Governing “For The People”
I have served as an elected official for our local school board for the last three and a half years. During this time the public has mostly ignored me, doing my job month after month to govern our district to (hopefully) improve student achievement. I am occasionally hated and praised in just about equal measure – depending upon what the board did or didn’t do at its last meeting.
Anyone goes into a public position should understand that it’s not about you – it’s about who you represent. Your votes, your statements, your actions all reflect the people who you put you in office. You have no idea who is paying attention, until they come forward with a comment – in person or anonymously – and you are suddenly confronted with the reality that what you do (or don’t do) has immediate impact on the lives of others. This realization has caused me to think twice about what I say or how I vote, knowing that someone, somewhere is paying attention.
Unfortunately, this way of governing is not always at work – most recently illustrated in the grandiose scheming of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Reading the complaint against the Governor and his Chief of Staff, I was struck by the complete disregard for the people of Illinois in the discussions that were recorded. To put it mildly, the arrogance of personal promotion is so elevated in the mind of the Governor, that he is incapable of objectively leading a state government with any semblance of level headed thinking.
As I come to the end of my term as a school board member, and contemplate further service in this, or any other public office, I am reminded of the two related phrases from our nation’s history that should guide the thinking and decisions of any elected official, no matter what level of public service:
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…” – Preamble to the US Constitution
“-- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” – Gettysburg Address
Learning from a Master
The 18th century composer Antonio Salieri was made infamous in the 20th century movie “Amadeus.” In the movie Salieri is ridiculed as a second rate musical act compared to Mozart’s musical genius and puerile pranks. While history has proven Mozart’s place in the pantheon of classical music, Salieri should not be overlooked for his mastery of music.
During the mid 18th century, Salieri was a well-known composer of opera and church music. His abilities as a composer were shaped under the tutelage of Vienna court composer Florian Leopold Gassmann. Gassmann recognized the innate abilities in Salieri, who had mastered piano and violin growing up. Gassmann taught him the fundamentals of composing, stressing counterpoint and the rules of musical composition, all at no cost to young Salieri. He was also instructed in Latin, Italian and poetry, to guide him in creating the operas he loved, which were the popular entertainment of the day. Gassmann’s focus on discipline and focus were not always appreciated by young Salieri, but they provide him the foundation for this success, leading to the eventual appointment as court composer and Kapellmeister by Emperor Joseph II.
Salieri’s famed rivalry with Mozart was really one of established master versus rising star in the courts of the late 1700s. While Salieri continued to write, he also took time to return the favor shown him by Gassmann, instructing other rising musicians, including Beethoven, Schubert, and Liszt. His love for opera was still evident, for he emphasized the art of placing words to music, for which he was reknown. He recognized that no matter how much natural talent exists within a person , there still is a place for learning the fundamentals and nuances from an accomplished master.