Temple University Press’s annual Holiday Book Sale

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase our annual Holiday Book Sale, being held through December 1 from 11:00 am – 2:00 pm at the Event Space in Charles Library, 1900 N. 13th Street in Philadelphia, PA.

Meet Ray Didinger, author of Finished Business and The Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition December 1 from 11:00 am – 12:00 pm.


Gift Books and Philadelphia Interest Titles

Salut!: France Meets Philadelphia, by Lynn Miller and Therese Dolan

Salut! provides a magnifique history of Philadelphia seen through a particular cultural lens.

Monument Lab: Creative Speculations for Philadelphia, edited by Paul M. Farber and Ken Lum

Monument Lab energizes a civic dialogue about public art and history around what it means to be a Philadelphian.

Beethoven in Beijing: Stories from the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Historic Journey to China, by Jennifer Lin, with a foreword by Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin

A fabulous photo-rich oral history of a boundary-breaking series of concerts the orchestra performed under famed conductor Eugene Ormandy in China 50 years ago.

The Italian Legacy in Philadelphia: History, Culture, People, and Ideas, edited by Andrea Canepari and Judith Goode

Celebrates the history, impact, and legacy of this vibrant community, tracing four periods of key transformation in the city’s political, economic, and social structures.

BLAM! Black Lives Always Mattered!: Hidden African American Philadelphia of the Twentieth Century, by the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Foreword by Lonnie G. Bunch III

The inspiring stories of 14 important Black Philadelphians in graphic novel form!

Real Philly History, Real Fast: Fascinating Facts and Interesting Oddities about the City’s Heroes and Historic Sites, by Jim Murphy

Philly history in bites that are as digestible as a soft pretzel with mustard!

Exploring Philly Nature: A Guide for All Four Seasons, by Bernard S. Brown, Illustrations by Samantha Wittchen

A handy guide to experiencing the flora and fauna in Philly, this compact illustrated volume contains 52 activities for discovering, observing, and learning more about the concrete jungle that is Philadelphia all year long!

Artists of Wyeth Country: Howard Pyle, N. C. Wyeth, and Andrew Wyeth, by W. Barksdale Maynard

An unauthorized and unbiased biographical portrait of Andrew Wyeth that includes six in-depth walking and driving tours that allow readers to visit the places the Wyeths and Pyle painted in Chadds Ford, PA.

The Mouse Who Played Football, by Brian Westbrook Sr, and Lesley Van Arsdall, with illustrations by Mr. Tom.

An inspiring story, based on Westbrook’s own experiences, that encourages young readers to believe in themselves and make their unique differences their strengths.

Do Right By Me: Learning to Raise Black Children in White Spaces, by Valerie I. Harrison and Kathryn Peach D’Angelo

Through lively and intimate back-and-forth exchanges, the authors share information, research, and resources that orient parents and other community members to the ways race and racism will affect a black child’s life—and despite that, how to raise and nurture healthy and happy children. 

The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design, by Lolly Tai, with a Foreword by Jane L. Taylor

Landscape architect Lolly Tai provides the primary goals, concepts, and key considerations for designing outdoor spaces that are attractive and suitable for children, especially in urban environments.

The Real Philadelphia Book, Second Edition, by Jazz Bridge

A collection of more than 200 original jazz and blues compositions, arranged alphabetically by song title, showcasing work by generations of Philadelphia musicians.

Cincinnati: Crucible of Nineteenth-Century Religious Pluralism

This week in North Philly Notes, Matthew Smith, author of The Spires Still Point to Heaven: Cincinnati’s Religious Landscape, 1788-1873, writes about the Queen City as a hub for religious and cultural life in the nineteenth century.

