Sightlines: Music, Then & Now

Article by Michael Hauser, with introduction by Mike Wangen 

Here is a thought provoking article by Michael Hauser, known as the father of flamenco in the Midwest, having brought this art form to the area in the early sixties.  His parents were both well known artists: modern dance pioneer Nancy Hauser, and sculptor Alonzo Hauser.  After several trips to Spain to study, he built a career here as a teacher and performer.  With his brother Tony, an accomplished classical guitarist, they performed as the Hauser Guitar Duo.  He was also the co- founder, along with dancer and choreographer Susana Di Palma, of the well known Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theater.

The Nancy Hauser Dance Company of which Michael speaks in the accompanying article was known as one of the leading modern dance companies in the Midwest.  Upon Nancy Hauser’s passing in 1990, daughter Heidi Hauser Jasmin became the artistic director until recently, when she retired.

Laura Horn does a flamenco dance as Diego Rowan-Martin, left, and Michael Hauser play guitar at the Festival of Nations. Photo Credit: Pioneer Press, Chris Polydoroff

Laura Horn does a flamenco dance as Diego Rowan-Martin, left, and Michael Hauser play guitar at the Festival of Nations. Photo Credit: Pioneer Press, Chris Polydoroff

It is always easy to look back, of course, and say that “those were the good old days”, but from the perspective of a musician who has been active in this area since the mid-sixties, I believe they were.

In the early sixties, I returned from studying the art of flamenco in Spain.  My passion was the guitar, both in its solo form, and as the main instrument used to accompany the dance and the song.  Prior to that time, I had taught myself by carefully listening to the few phonograph recordings in my parent’s collection.  Very few played this type of music in Minnesota in those days.

There seemed to be a great hunger for live music, and art in general, a hunger that lingered on until the mid-eighties or so.  When I returned from Spain in 1963, shortly before the Kennedy assassination, I soon found employment at a nightclub in downtown Minneapolis, the Running Fox Inn.

Naturally, I was quite insecure at that point. I wasn’t really ready for the stage, but then nobody else performed this style of music, and it seemed wildly appreciated, as did most musical genres of that period.  People were familiar with what we all did, and in my case, they would often see flamenco on the Ed Sullivan, or the Johnny Carson shows.  In addition, perhaps three major classical or flamenco guitarists, such as Andres Segovia, or Carlos Montoya, would perform at the Guthrie or Northrup Auditorium, as well as one or two major Spanish dance companies.

That, of course, is long gone, and one has to depend on small non-profit presenting entities such as the Minnesota Guitar Society, or the various small dance presenters.  The volume of interest is no longer there, a topic of which I will address shortly.

In 1967 my mother, Nancy Hauser the modern dance pioneer, classical guitarist Jeffery Van, two other individuals, and I each invested $2,000.00 to form an arts organization known as the Guild of Performing Arts, on Cedar Avenue, near the West  Bank of the U of M campus.  There we rented a building and created a small theater which was used for intimate performances by local musicians and dancers, and even a cutting edge radical theater company known as the Minnesota Ensemble Theater founded by Joe Walsh.  It was also home to the Nancy Hauser Dance Company, and on the second floor was a large space perfect for a dance studio.  In addition, there was a small art gallery.  Other styles of dance were taught as well, including flamenco, and Indian.  The building also housed three music studios where guitar lessons were given as well as voice and other instrumental lessons.  We even had space in the basement for a working area for the printmaker, Paul Jasmin.  It was a wonderful thing we had created, and to this day artists who spent their formative reappear now and then to talk about the “old days”.  Many have gone on to have successful careers.  There were a number of dancers who began with my mother, and ended up in New York making names for themselves.  The actress Jessica Lange got her start there, teaching mime.  Dick Van Dyke walked in one Saturday,  being in town for a meeting.  He had been at the Guild the previous night to hear a chamber group and wanted to know what might be going on that night!  The Vietnam War was raging, and so were the protesters, all up and down the West Bank.  Kids would come in from Edina and other suburbs, park their cars along the edges, change into their hippie attire, and join the protests, their parents being none the wiser.

During the early to mid-seventies, non-profit organizations came into being, and thus did the Guild of Performing Arts.  The National Endowment for the Arts came into full bloom, and suddenly we were all touring.  The NHDC did residencies all over the country, Flamenco dancer Susana Di Palma, my brother  guitarist Tony Hauser, and I (we were known as Trio Flamenco), toured Alaska and Hawaii for three months, as well as other communities throughout the country.  It was a golden era for all of us.  Funding was available for all the arts.

During the eighties, When Reagan became president, much of this went away, mostly due to budget cuts.  Many of the smaller arts organizations lost their funding, as the bulk of the funds went to support the larger organizations such as the Minnesota Orchestra and the Guthrie Theater.  Small but dynamic arts organizations which had become the breeding ground for young artists disappeared, to be replaced by the larger institutions which by the very nature of their size, were unable to create the type of atmosphere conducive to the creative spirit.

Then, as the nineties approached, two major forces arose which would change the art scene for the foreseeable future, the unavoidable crush of capitalism, and the rise of the digital age.

Capitalism by its very nature does not know morality, nor does it acknowledge creativity unless it is self serving.  It feels nothing, it is simply a force that in its early stages contributed to growing this country, and now is slowly destroying it. It is a force that cannot be stopped any easier than wholesale greed can be stopped.  It is what has created such creatures as Donald Trump.  

The wonderful diversity that I remember, of music in the fifties and sixties, is gone.  One of the functions of capitalism is to force everything down to its lowest common denominator, thus making the product available to the masses, who themselves are becoming dumbed down through this crushing process.  When it became apparent that billions of dollars could be made by producing simplistic music with nothing more than a primal 2/4 rhythmic pulse, all efforts to enlighten people’s lives with any other style of music died.  Music became entertainment, and no longer what you would really call music.  

A symptom of the lowering of musical knowledge is the overwhelming presence  “bands playing songs” as opposed to the multiplicity of wonderful forms and formats of performance, symphonic, chamber, jazz, tangos…all the various dances and forms are rarely in the general public’s awareness.

The digital age has altered the playing field as well.  Many young artists of all genres are finding exciting and innovative new ways to adapt the new tools they have to their own artistic expression.  And those with curiosity are able to use such resources as Google and YouTube to discover, enjoy, and learn almost any musical or artistic style which exists.

However, I worry about their ability to make a living.  Certainly being diverse will help.  It gives me a good feeling to know that these youngsters, in the end, will be responsible for saving the music I learned, and the music I once listened to.

The downside is the fascination by many with devices such as smartphones.  Whereas once folks enjoyed their meal or drink listening to musicians hired to perform for their pleasure, now the majority are finding their handheld devices to be more exciting.

I perform regularly at a club near the University of Minnesota and the first thing I see many patrons do when they arrive is to slap their digital devices on the table and begin viewing them.  They may or may not speak with each other, most likely not, unless to giggle at something one of them just discovered.  Then, they’ll take a selfie.  They have become distracted.

We are early on in this new era and I hope that as the novelty wears off, people will return to listening to the diverse forms of music that still exist in the world as well as the musician sitting right in front of them.