A Hard Row to Bow
In the last week I've made the acquaintance of a fiddler, which is something that doesn't happen every day, although if I had my druthers, it probably would. Nonetheless, it has been wonderful getting to know someone who essentially has been living the life I've been trying to learn and understand and get behind the last few years.
The other day we got to talking about the hard reality of that life. When the music takes you, it has you, and you can think of little else but how to make it, teach it, grow it, share it. I imagine that I am under the same sort of spell as someone with an addiction, although at least being addicted to old time and bluegrass doesn't pose any real threat to my life or my family save that friends and family probably get sick of hearing about it. If they have, so far they have been polite enough not to say anything.
So. Imagine that this is your chosen vocation. You play music, and you're very good at it, and, you love it like a priest or nun loves the vows. But, to put food on the table, you must teach, perform, drive a truck, sell insurance, and whatever else it takes to make ends meet. Essentially, that's what entrepreneurs do. But for about 99 percent of us, we get up, we go to our job working for someone else, we take care of business, we pay our bills, we save for college or buy new carpet, we come home, watch the news, eat the food we bought and cooked, read a bit, go to sleep. And we sleep pretty well because we know we have a snowball's chance at retiring somewhat comfortably or securing our childrens' futures.
Someone needs to explain to me why, in the richest nation in the world, the people who make our life pleasant are not rewarded as equitably. I'm not asking this on anyone's behalf; I really just want to understand how something so important to me and to many other people is so undervalued. Not all caretakers of American folk culture teach at the college level. Do y'all get that? And not all purveyors of culture are paid what they're worth. In fact, none of them are.
This is not a hypothesis. I work with museums, orchestras large and small, and many other types of cultural institutions that are suffering the demise of Americans' interest in cultivating society through creativity. Frankly, it sucks, and it doesn't bode well. Dick Cheney gets a $1.9 million tax refund, and people who want to work for orchestras have to figure out how to pay for health insurance? Um, I don't THINK so.
Over the last several days, while trying to make sense of stuff like this as well as a number of personal and professional things, one thing has become clear to me: I understand what it is to build wealth, and I believe that many people are successful at building wealth for their families doing what they love and what they believe in. I also believe that many people build wealth in jobs they hate or do only because they have become addicted to the financial benefit. But America will have to be a different country before loving, living, promoting, presenting, teaching, studying, demonstrating, and preserving America's indigenous musical forms is regarded as a sustainable and worthwhile part of our economy.
I'm going to put my shoulder to the wheel to be sure my friend and many other talented musicians can continue to put bow to fiddle. If you visit this blog and enjoy what you read, please do get out and support live music or pick up one of the many recordings that are mentioned here throughout. I am going to do weekly updates on live music in Northeast Ohio; if you live elsewhere, get in touch with what goes on in your neck of the woods. There is great music hiding everywhere.
If this music is not so much your thing but you care about America's cultural future, get off your computer, go to a museum, a chamber concert, a historical site, a botanical garden, a play. Take your friends, kids, family. Sign up for a class in painting, photography, dance, hammer dulcimer. Or maybe even, fiddle.