Music can be all-encompassing whether making music or just listening to it. It can be healing. It can be invigorating. It can also stimulate the brain in ways that nothing else can. Music encourages artistic and emotional connection and expression. And unfortunately in our profit-centered world, it can also be far too expensive. In July of 2019, I wrote a piece exploring some of the differences between those playing to live and those who lived to play for the sheer love of it, though in both cases my essay focused on the performance aspects and the range of compensation musicians received for their services.
I’ve written about the recent demise of two local theater companies. I had worked for both companies in the past, and they each served the community in numerous ways. Between the ongoing risks associated with the prevalence of COVID-19 reducing audiences, escalating facility costs, and legislation in California forcing performing arts organizations to treat any paid person as an employee with all of the overhead costs that entails, it’s become increasingly difficult to keep small theater groups and community music ensembles afloat. It’s also made accessing those that are still functioning far more cost prohibitive for many audience members.
In all of these previous pieces, performance was the common link. What about those who just want to play for the love of music making without regard for payment or even performance? While a large portion of the arts community has returned to live performances, for many who remain cautious and crowd averse in our pandemic-laden world, live performance is fast becoming a distant memory. As I mentioned in previous installments of this magical musical journey series, I’m doubtful that I’ll personally return to live performances on either side of the lights. I am still a musician though, and I still have a love of making music. In Part 8, I discussed some of my memories of my mother and our sharing our love of playing the piano at home. In this installment, I am again thinking back to some of my most satisfying musical experiences. In these cases, performance was neither expected nor the goal of the music making. It was playing for the love of it either alone or with other musicians who shared that love.
Earlier in this series, I talked about my college ragtime band and later how I returned to ensemble music. In the case of Avogadro’s Ragtime Band and in the build-up to seeking out community groups, my music making was limited to various living rooms strictly for the fun of it. In those cases the only cost was for our personal instruments and the purchase of sheet music to play, although in some cases I even wrote a few arrangements for our groups. Initially, even my old sax quartet, Peninsula Saxophonica, was more for our enjoyment than anything else. The sax quartet ended up playing a few concert or service gigs, but most of our association was just to get together on Saturday mornings to play some wonderful saxophone music without an audience.
Once I joined some community bands, I started to see how the cost factor could intrude, at least a little. One band required its members pay annual dues. Those dues have increased slightly over the years as facility costs have risen, and the going rate for their conductor has also come into play. Two other community bands at the time required no dues from the members. Both of those bands had arrangements with their local city governments to provide music for a few civic events in return for rehearsal and performance space. Unfortunately, rehearsal space sometimes shifted depending on what else was happening in those towns. All three groups also played a number of free concerts beyond various civic events during the year.
A number of years later, I became an adjunct member of another community band that had a different arrangement. I was an occasional rehearsal conductor on their rotating roster, and I played their concerts for a few years. They didn’t have official dues, but the regular members were expected to donate some cash each rehearsal that was paid to the city for the use of the park building in which they rehearsed.
In my local area, there are numerous community bands and orchestras in which I didn’t participate, or did so only fleetingly. Many require some form of dues, some of which are quite high. Others are offered through local community colleges, and they require class registration which also have fees and parking costs. All of the fees associated with music participation make it far more challenging for those without financial means to pursue a love of music.
If I’m being honest, before the pandemic some of my musical pursuits had become a little bit mercenary. Over the years, like many other musicians in my local area, I have played a few gigs for the money rather than the art, usually as favors to music directors in need or fellow musicians who desperately needed a sub for a gig. Those included a few shows that I wouldn’t have chosen to play if they weren’t paid gigs, and I wasn’t helping out a friend.
Through the pandemic I’ve had time to take a step back from all of that and examine why I play what I play. As mentioned in previous installments, after toying a few self-collaborations on various woodwinds (some of which are available on the Appearances page), I returned to my roots and have been working on my piano skills a little more. I’ve still got a long way to go, and some of the pieces on which I’m working may forever be beyond my abilities. Even so, the piano has a few advantages over my other instruments. I don’t have to put it together each time I want to play, and I don’t have to clean it after I finish playing. Musically, it can be a complete experience in itself. There is no need to record multiple parts layered on top of one another. My woodwinds, while lovely on their own, are really ensemble instruments. Without other players or other parts layered in recordings, they aren’t as complete a musical experience as the piano. My mother used to marvel at how a pianist could pretend to be the whole orchestra at times, and in that it’s more satisfying even in the privacy of the living room without an audience.
Beyond the personal satisfaction of music making, there are also numerous health benefits, both cognitive and physical. Early musical training has been shown in numerous studies to stimulate the brain and increase a person’s success at learning overall, not just in musical pursuits. This is one reason that it’s important to keep music available in schools which is often at odds with draconian funding cuts.
I consider myself fortunate to have been exposed to music very early in life. It helped me develop a life-long love of music, and my early music study undoubtedly helped me academically in multiple ways. Later in life, music continues to be an important part of my life, even without performance. It helps me to relax, and in retirement, it provides an excellent cognitive and coordination exercise.
I’d like to see a world where everyone has the opportunity to develop skills in music making without a cost barrier.
My magical musical journey: Part 8 – Nostalgia
My magical musical journey: Part 7 – Am I still a musician?
My magical musical journey: Part 6 – outside challenges
My magical musical journey: Part 5 – practice, performance, and repeat
My magical musical journey: Part 4 – my return to organized music
My magical musical journey: Part 3 – the college years
My first pit experience
My magical musical journey: Part 2 – high school acceleration
My magical musical journey: Part 1 – the beginning
You can’t run a theater on a shoestring anymore
The end of the Tabard era is nigh
The Benefits of Music Education
Classical Music, Why Bother?: Hearing the World of Contemporary Culture Through a Composer’s Ears by Joshua Fineberg
The Great Courses: How Music and Mathematics Relate
How to Listen to and Understand Great Music by The Great Courses
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks
Remembering Mom and Dad by Ande Jacobson
The Student Conductor by Robert Ford
This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin
What to Listen for in Music by Aaron Copland
What to Listen for in Mozart by Robert Harris
What to Listen for in Beethoven by Robert Harris
Who Needs Classical Music?: Cultural Choice and Musical Voice by Julian Johnson
The role of the pit musician in musical theatre
Playing to live vs. living to play
The performing arts during a pandemic
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One thought on “My magical, musical journey: Part 9 – For the love of music”
Excellent observations and I share the concerns and experiences you identify.
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