This book is the first monograph on the religious landscape of pre-Civil War Cincinnati, which was in many ways the representative city of antebellum America. Mark Twain infamously hoped to find himself there when the world ended, it being “always twenty years behind the times.” In its heyday, however, the Queen City was a hotspot in the development of the nation, embracing the future rather than awaiting the apocalypse. Before St. Louis and Chicago eclipsed it as the leading city of the Midwest, Cincinnati was a vibrant metropolis attracting curious travelers and utopian idealists from across the world in the wake of booming trade and economic migration. Although Cincinnati was first and foremost a commercial hub on the Ohio River, itinerant preachers, domestic missionaries, and social reformers shaped the cultural life of the city as much as the pork merchants, steamboat manufacturers, and artisans who founded its economy. Just as twenty-first century urbanists emphasize the “liveability” of modern cities, so too nineteenth-century boosters obsessed over the character of their communities, and religion was a big part of that obsession. One writer boasted in 1841, “that within one hundred years … Cincinnati will be the greatest city in America; and by the year of our lord two thousand, the greatest city in the world.”

Cincinnati never quite realized the full ambitions of its boosters, but nor was it the Midwestern backwater Mark Twain so slyly deprecated. Situated in the heart of the Ohio Valley, the Queen City drew heavily from its rich agricultural hinterlands, as well as the booming infrastructure of the Market Revolution, connecting it by road and canal to the great cities of the east. Such connections also brought religious influences, beginning with evangelical Protestant connections during the Second Great Awakening of the early nineteenth century. In consequence, Cincinnati flourished as the western hub of the so-called “Benevolent Empire.” This network of voluntary religious societies sought to reform society by marshalling the energies of lay worshipers—men and women—as well as the more traditional leadership of the ordained clergy. The Queen City was soon home to societies promoting both foreign and domestic missions, the distribution of Bibles and religious tracts, the founding of Sunday Schools, promotion of temperance, and, of course, the abolition of slavery. Perhaps the central figure in this movement was New England preacher Lyman Beecher, who came to Cincinnati in 1832. Remembered today as the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Lyman Beecher was president of Lane Theological Seminary, a bastion for educating clergy to sow the gospel through the western frontier. The very prosperity that made Cincinnati a magnet for evangelical institutions, however, was also its Achilles’ heel. “We must educate! We must educate!” warned Beecher, “or we must perish by our own prosperity.”

The cultural dominance of Presbyterian evangelicals was ultimately short-lived. Cincinnati benefited tremendously from the arrival of Catholic immigrants from Germany and Ireland in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, though immigration stirred the darkest fears of local nativists, steeped in generations of anti-Catholicism. Beecher’s notorious 1835 polemic, A Plea for the West, warned against “floods of pauper emigrants” arriving from Europe. Many Cincinnatians shared Beecher’s concerns, while bloody outbursts of violent nativism occurred during the Know-Nothing nadir of the 1850s. But the story of Cincinnati contains seeds of hope as well as moments of despair, and dialogue shaped sectarian relations as much as conflict. Much of this dialogue was pragmatic and institutional, but no less valuable in helping Cincinnatians figure out their way to religious pluralism. Protestant philanthropy helped endow the city’s first Catholic churches, for example, encouraging valuable economic migration in the process. Many of Cincinnati’s Catholic schools educated generations of Protestant children, despite fierce competition between the public and parochial schools systems. And Cincinnati was also home to other forms of cultural and religious expression besides Christianity, including Reform Judaism, a progressive tradition that reflected Cincinnati’s diverse religious landscape.

These themes are further explicated in The Spires Still Point to Heaven, showing how nineteenth-century Cincinnati tested the boundaries of nativism, toleration, and freedom.

University Press Week Blog Tour: #NextUP bookseller love!

It’s University Press Week and the Blog Tour is back! This year’s theme is Next. Today’s theme is #NextUP bookseller love!

Featuring forward-thinking local booksellers.

Northwestern University Press

Spotlight on Seminary Co-op Offsets; excerpt from Divine Days

University of Pittsburgh Press

An interview with Anna Weber, Events Director at White Whale Bookstore about the role that UPs play in their store.

