A Sad Story

Gerald Bales (1919-2002). Image Source: Canadian Music Centre.

One day can change a whole life. It is a cliché, the kind of idea that comes up in movies like Dog Day Afternoon (1975). There are millions of stories which prove every day how true that cliché actually is. A small corner of someone's reality becomes tragic, magnified at an awful turning point. The story that follows struck me as a microcosm of the conflict between art and brutality, between people who try to find a creative solution and those who seek a destructive answer. It reminded me of the ways that conflict seems to be everywhere today, and how brutality seems to be winning. This story also depicts two societies: one mostly preserved a small town innocence to the end of the 20th century, while the other struggled with crime and violence.

This story was related to me by someone who studied under a Canadian musician and composer named Gerald Bales. A child prodigy born in Toronto, Bales was at one time considered to be the best organist in Canada. He taught music and held a number of Canadian church appointments, until he moved to the United States.

The organ at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Image Source: OHS Pipe Organ Database.

From 1959 to 1971 Bales served as the organist and choirmaster at the Cathedral Church of St. Mark in Minneapolis. The Canadian Music Centre remarks:
In that post, he established the Cathedral Music Series and conducted many first performances of compositions by American, Canadian and British composers. His organ recitals there became a vital contribution to the Minneapolis music scene - attracting numerous guest recitalists of international fame.
One day, while Bales was practising at the organ, robbers came into the church, hit him on the head and mugged him. He fell into a coma and never fully recovered. The head injury he suffered ruined his motor skills and made it impossible for him to perform at the organ again.

The organ at St. Mark's. Image Source: Mark Manring.

After the robbery, one of Bales's compositions, commissioned by St. Marks, premiered in 1974. It was called Song of Creation.

The centre of Minneapolis began a slow decline in the decades after the 1950s. The Whittier community of the city, not far from the cathedral, had once been affluent and began to suffer rising crime by the 1970s. You can see a story (here) in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the high crime rates in the city in the 1970s compared to today. On 18 October 1988, authorities demolished Block E in downtown Minneapolis, which had become a focal point of peep shows and porn shops. There is a Facebook page devoted to Old Minneapolis, before and during the rise of crime, here; the affiliated photo page is here. A 2004 article (here) discusses why crime fell across the United States by the 1990s; the article mentions Minneapolis.

You can hear one of the compositions which Gerald Bales wrote during the early part of his stay in Minneapolis below the jump, and variants by him here. One Youtuber comments: "I believe Bales to be a highly under-appreciated composer of the 20th century."
Read more »

Share this

Related Posts

Next Post »