The Music Minions: Michael Moore, Cindy Lewis and Daniel Pfahl

Far from evil, these minions tap into power of the arts

On a warm night at the end of July, two men and a woman walk into a bar to see a string quartet perform Mozart. No, this isn’t a joke. It’s The Music Minions. 

If you’ve been to an arts event in Cincinnati, chances are you’ve seen The Music Minions. You might not have known it – this group of zealous art lovers is not yellow and they do not speak gibberish – but with their robust, genre-spanning arts attendance, it’s likely every performing house in the region has welcomed The Music Minions. 

Michael Moore, Cindy Lewis and Daniel Pfahl are The Music Minions
Michael Moore, Cindy Lewis and Daniel Pfahl are The Music Minions.

“Minions can be looked at in an evil way but really, they’re just followers that want to be involved, that are playful and want to have fun,” said Daniel Pfahl, one of the core trio of Minions. “That’s sort of how each of us operated when we were out. Individually, we’re really very different people (with) different upbringings.”

In addition to Pfahl, an IT support specialist at PNC, the Minions are Michael Moore, a wealth management advisor at Wealthquest, and Cynthia “Cindy” Lewis, human resources director for the City of Covington. Each of them has some favored arts genres, but they are equal opportunity consumers, seeing anything and everything that catches their fancy. 

On this particular night, the Minions have three arts events on the books. First, at 5 p.m. sharp, they will convene at MOTR in Over-the-Rhine for the aforementioned string quartet featuring CSO violinist Gerry Itzkoff. Next, they will pile into Moore’s Tesla and head over to Wash Park Art Gallery for the opening party of the exhibit “BARE: Imperative Beauty and Response,” at 6 p.m. Finally, they will head to Christ Church Cathedral to catch Collegium Cincinnati Summer Sing at 7:30 p.m. 

This is a fairly normal roster for the Minions – a veritable buffet of arts experiences. But for them, experiencing the arts is about more than just attending events. 

“What we really enjoy doing is just connecting,” Pfahl said. “It’s cliche, but we like connecting with people and causing people to be interested in going out and exploring different things.”

The self-described community arts activists first united about six years ago. Moore and Lewis met – perhaps this is obvious – at a Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra concert, where Moore was seated next to Lewis and her daughter. (Moore and Pfahl had met a few months before.)

The Minions and Lewis’s daughter, Anna, at Music Hall in 2018
The Minions and Lewis’s daughter, Anna, at Music Hall in 2018

“I’m at the symphony on a Friday night and I see this 6-year-old girl – her daughter – and I say, ‘You’re out awfully late for a Friday night.’ She answered, ‘I’m here to see the violinist. I play the violin.’ ” Moore told her his kids also play the violin and they had a long conversation. When her mother asked, “What’s going on?” Moore and Lewis and started chatting. 

A few weeks later, Moore ran into Lewis again, this time after another symphony event, for a special solo performance by the violinist Jennifer Koh. 

“Michael’s kind of an extrovert and he just started talking to me,” said Lewis. “That’s the thing about people – you just energetically know who your tribe is. I instantly felt comfortable with him. It’s one of those cosmic pairings of the universe where you meet somebody and just instantly you’re all friends. (They’ve) been some of my best friends ever since.” 

They don’t always attend events together – sometimes they go solo, at other times they invite other friends and acquaintances to join them. 

“I have a really good friend and he doesn’t like to go out much, but every time I call him and say, ‘Tony, you gotta do this,’ he says ‘All right,’ ” said Moore. “My friend Jennifer is the same way. She has never said no to me. She says, ‘You know what? I used to look these things up before I go, but now I just go because I know it’s gonna be (good).’ ” 

Those moments of trust are internal, too. 

“That’s something I enjoy doing is using our joint efforts to expand our musical taste,” Pfahl said. “Each of us has our own favorite things. They’re playing Mozart tonight – Lewis isn’t a fan. (Moore and I) are Phillip Glass, minimalist music fans – he’s way deeper into it. I’m probably way more on the bluegrass side than Michael would ever really enjoy. But we’ll go to it.” 

Live music is only one aspect for the Minions. 

“We love going to FotoFocus. We love going to the art galleries,” Pfahl said. “I like walking into a place like (MOTR) and knowing Dave’s behind the bar. I don’t need to develop a relationship with him, but I can joke with him and over time he recognizes me, I recognize him. We do that intentionality with the arts community so that we’ve developed relationships with the audience, with the musicians.”

The Minions have established a rapport with lots of local musicians. 

Fun selfies add to the Minions’ audience experience.
Fun selfies add to the Minions’ audience experience.

“I met Ixi Chen (CSO clarinetist) 10, 12 years ago, and she was just incredible,” said Moore. “Meeting these musicians for me is what solidified that connection. (CSO violinist) Eric Bates plays in a rock band, Turnsole. Ted Nelson (cellist), Ixi’s husband, works out to hardcore death metal, and then, Owen Lee, a bassist for the symphony, plays keyboard for Electric Citizen, which is like a thrash band. People have a misconception of musicians. … It’s really cool to get to know them.”

Lewis echoed that sentiment. 

“Everyone has lives and experiences – to be able to connect like that, just even for a moment in time in a real way is cool,” she said. 

Back at MOTR, Bates, who is there to here his colleagues, joins the Minions at their high-top table. They’re finishing burgers and are on their second beers. An older group enters the bar to catch the string quartet – anomalous, as this bar’s median age hovers around 30 and local rock bands necessitating ear plugs are the typical entertainment du jour. An elderly woman sits alone at a table against a wall, burger half-finished in front of her, filming the quartet with rapt attention even as a bachelorette party raises the entire volume of the already noisy, happy-hour-packed bar. 

Though not of their specific creation, this is the kind of magic the Minions are trying to tap into and share with anyone who’s interested in joining. (Honestly, who knows – it’s possible they will invite this woman to join them at the next MOTR String Quartet Happy Hour.)

“It’s not always saying, ‘Hey, go see this Beethoven show,’ ” Pfahl said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, there’s this up-and-coming great Black artist that you don’t know about yet, but we’ve met, and you should go see his art. You should go support him.’ That’s the type of thing we love doing – finding and connecting to those folks out there.” 

The Minions talk the arts advocacy talk, but they also walk the arts advocacy walk. Moore is on the Mutual Dance Theatre board. Pfahl and Moore are on the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra board. Lewis has been on the concert:nova board. Michael ushers at Memorial Hall and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. 

“There’s just so much inequity … in society, so I do carry that back into the music and arts world,” Pfahl said. “It’s very frustrating because, as a white male in his 50s, I find myself falling into the same trap, which is you want to invite others into your world, instead of finding a way for them to invite you into their world. I think that’s the challenge a lot of our arts organizations are still struggling with. They’ll come up with these great events, but if you step back from it it’s like, did they invite you there or did you create an event that looks like you were invited? It’s the type of thing that hits nerves with people but it’s something I’m always cognizant of.”

Michael Moore, Cindy Lewis and Daniel Pfahl
Michael Moore, Cindy Lewis and Daniel Pfahl after a CSO concert at Music Hall in 2019

In addition to their physical support, the Minions are also committed to financially giving back to the arts organizations that brought and continue to bring them together. They regularly donate to different arts groups, both in their collective capacity as The Music Minions and on an individual basis. 

“It gives me the feeling that I’ve created a small thread of connection,” Pfahl said. “There’s a goodwill side but there’s also this other side, we do get fed by the voices that come back to us and thank us.” 

Moore agreed. 

“We combined to sponsor a concert with the Chamber Orchestra, and we combined to sponsor an event at the Contemporary Arts Center last year,” Moore said. 

Joining them in that support were Kenneth Jordan and Don Duke, both now equally important members of The Music Minions, which is the name the group is credited under for those donations. It’s no secret that financial support is integral to keeping the arts alive. 

So what is it about the arts that makes it so special for these three Minions? 

“I operate on the concept of beauty,” Pfahl said. “(The arts) are an expression of beauty. There are certain songs that more people will respond to. Beethoven’s Fifth – everyone loves it. But there are other songs on the fringe that will take a long time to digest and appreciate, but it’s also beautiful. For me, pursuing the arts is what feeds that aspect of making my spirit happy. Being exposed to contemporary art, Old Masters and so forth. It pushes those buttons for me.” 

For Lewis, it’s about people. 

“Art, be it music, be it visual arts, be it dance, etc., it says the things that people cannot say in their day-to-day,” she said. “It gives people a space to experience whatever emotions they need to experience. We go out onto the stage of life, that’s what we call real life. Art, in my mind, is actually giving a space for the reality of what we’re all experiencing – but most of us have to go out into the world and have masks. Art exposes tragedy, suffering, deep conflict, and it gives people a safe space to experience what they’re not willing to verbalize on the day-to-day.” 

For Moore, it’s a two-parter. 

“It’s a spiritual and kinesthetic feeling for me when it hits just the right note,” he said. “It’s not only the familiar but the new that I’m just rewarded again and again and again when I go out and do something I don’t know. I think, ‘My God, that was different than I expected but incredibly engaging.’ But the other thing is that music creates an unintentional community.”

At least fifteen people have trickled in solely for the string quartet at MOTR. The Minions are paying their tabs and preparing for the trek to the art gallery in Washington Park. Another Mozart piece has just ended, and the Minions sum up the happy hour concert in true, supportive Minion fashion. 

“This is their biggest crowd,” Moore said. “I’m psyched for them.”

Keep up with the Minions at facebook.com, themusicminions


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