. Yes we had Paul Simon perform at an induction ceremony and he was a big draw , but it was inductee Steve Gadds choice to have him here because he was influential with his career. This situation is not unusual and we have our inductees invite other musicians who were influential in their careers. The RMHF accepts criticism and we strive to improve but we realize we will never please everyone. We just hope that people understand that we are an all voluntary board of directors who work very hard to do something good for our community. We hope people will appreciate our efforts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *