Administration said they chose to cancel performance to avoid appearance of endorsing a candidate.
Less than one week before the 2016 Presidential Election, Malvern’s Men’s Chorus prepared to take a national stage at a local presidential rally. That opportunity abruptly changed to disappointment for some students when the performance was cancelled less than 24 hours before the event.
Music teacher Mr. Ed Liga informed students about their invitation to sing the National Anthem at Melania Trump’s November 3 election rally at the Main Line Sports Center in Berwyn, and shared the news with the school community on Wednesday, November 2.
On the day of the event, however, Head of School Mr. Christian Talbot emailed the student body to explain that Malvern’s Men’s Chorus would not sing at the rally.
In his email, Talbot explained how performing at the rally “implies an acceptance of one position over another.”
Talbot further explained his position in an interview. “Prior to the election, I did not want for there to be the appearance of Malvern institutionally supporting one candidate over the other,” he said. “Unfortunately, the appearance would have been that institutionally we were supporting Donald Trump, which would have meant that roughly 50 percent of our families might have looked at that and said, ‘Wait a minute. Is Malvern a school that supports Donald Trump?’”
Talbot explained that he would make the same decision if the event had been a rally for Hillary Clinton.
“I did not want us to appear to be institutionally supporting one perspective over the other, because then I think that runs the risk of stifling that dialogue that’s so important,” he said.
Senior Men’s Chorus member Nick Gatti said that many students were eagerly anticipating the event.
“Literally no one in this school’s history has ever gotten this opportunity,” Gatti said. “To be shot down like that when we were all looking forward to it, less than 24 hours before, was pretty heartbreaking.”
Freshman Andrew Batters was also upset with the decision. “All the [chorus] members were upset and actually very mad that we couldn’t go,” Batters said. “Malvern would have become a big sensation.”
However, senior RJ Napoli is more understanding of the decision to refrain from singing at the event.
“I 100 percent understand the actions of the school,” Napoli said. “While I do personally feel that music transcends politics, I can understand how a good portion of the population could see it as an endorsement.”
Talbot said that if Trump would have already been President on November 3, the decision would have been different.
“After the election, once the person is president, they’re everybody’s president,” Talbot said. “You may not like Donald Trump, but he is still your president. So, if we could do something for an event for the President of the United States, I would jump at that.”
The University of Notre Dame, a school with connection to Malvern and where several alumni attend each year, is grappling with a related decision involving connections between the school and politics.
In an interview with Notre Dame’s student newspaper The Observer, university president Fr. John Jenkins said that he is indecisive on his decision to invite the newly elected president to speak at commencement, a school tradition.
Jenkins said that the speech “may be even more of a circus” than when President Obama spoke in 2009. Several audience members jeered anti-abortion comments at Obama, which unexpectedly became a main subject of his speech.
“I think it’s fair to say the election reveals deep divides in this nation — divides on political views, on economic prospects, educational differences, differences in opportunities,” Jenkins said. “And they run deep in the country.”
Talbot is sensitive to Notre Dame’s concerns around the decision whether to invite Trump. “I understand why they grapple with it, and I think they grappled with it when President Obama was asked to speak there,” he said. “It’s a question of huge importance, and I feel very strongly that it is important for Catholic schools to welcome [leaders] into the community for the purpose of respectful, intelligent dialogue.”
In his email to students, Talbot explained he is proud that Malvern has been able to welcome speakers across the political spectrum to campus.
“These events are designed to encourage discussion in our community and provide an opportunity to consider a perspective that may be very different from our own,” he explained. “We will continue to offer these opportunities to our students.”