David and Naomi Balto dedicated a window in Northrop on May 19, 2019 in honor of their family. See a plaque commemorating the donation on the second-floor, east-side study lounge. The following are excerpts of the remarks David Balto gave during the dedication ceremony:
“We, David and Naomi Balto, are grateful to our relatives who have come here today for the dedication of the Balto Family Window at Northrop.
Music has always played an essential role in our lives. Our grandparents, Harry and Tessie Balto, loved music. Harry had a particularly beautiful voice, he loved to sing and his mother was a professional singer. I always treasure the stories of our parents and relatives, Irving, Marion, Nathan, Teddie, Gertie and Norma and how they loved music. Like most Depression-era children, they had so little; they just hoped to be fed and clothed. But sometimes my father, and especially Nathan and Marion, would get their hands on some sheet music and harmonize with the only instruments they possessed―their voices. Their home would be filled with the tunes of the day. They had so little but song enabled their spirits to soar.
We learned many lessons from our parents and grandparents. We learned to sing, sing with love and spirit, with enthusiasm and joy. And we are not shy or quiet. We want to express the love inside and touch the souls nearby and help them open up to the spirit within. No matter where you are, if there is a Balto nearby singing, you will notice. I can guarantee you will notice.
We are here today for a blessed occasion. Today we will dedicate this beautiful window in Northrop—the Balto Family Window—in honor of my parents, Irving and Sharon Balto.
One of my fondest memories of my early childhood was going to Northrop with my parents and sister Joan to listen to concerts of the Minnesota Orchestra. It was rare for us to go out as a family, and going to a concert required us to try to be something more than just children. We would have to dress up. Our parents took us out to dinner at a nice restaurant. And we would have to listen (or try to listen) quietly to a two-hour concert to music that was not the least bit familiar. This was a lot to expect from an 8 year old.
“Patient” and “well-behaved” were not terms usually used to describe us. But there was something about the entire experience, getting dressed up, going to the magnificent Northrop, ascending the massive staircase to the huge concert hall, sitting in the balcony seats, trying to stay focused and concentrate on music that was both moving and magical. To do anything together with my parents seemed special. A child has a special vision touched by innocence. A child can more easily find the sense of awe.
I had never experienced a building so large or majestic―a building built in the 1920s as a memorial for World War I. Cyrus Northrop was the second President of the University and Cass Gilbert’s original plans for the University were to have an auditorium at one end of the mall. One walks in to a magnificent foyer with four golden chandeliers. The inscription above said, "The University of Minnesota: Founded in the Faith that Men are Ennobled by Understanding; Dedicated to the Advancement of Learning and the Search for Truth; Devoted to the Instruction of Youth and the Welfare of the State." We climbed countless stairs to the “upper decks” of the concert Hall.
Even at a distance the inside of the hall was stunning. Palatial, grandiose, regal with a great proscenium arch above the stage. A huge chandelier―over two tons―with 280 bulbs (my father explained how it was cleaned). And then we saw the stage―so many instruments and musicians, and they all seemed so intense, so devoted.
And then there was the music. It was an amazing adventure. We had not been touched by classical music outside of the concert hall. A child’s mind wanders and I wondered, “why so long, where is this going, what is the journey we are on?” But I could see and feel my father was transfixed. His eyes had a special vision. The music is not just aimed for the ear, it is aimed for and touches the soul. It touched his soul. And so his spirit guided us into the music.
My father came to know the Orchestra working in Northrop. He worked his way through college in the 1940s and was a janitor at Northrop. He was assigned the job of washing the walls. Climbing scaffolds and washing walls, he could watch the Orchestra practice. It gave him the opportunity to be introduced to the wondrous world of classical music.
I never asked my father which composers he loved. I could tell by sitting next to him in concerts, by being close, that he was powerfully moved by the romantics―Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Grieg, Stravinsky. He could really cheer at any sporting event but you could see his soul ascend when the romantic classics were played.
When I hear that music played today, I am transported to those days as a child, being present with the spirit of my parents, being touched by the music.
I remember the blessings of the music and the wonder of an orchestra creating something much greater than any individual artist. Music can create a beauty that no words or images can ever describe. And I remember how being with my parents and sister taught me how to listen and how to open myself to be touched by and moved by the music. I am grateful for that blessing.
Leonard Bernstein said “Music can name the unnamable and communicate the unknowable.”
Wonder, awe, a sense of the sacred: That is the blessing that resides in this hall. That is the blessing given by our parents and their love of music that resides in each of us.
We dedicate this window today in honor of my parents Irving and Sharon Balto to express our gratitude in bringing music into our lives and to create a place where people can gather and enjoy this wondrous music in this sacred place.
Our donation today will help create this special place in Northrop where we hope students and concertgoers can gather to connect, share stories, and share the wonder of the beautiful performances here. And our donation will also support a special program so that first-year students can receive free tickets to performances at Northrop.
To express our thanks, let’s close with the schecheheyanu, the Jewish prayer of thanksgiving.
“Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to the special day.”
Thank you for coming today and joining us in the dedication of the Balto Family Window.