Athabasca University Press

A cross-country tour of independent bookstores that we have partnered with over the last couple of years.

Johns Hopkins Press

Bookseller spotlight: Greedy Reads, Baltimore Maryland.

University Press of Florida

Our authors at this year’s Miami Book Fair (Nov 18-20) and a shout-out to the Fair’s bookselling partner, Books & Books, plus highlights from recent author events at Books & Books.

Harvard University Press

Rachel Cass from Harvard Book Store will discuss the new store they are opening in Boston’s Back Bay. She’ll provide an overview of their goals for the store and how UPs will benefit.

University of Missouri Press

A feature on Alex George, author, owner of Skylark Books, founder of the Unbound Book Festival, and winner of this year’s Midwest Bookseller of the Year award.

Yale University Press

Appreciation tweet for local bookstore R.J. Julia.

University of Alberta Press

Celebrating Glass Bookshop in Edmonton, our newest indie, just about to open a physical location after doing pop-ups during the pandemic.

University of Washington Press

Q&A with owner of Phinney Books

Purdue University Press

A brief homage to the 4 local bookstores that support Purdue and Greater Lafayette

University of Toronto

A blog post written by someone from the UofT bookstore

Cornell University Press

Spotlight on indie local booksellers Buffalo Street Books and Odyssey Books by our Director, Jane Bunker

Columbia University Press

Spotlight on East Bay Booksellers

University Press Week: What’s #NextUP in publishing

It’s University Press Week and the Blog Tour is back! This year’s theme is Next. Today’s theme is What’s #NextUP in publishing?

Steven Beschloss and Pardis Mahdavi, write about their new Temple University Press series, Transformations Books.

Our world is at an unprecedented moment of transformation. The worst viral pandemic in over 100 years. Largest outpourings of protests in support of social justice globally in over 100 years. Worst climate crisis in over 100 years.

Our own transformations are both a part of and a response to the world around us. In this time of tumult, our personal transformations inform and also are informed by the political. We have long known that the personal is political, embedded in a larger societal context. What we are experiencing now are examinations and confrontations of how these larger forces transform the personal and vice-versa.

This moment calls for reflection of the self in relation to the world around us. It’s why we are excited to introduce a series of books infused with the insights of academia and matched with personal experiences and compelling narrative writing that can connect with both scholarly and wide public audiences. Transformations Books will explore issues of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, drawing on the lived experiences of authors and grounded in specific locations domestically and globally.

Taking geography and justice as broad mapping coordinates, these short, elegant books of 25,000 to 30,000 words aim to engage a cross-section of popular and scholarly readers with powerful, compelling moments of change—exploring all the pain, joy, promise and resilience these journeys may yield. While these narrative books may include elements of memoir, they also will offer insights into the larger societal and political contexts in which such personal experiences happen and resonate.

As the Transformations Books series is about the locus of place and story, we are eager to both join and shape the conversation about a world and individuals in transition. How do place, moments, and politics affect individual lives—and vice versa?

The launch of Transformations Books is rooted in the belief that well-told narrative stories that address many of the key issues of our time will not only motivate talented writers and thinkers, but also attract a wide readership who may have been hesitant to engage these issues and ideas in more traditional academic modes.

Transformations Books also arrives at a juncture in which the nature of academia and its role in broader society itself is at a critical point of transformation. The need for academia to be both more engaged with and more engaging to a wider public is critical to addressing and solving some of our world’s major challenges. As such, the series itself is about building bridges between academia and the larger public; in the process, we hope it can help drive public discourse and help build coalitions to address the realities of personal pain as well as some of the world’s most wicked problems.

The Transformations project encourages deeper understanding and expression of complex challenges through meaningful stories at moments of epiphany. The more the resulting books may enlighten readers through their personal, emotionally honest and deeply considered stories, the more they may helpfully encourage positive transformations for our communities.

