Time for chorus to move forward

The public should see another aspect to the controversy surrounding Doreen Rao's contract with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus. I have been a member of the chorus for about 20 years. I am part of a group whose voice has largely been unheard. I have never served on the board; I am not on the Committee to Take Back the Chorus; I am not a paid professional member. I sing for the joy of singing, and am grateful for the opportunity. My loyalty is to the chorus as an institution, and its value to the community.

I was dismayed when certain individuals chose to take an internal dispute public in an acrimonious manner. The institution has been hurt, and individual members are hurting.

Committee members have publicly repeated untrue or half-true talking points. The decision not to renew Rao's contract was not sudden. For well over a year, members who eventually formed the committee have been agitating internally to demand a contract. They accuse the board of secrecy, knowing full well that were the board to defend itself by disclosing confidential personnel matters, the result would mean lawsuits and potential damage to reputations.

I am sure the board wishes it had done some things differently. Perhaps there was a better way to manage the non-renewal of the contract, or to respond to other concerns. But I trust that the board made a difficult decision that it had to make. Most of the members are singers and people of integrity. As a resident of Western New York, I mourn the damage to an institution that has brought beautiful music to many for 75 years. Rao's direction brought out musical abilities we didn't know we had. Now it's time to move forward, building on what we have learned.

Jane Lehman

North Tonawanda


Rao's supporters are hurting chorus

Thanks to The News for its balanced reporting on the separation of Doreen Rao from the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus. Letters representing both viewpoints have been published, which is just and fair. I have attended many concerts where the chorus has performed, including during the halcyon days of Thomas Swan, who passed away in 2001. I agree with Mary Kunz Goldman's statement that this chorus has never been mediocre, nor has it even approached mediocrity.

I must express my confusion at the choice of 40 or so chorus members to boycott the chorus during these trying times by taking leaves of absence for personal reasons. Do they believe that, by hurting the chorus, they will get "justice" for Rao? The board vice president stated that Rao "mischaracterized" the separation as a termination and that she was given a choice to resign. Based upon the inflamed rhetoric that is being used by the Take Back Our Chorus group, it looks like there was a grasping at an opportunity to turn this affair into a public fight.

It almost looks like the group wants the chorus to fail in its contractual obligations to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Very sad. This does no good for any of the parties involved, regardless of one's acceptance that there are huge egos involved in matters of artistic expression. The bottom line is that we have a gem in this community of people who volunteer their time to make music.

It is sad that, in this 75th year of the chorus's existence, there has to be a struggle for the heart and soul of the organization. It is also sad that the struggle has to be conducted on the pages of the newspaper, when I am sure that there are huge amounts of energy being expended behind the scenes to try to carry on. Doubtless there are many members who wish this whole thing would go away so that they can continue to do what they intended to do when they joined the group, which is to enrich their souls by singing. I wish them good luck.

Kathryn Scofield



Rethink decision to let director go

Suppose the Sabres got really lucky and signed Steven Stamkos and he was leading the team to its best season ever, and the front office suddenly got rid of him without explanation.

Or imagine that the Bills somehow acquired Eli Manning and were successfully rebuilding the franchise around him, and he was mysteriously let go in mid-season.

Well, our Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus managed to hire Doreen Rao, an internationally known superstar director who was bringing great credit to not only the chorus but also to the whole Western New York community, but she was summarily terminated with no reasons given.

Not my problem, you say? Not really. Even if you don't give a hoot about choral music, you nonetheless have a dog in this fight. I know from personal experience what a challenge it can be in Western New York to attract and retain young, mobile achievers (perhaps some of them are your children or grandchildren), and how important cultural organizations like the chorus can be in leveling an otherwise uphill recruiting field. Let's fix this, chorus directors. You're our friends and neighbors; don't let us down.

James H. Watz

Grand Island


Citizens United hurts the people

Reading the super PACs' financial statements, I could not help but be impressed by how much the Citizens United decision has changed our system of government. Apparently America has given up on the principle of equality of persons and substituted for it the principle of equality of money. All dollars are now equal in America.

What this means, of course, is that because some people have more dollars than others, some people are more equal than others. None of the 99 percent in America possesses political voices that are equal to the voices of, say, the Koch brothers. That's a problem in itself. But an even bigger problem is that this disproportionality translates into elections won or lost. The Koch brothers cannot pretend that their money does not buy elections, or else why are they spending so much of it?

The only remaining equalizer in this democracy of dollars is the media. I am still reasonably confident that my views will be published and that I can express them without fear of reprisal. But what if The News was owned not by Warren Buffett but by Rupert Murdoch? And what if the Internet legislation now before Congress is what many people fear it is: a power grab by corporate interests who would use it to control what people may and may not say? It's creepy. My worry is that as government and media are increasingly bought and paid for by moneyed interests, it is increasingly likely that this new democratic principle of "one dollar one vote" will become permanent. The Citizens United decision has forced us into a bitter Catch-22: The only way to change the political process is through the political process. But money now controls that process, and money likes it that way.

Leonard Flier



Campaign spending is way out of control

Where is the outrage over the amount of money being spent in preparation for the election of the president of the United States? For example, one candidate spent $15 million in one state's primary (plus what the other candidates spent). This is just the beginning; nine more months.

Think what that money might have done: medical research, feeding hungry families, educational programs, supporting public transportation and so on. God have mercy on our souls.

Where are the limits on these matters? Bring back the limits. I do not even want to think what the total amount will be after the president is elected. It is a disgrace.

Phyllis A. Cooper

Orchard Park


No sympathy here for ex-NFL players

After reading The News article, "Retired players take on the NFL -- head-on," I have absolutely no sympathy for these ex-NFL players who claim they're suffering long-term effects from concussions. They knew the risks involved when they were signing their contracts, and if I recall, Rob Johnson's was a pretty lucrative one. I'm sure these players all enjoyed the fame and fortune of being a professional athlete, despite what they say. Besides, nobody held a gun to their head and made them play this game.

There are millions of elderly people who have never played football and still suffer from both mental (i.e. dementia, dizziness, etc.) and physical ailments similar to what these ex-NFL players are claiming to have, and you don't hear about them suing their ex-employers. It sounds to me like they're trying to make an easy buck. It's funny how Harry Jacobs has a fear of driving 12 miles from his Hamburg home to downtown Buffalo, but is able to find his way to his winter home in Florida.

Daniel A. Arbutina

North Tonawanda


Buffalo was right to oust occupiers

The expulsion of the Occupy Buffalo movement from Niagara Square is an aesthetic triumph for Buffalo.

The hobo camp appearance caused by the trespassing legions of disaffected zealots contrasted sharply with the soaring sculpture of the central obelisk and its majestic lions as well as the new Federal Courthouse colossus overlooking Niagara Square.

Our slain President William McKinley and our original city planner Joseph Ellicott must be resting more comfortably in their graves as dignity is restored to our prime civic plaza. Even Tom Brady's opinion of our beleaguered city may have gone up a notch.

The well-meaning and mostly youthful adherents of Occupy Buffalo are still free to conduct their challenge to perceived social and political flaws and shortcomings. They can mount soapboxes, shout from housetops, call into talk show programs and even cast their ballots for those political candidates sympathizing with their views.

Lucian C. Parlato



Don't enact Tier 6 for public workers

Again, public employees in New York State are under attack. Wage freezes, furloughs, increased health care contributions, layoffs, control boards and Tier 5 apparently have not been enough.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo now proposes to further reduce public employee pensions with the enactment of a Tier 6. As a City of Buffalo employee for the past 28 years, I can tell you one of the main reasons I have chosen to continue working for the city is the pension. I was paying into my pension when the city did not have to. My friends in the private sector with similar education and qualifications make more money, but I know I have my pension to look forward to.

The public union employees did not cause the crisis in the economy. We're middle-class workers providing needed services. Let's focus on problems like creating and attracting good-paying jobs and making sure more people have the security of a pension, not proposals that divide working people and the middle class.

Michael Hoffert