Barney Frank Sees Connection Between Arts and Politics

Oct 5, 2017

Former Congressman Barney Frank was on stage at Chamber Orchestra FIRST EDITIONS concerts in Swarthmore, Haverford, and Center City last week to narrate a classic 1962 work in the style of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, but with a jazz twist.


Gunther Schuller's Journey Into Jazz explores one boy’s journey from classical music to jazz. WRTI's Susan Lewis talked with Frank about his surprising role in this production, and the parallels between music and politics.

Whether you're an artist or a politician, you want to change the world in some way.

From Politics to Music:  How Barney Frank was drawn to this role.   

In 1936, Prokofiev wrote an orchestral work for narrator and orchestra with musical depictions of fairy tale characters that engaged  generations of listeners, including retired Congressman Barney Frank, who served 16 terms  in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"One of my favorite pieces when I was .. I don't know,  we're talking maybe 70 years ago - the narration of Peter and the Wolf ...When I was a little boy, I knew what sinister meant, and  what happy meant .... It brings back very happy memories  for me." 

Barney Frank with WRTI's Susan Lewis.

Now, another composition, in a similar style, combining narration with music has drawn Frank into a new role. In concerts this weekend by Chamber Orchestra FIRST EDITIONS, he narrates Gunther Schuller’s Journey into Jazz. It’s a work for orchestra, jazz quintet, solo trumpet and narrator.  

Together, they tell the story of Edwin Jackson, a boy who loves music and learns to play classical trumpet. Then he discovers a group of boys playing jazz in a house down the street. He desperately wants to play with them but has to learn what jazz is.

“This is very much an interactive piece in terms of the musicians relating to each other.  I grew up in the '40s and '50s, jazz was very much a part of the scene. It's a story that talks about people interacting and somebody learning."

In his government career, Frank delivered hundreds of speeches. He says politics and music have common communication goals:

"Whether you're an artist or a politician, you want to change the world in some way. So part of your job is to take your conception, your idea, your goal, and without sacrificing your integrity, think about, all how do I maximize the chance that this is going to have the impact I want on my audience, and that's the commonality."

“But whatever you're trying to get across, whether it's a public policy change, a philosophical viewpoint, a view of human nature in a novel, a conception that's embodied  in a musical piece, your job—if you're really trying to have an impact—is to shape it in a way that will reach an audience."

Barney Frank began his career in politics as assistant to the Mayor of Boston.  In 1980, he was elected to the US House of Representatives. He retired in 2013. He’s written two books, Speaking Frankly in 1992, and his 2015 memoir, Frank: From the Great Society to Same Sex Marriage.