In contrast to most book series, Transformations Books may originate as “Transformations” narrative essays, published as part of the online magazine and an independent publishing channel of the Los Angeles Review of Books. The series is also open to direct submissions from authors across fields and disciplines interested in publishing works that meet the series’ aims and draw on their individual expertise.

University Press Week: What author is #NextUP

It’s University Press Week and the Blog Tour is back! This year’s theme is Next. Today’s theme is What author is #NextUP?

Celebrating first-time authors, Luis Felipe Mantilla, blogs about publishing his first book,
How Political Parties Mobilize Religion: Lessons from Mexico and Turkey, with Temple University Press in June 2021

How Political Parties Mobilize Religion began as a doctoral dissertation that I had set aside for a few years to work on other projects. As tenure drew near, I returned to the book project with some trepidation. I knew the project had important merits–the case selection was good and the core insights about religious parties were original and important–but I also knew it needed a lot of work. I wrote a proposal that emphasized the manuscript’s strengths and treated its weaknesses as arguments for why the book would be different and better than the dissertation. However, despite putting on a brave face, I knew I would need support and encouragement from my future editors.

When I approached a few other presses with the project, I got positive feedback but not the kind of commitment and enthusiasm that I needed to jumpstart the project and keep it going. Some editors seemed very excited about turning my manuscript into different book on the same topic. I felt uncertain and rather discouraged.

A longtime friend and colleague suggested I reach out to Temple, specifically because of its series Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics. Encountering Paul Djupe, the series editor, was a breath of fresh air. He immediately grasped the potential contributions of the book and quickly became a mentor and advocate. His critical suggestions were always targeted and constructive: he was able to identify specific weak spots in a way that helped me to address them without undermining the valuable components of the broader project.

Aaron Javsicas, the press editor, was also consistently supportive, and his practical insights helped ensure that the book stayed on track without making me feel stressed about the process. He was adroit in dealing with several potentially tricky issues. For example, he was the first to suggest a version of book’s current title–the previous version was a bland compromise I had never liked but settled on for lack of an alternative–and he was immediately supportive when I tweaked it to better fit the core argument.

I was regularly impressed with Temple’s ability to get top-tier reviewers at various stages of the project. The feedback from anonymous reviewers was remarkable in its thoroughness and quality, and many of their ideas played a central role in the revised case studies and the final chapters of the book. The last set of reviewers, whose comments are now on the back cover, are preeminent scholars whose approval meant a great deal for a junior scholar like me.

The last stages of book production, from reading proofs to crafting a cover, could easily have been overwhelming. Instead, thanks to Paul and Aaron’s encouragement and the support of the rest of the staff at Temple, it became an opportunity to look back and gain a real appreciation for a project that had taken almost a decade to complete. I particularly appreciated their patience as I suggested changes to the cover design.

Finally, Temple has done a remarkable job of keeping in touch with me after publication. Publicity manager Gary Kramer’s newsletters have alerted to me reviews of my work in a variety of journals, many of which I would have otherwise missed. It has also provided a sense of community and continuity, which, given my experience with Temple, I sincerely appreciate.

From my first encounter with Temple to the present day, the press has done a wonderful job of making me feel like a valued contributor rather than a number on a list or a demanding client. As a first-time author, it was a remarkable experience and one for which I am profoundly grateful.

University Press Week Blog Tour: Who’s NextUP?

It’s University Press Week and the Blog Tour is back! This year’s theme is Next. Today’s theme is Who’s NextUP?

Highlighting early-career press staff members on the rise.

The MIT Press @mitpress

Blurbs from several MITP acquisitions editors about what is #NextUP on their lists

Hopkins Press @jhupress

Spotlight on new Staff Member

University of Georgia Press @UGAPress

Mini profiles of several of our newer employees/employees in new positions

Duke University Press @DukePress

Interview with new Assistant Editor Ryan Kendall

University Press of Colorado @UPColorado

Interview with editors Allegra Martschenko and Robert Ramaswamy

University of Notre Dame Press @UNDPress

Interview with our 5 + 1, who is being introduced to publishing as a potential career

Princeton University Press @PrincetonUPress

Interview with our Publishing Fellows in Content Marketing and Editorial. Launched in 2021 and funded to run for five years, the Publishing Fellowship aims to address a lack of diverse representation across the publishing industry by offering unique mentorship opportunities.

Penn State University Press @PSUPress

Introduction to some of our early-career employees in acquisitions, marketing, and production.

University of Toronto Press @utpress

A post about being at UTP for over a year, the journey of getting into publishing

University of British Columbia Press

Interview with Shalini Nanayakkara, our Press Assiatant, about her first year at UBC Press.

The University of West Indies Press

Feature with Vanessa Parnell-Burton, the UWI Press Accounts Payable Officer about joining the UP publishing world

Purdue University Press @PurduePress

Q&A with Acquisitions Assistant

SUNY Press @SUNYPress

Q&A with two of our early-career employees

University of Michigan Press @UofMPress

Spotlight of new innovations coming to UMP

University Press Week Blog Tour: What’s #NextUP in journals?

It’s University Press Week and the Blog Tour is back! This year’s theme is Next. Today’s theme is What’s NextUP in journals?

Spotlighting new journals and innovative periodical projects.

University of Chicago Press @UChicagoPress

Achieving accessibility in journals publishing

Medieval Institute Publications @MIP_medpub

Blog post on our newest journal, Medieval Ecocriticisms

Hopkins Press @jhupress

Blog post on new journal, Cusp

Duke University Press @DukePress

Announcing two new journals: Critical AI and Monsoon

University of Pennsylvania Press @PennPress

Interview with Jacob Remes, co-editor of Journal of Disaster Studies

University of Toronto Press @utpress

A post by a member of our journals team

The University of the West Indies Press @UWIPress

A post about Caribbean Conjunctures: The Caribbean Studies Association (CSA) Journal

Catholic University of America Press @CUAPress

Highlighting our three new journals & new initiatives we’re taking to publicize them

Celebrating the Italian Legacy in Philadelphia

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase our recent program celebrating the publication of The Italian Legacy in Philadelphia, edited by Andrea Canepari and Judith Goode.

Cover for The Italian Legacy in Philadelphia

Temple University Libraries and Temple University Press recently participated in an event at Charles Library celebrating the publication of The Italian Legacy in Philadelphia: History, Culture, People, and Ideas, edited by Andrea Canepari, the former Consul General of Italy in Philadelphia, and Judith Goode, Professor Emerita of Anthropology and Urban Studies at Temple University.

Chancellor Englert introducing the panel

The program, which was simulcast with Temple Rome, opened with remarks from Temple University Chancellor Richard Englert, and a welcome from Cristiana Mele, the current Consul General of Italy in Philadelphia.

Panelists (left to right) William Valerio, Domenic Vitiello, Andrew Canepari,
Judith Goode, Chancellor Englert, Inga Saffron

The book was showcased in a panel featuring the coeditors as well as two of the book’s contributors, Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron and William Valerio, director of the Woodmere Art Museum.

Canepari spoke about the many rich contributions Italian Americans made to Philadelphia, from art and architecture to food and even Rocky. He also highlighted the “Ciao Philadelphia” celebration of Italian arts, culture, and community.

Andrea Canepari presenting

Goode described the contents of the book, focusing on the approach the contributors took when recounting the history of Italian immigrants and the development of Italian culture in the city. Saffron next presented images of the many Italian influences on Philadelphia architecture, while Valerio discussed various Italian artists whose work is housed in and around the Woodmere Art Museum.

William Valerio presenting

Wrapping up the event were remarks by University of Pennsylvania Professor of Urban Studies Domenic Vitiello, who effused about the book and how its broad treatment of history and urban studies provides something of interest for everyone.

