A handful of Santa Feans saw a concert poster containing the words “alchemy, witchcraft and magic” and decided that 400-year-old English readings and music should not be performed in San Miguel Chapel (“All Hallows’ Eve concert too spooky for chapel,” Oct. 30). These people complained to the concert presenters, who canceled it four days before the planned performance.
Since its founding, Santa Fe has undergone culture wars. Recent examples are the controversies over the Entrada and the Fiesta Court visits to schools. These skirmishes were mostly conducted civilly and, at least in the case of the Entrada, long and patient communication and negotiation by the parties resulted in changes all of our cultures can live with. (Personally, I miss the Entrada on the Plaza.)
Some fights have to do with political correctness, some with puritanical religiosity. The concert cancellation was a case of the latter. My argument is not with some local people’s religion; it is with their unconsidered actions.
The concert, by the Santa Fe-based early music group Severall Friends, presented cultural history of 17th-century England — popular ideas about sorcery, alchemy and magic. The program didn’t advocate for any of these things; it described them, in an entertaining and sometimes humorous way. The idea was to give the audience some fun on Halloween night. Severall Friends submitted its program and program notes well in advance of the performance to allay any worries on the part of the San Miguel presenters, but this was in vain.
The anonymous complainers did not ask to learn more about the planned program or contact Severall Friends for an explanation. They saw the word “witchcraft” on the posters and indulged in a knee-jerk reaction.
Apparently they appealed to Taylor Gantt, president of St. Michael’s High School, which owns the San Miguel building. Gantt told The New Mexican two days before the long-planned concert that it would not take place in San Miguel, citing “the values of the chapel.” So far as I know, the Catholic Church’s values do not include ignorance and superstitious fear. These were on full display in this incident.
Severall Friends’ concert was saved by the generosity of Collected Works bookstore, which offered to host the performance on short notice. A “canceled” sign was posted at the door of San Miguel Chapel the night of the performance; a board member of Severall Friends added the words, “Moved to Collected Works.” Someone tore those words off the sign. This was pure malice. I’d like to point out that this kind of shutdown could happen to any arts group performing in Santa Fe.
Yes, San Miguel may be “the most historic church in the country,” as Gantt says, and it has certainly witnessed worse in its long life. It is an active Catholic church, but it’s part of the cultural heritage of our whole town. I’m old enough to remember going to Christmas Eve Mass there with my grandparents in the 1950s.
San Miguel is also a beautiful performance space, giving pleasure to many visitors and Santa Feans. In this shameful episode, a few people acting out of ignorance tried to steal a treasure from all of us.
Lyle York of Santa Fe is an early music lover and a board member of Severall Friends.