For Love and Money
The year I came back from living in Senegal, I took a part time job working in a grocery store. I worked in the meat department as the “patty girl”. I made hamburger patties all day in the comfort of a fridge. It was my first and only time working for a for-profit company. For the last twenty plus years, I have dedicated my time and energy to the non-profit world, and while it was not my dream, I have learned a thing or two about how non-profits and charities work in Canada. I have also learned how they don’t work. I did not hear the argument that pursuing music as a life’s work and a valid way of earning of living was impossible for the first time when I had the privilege to work with Orchestra London this year. I first heard it from my parents and my guidance counsellor. Even though I had achieved an improbably high mark in my last year of music class in grade 13 (110% but they could only give me 100% because the board would not allow a higher mark to be recorded) I was strongly discouraged to never pursue my dream of studying music, of composing, of performing. My answer was to take a year off and go to Africa to find out what else I could do with myself. In all honestly, I regret to this day not pursuing my studies, continuing to perform, continuing to learn, to push myself. It is one of my only regrets, in fact, in my life so far. I have been asked why it matters now to me, after so many years, having given up studying music almost completely. It matters because it was a chance for me to do what I love to do and get paid to do it. It might not have been much at all, but it would have been something. When we are preparing to enter or stay in the workforce, we are told, do what you love, love what you do.
I don’t have to go far to hear the arguments against the arts, against musicians, non-profit organizations who work to keep the music alive on stage, in the classrooms, in festivals, concert halls, small and big stages around the city. Where is the benefit? Where are the numbers that prove that musicians matter? What is the pay scale for an artist, a musician who has dedicated their life to perfecting their craft? How does it compare to that of an administrative assistant, a butcher, a hockey player or a doctor? Should they get paid more or less? Should a non-profit sink or swim with or without the aid of subsidy and support from the city, the province, the federal government? Artists, I have heard, should do what they do for free – for the love of the art – why? Does playing for free in a society that is so deeply rooted in capitalism somehow make the creation of music more valid, more valuable than if musicians were fairly compensated for the time and effort that they put in preparing for a performance, working with their colleagues to produce the best possible product on the stage for the enjoyment and betterment of community who goes to the concert, or the children who take part in their classroom activities?
How do we value the sacrifices that each musicians already has made to be sitting on the stage in the first place? Do we ignore the unpaid hours, the time away from family to practice, perform, practice, and perform? Who has the luxury in this day and age to do anything for free fulltime? Who has no bills to pay, no family to support, no car that needs gas to drive around in, no house or apartment to look after and give their time and energy away for free? I know no one like that. I have never met a lawyer who would work for free 100% of the time, nor a doctor, nor a general laborer, nor teacher, nor a retail clerk. We would never expect anyone else to work for free, so why do we expect musicians to work for free?
Somehow we have come to see musicians as living outside of our society. I believe that there is a place for everyone, to do what they love, to make their life around it, and be part of the whole. To see musicians, live music, the creation of music as a whole as outside of what is meaningful in our daily life to me is a terribly wrong view. Musicians, individually, are home owners, tax payers, consumers, volunteers, raising families in our communities. Collectively, they are an important key to a community’s prosperity, in millions of dollars throughout the year to local businesses and tourism. You don’t have to go far to learn about just how much the arts contibute http://prosperityforlondon.ca/musictaskforce
The numbers don’t lie. The jobs that the music industry creates for such a wide range of sectors, including of course musicians are significant. A thriving arts community is a strong indicator of the health of a city. And yet, we only seem to hear from those who bemoan and insist on reducing the contribution of musicians to that being little more than a kid caught with their hands in the cookie jar. How demoralizing that is for someone who has studied at a very high level to perform. Although I suppose it is also said of professional athletes, doctors, dentists and other professionals. Setting an abstract ideal of who they are, what they do, what they earn, only serves to categorize and alienate the most creative people in our community. The existence of non-profit music organizations in a for-profit music industry is a very complex one, with many layers of involvement and interaction. Whether they are a professional orchestra, an ensemble, a student quartet or a garage band, to say that there is no place for them in our community is not only unfair, but flat out wrong. Musicians do not exist in a vacuum. They are vital and active community members on and off the stage. In the end, music is not meant to be kept inside. For love and money, music is meant to be shared. It must be.