Coeditors Judith Goode and Andrea Canepari signing and posing

Canepari and Goode as well as the other presenters then attended a reception on Charles Library’s 4th floor and terrace, where they signed copies of their book.

Andrea Canepari at the reception; Inga Saffron at the reception; William Valerio at the reception

Books to choose for Election Day

This week in North Philly Notes, we offer books on voting and elections in honor of Election Day.

Blue-State Republican: How Larry Hogan Won Where Republicans Lose and Lessons for a Future GOP, by Mileah K. Kromer 

Blue-State Republican is the remarkable story of how his carefully messaged, pragmatic approach to governance helped build a coalition of moderate and conservative Democrats, independents, women, college-educated and Black voters and maintained his GOP base during a time of polarization and negative partisanship. Mileah Kromer takes readers inside Maryland politics to illustrate exactly how Hogan won where Republicans lose and consider whether the un-Trump Republican offers any lessons for how the GOP can win the center-right voters who continue to make up a majority of the country.

If There Is No Struggle There Is No Progress: Black Politics in Twentieth-Century Philadelphia, edited by James Wolfinger 

Philadelphia has long been a crucial site for the development of Black politics across the nation. If There Is No Struggle There Is No Progress provides an in-depth historical analysis—from the days of the Great Migration to the present—of the people and movements that made the city a center of political activism. The editor and contributors show how Black activists have long protested against police abuse, pushed for education reform, challenged job and housing discrimination, and put presidents in the White House.   

Philadelphia Battlefields: Disruptive Campaigns and Upset Elections in a Changing City, by John Kromer 

Should the surprisingly successful outcomes achieved by outsider candidates in Philadelphia elections be interpreted as representing fundamental changes in the local political environment, or simply as one-off victories, based largely on serendipitous circumstances that advanced individual political careers? John Kromer’s insightful Philadelphia Battlefields considers key local campaigns undertaken from 1951 to 2019 that were extraordinarily successful despite the opposition of the city’s political establishment.

Gender Differences in Public Opinion: Values and Political Consequences, by Mary-Kate Lizotte 
 
In this era in which more women are running for public office—and when there is increased activism among women—understanding gender differences on political issues has become critical. In her cogent study, Mary-Kate Lizotte argues that assessing the gender gap in public support for policies through a values lens provides insight into American politics today. There is ample evidence that men and women differ in their value endorsements—even when taking into account factors such as education, class, race, income, and party identification. 

Good Reasons to Run: Women and Political Candidacy, edited by Shauna L. Shames, Rachel I. Bernhard, Mirya R. Holman, and Dawn Langan Teele 

After the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, a large cohort of women emerged to run for office. Their efforts changed the landscape of candidates and representation. However, women are still far less likely than men to seek elective office, and face biases and obstacles in campaigns. (Women running for Congress make twice as many phone calls as men to raise the same contributions.)  The editors and contributors to Good Reasons to Run, a mix of scholars and practitioners, examine the reasons why women run—and do not run—for political office. They focus on the opportunities, policies, and structures that promote women’s candidacies. How do nonprofits help recruit and finance women as candidates? And what role does money play in women’s campaigns?

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party: Black Voters and the Realignment of American Politics in the 20th Century, by Keneshia N. Grant 

Where Black people live has long been an important determinant of their ability to participate in political processes. The Great Migration significantly changed the way Democratic Party elites interacted with Black communities in northern cities, Detroit, New York, and Chicago. Many white Democratic politicians came to believe the growing pool of Black voters could help them reach their electoral goals—and these politicians often changed their campaign strategies and positions to secure Black support. Furthermore, Black migrants were able to participate in politics because there were fewer barriers to Black political participations outside the South. 

Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns, by Kelly Dittmar 

From the presidential level down, men and women who run for political office confront different electoral realities. In her probing study, Navigating Gendered Terrain, Kelly Dittmar investigates not only how gender influences the campaign strategy and behavior of candidates today but also how candidates’ strategic and tactical decisions can influence the gendered nature of campaign institutions. Navigating Gendered Terrain addresses how gender is used to shape the way campaigns are waged by influencing insider perceptions of and decisions about effective campaign messages, images, and tactics within party and political contexts.

 Forthcoming in December:

Are All Politics Nationalized? Evidence from the 2020 Campaigns in Pennsylvania, edited by Stephen K. Medvic, Matthew M. Schousen, and Berwood A. Yost 

Given the news media’s focus on national issues and debates, voters might be expected to make decisions about state and local candidates based on their views of the national parties and presidential candidates. However, nationalization as a concept, and the process by which politics becomes nationalized, are not fully understood. Are All Politics Nationalized? addresses this knowledge gap by looking at the behavior of candidates and the factors that influence voters’ electoral choices.

What next for cultural exchange with China? 

This week in North Philly Notes, Jennifer Lin, author of Beethoven in Beijing writes about the Philadelphia Orchestra cancelling their 50th anniversary trip to China.

The news from the Philadelphia Orchestra last week was disappointing, but frankly not a surprise. The orchestra canceled its China tour, planned for May 2023. The reasons cited were travel complications and potential problems created by the ongoing pandemic. 

Even though Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin led his musicians on a successful tour of European capitals last summer, he would face a vastly different situation if he took the orchestra to Beijing or Shanghai. In stark contrast to the United States, China adheres to a strict zero-COVID policy. In practical terms, this would be unfathomable to Americans. Last spring, Shanghai, a megalopolis of more than 26 million people, went into full lockdown for much of its population for two months. Imagine if Philadelphia had a mandatory lockdown for just a week! Now imagine if for some unforeseen reason, China went into lockdown mode during the orchestra’s visit? You can understand the reasoning behind the decision to cancel the tour. 

But what makes this logical business move so disappointing is the tour would have celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s historic tour of China in 1973. That trip is the subject of my oral history, Beethoven in Beijing, as well as a documentary I co-directed by the same name, now streaming on PBS. 

My purpose for writing the book and creating the documentary was to elevate the historic importance of that tour. Many people know about “ping-pong diplomacy” and how, in 1971, the surprise detour to Beijing by American table tennis players opened the bamboo curtain separating the United States and China just a crack. But not as many understand the critical role of “music diplomacy” in repairing relations after decades of isolation. And front and center in that diplomatic endeavor were the “Fabulous Philadelphians.” The oral history places the orchestra’s tour against a geopolitical backdrop of Nixon’s groundbreaking decision to go to China in 1972 to begin the process of normalizing relations. Both sides wanted more cultural exchanges and the Philadelphia Orchestra became the first American orchestra to perform in China. 

To this day, Chinese audiences recall with heart-felt nostalgia the time the Philadelphians came to town. When a Pan Am charter carrying 130 Philadelphians touched down in Shanghai, there were no more than 100 or so Americans living in China. The musicians won over the Chinese public and made front-page news. As conductor Eugene Ormandy said on his departure, the tour “was about more than music.”

A 50th-anniversary tour would have been a reason to celebrate the ties that bind. But even if the pandemic burns out by next year, a larger question lingers: What will become of cultural exchanges?

Relations between Washington and Beijing are the worst in decades on so many fronts. The list goes on and on and can lead to truly terrifying scenarios of conflict. But I think back on the most memorable concert I covered in China. It was the Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2017 China tour, which ended in grand fashion in Beijing with a performance of Beethoven’s 9th, featuring a Chinese choir. After the finale, every person in that concert hall felt the same elation as we sprang to our feet. It was sublime. 

Recalling that moment reminds me of the words of the Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian author Wole Soyinka. To paraphrase him, politics demonizes, while culture humanizes. 

And in these tense times, we need more music, now more than ever.

%d bloggers like this: