Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Preaching To the Choir

In response to a recent NPR blogpost (A Blog Supreme: “If Not Jazz Education, What Will Rebuild Jazz Audiences”), I thought I stir the pot with a bit of preaching to the choir, so to speak.
Eric Harland works with the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars

Why the concern with attempting to correlate jazz education funding with the decline of the jazz audience? Musicians DO NOT BUY music, nor do they pay to attend shows. We are educating the wrong people in this equation!

I became a musician because I LOVE music, and evolved into a music educator because I hoped to share my passion and enthusiasm with anyone who cared to listen. And yes, jazz education has experienced a remarkable boom in recent years, which is a good thing for a number of reasons, not the least of which includes churning out more qualified and literate musicians to create new music. But at issue here is that while jazz education is grooming a new generation of art-makers – this after years of stripping away music education and enforcing a generation of consumption of art – the musicians themselves are not the ones who will populate our concert halls and nightclubs nor buy records! (And don’t get me started on the demise of the record album and the abysmal state of the industry itself…)

First of all, jazz musicians typically do not have disposable income; anyone trying to make a living as a musician knows full well the hand-to-mouth reality of venturing into the world fresh out of music school, only to find you are in line with hundreds of other well-trained musicians to fight over the same paltry crumbs. So your choices may be down to club musician versus music educator; the result is still the same: starving musician! The folks who need educating here are those responsible for devaluing the arts in our society and grooming a generation (or two) of consumers, not art-makers. Until the paradigm in the United States is shifted to completely embrace the purpose of making art and placing it on the same level as corporate interests, we will never find an answer to this question. I am thrilled to see the increase of jazz programs in schools, national festivals, music camps and neighborhood music schools dedicated to teaching America’s music. But I also know that if we continue to perpetuate a culture of music as secondary in our lives, we will never fully realize our full potential as a nation. Other countries get it, and we’re talking about countries on opposite ends of the political spectrum, from socialist Venezuela – where over 20 million children are literate in music – to conservative Finland, where fully funded arts programs are a federal mandate and most musicians are training to become music educators for the job security!
Gustavo Dudamel and the Venezuelan Youth Symphony

Okay, so I haven’t solved anything here with this rant, I know. But tell me: what do I say to the parents of the MANY gifted high school students in our All-Stars program when they seek my advice as to where their precious offspring should spend the next four years of their lives – and several hundred thousand dollars to boot?? I know in my heart they are destined for the joy of a life in music, the magic that happens on stage (or in the studio), the rush of sitting in with some musician a million times better than you, and yes, a life often riddled with disappointments and challenges, with seedy nightclub owners and shoddy sound systems and crappy pay. But in the end, jazz musicians as well as music educators are not to blame here, and neither is the educational system. If an American President can sing the Blues, everyone in the USA should KNOW that singing the Blues is part of our social fabric, and that everyone deserves to have music in their lives. Once we as a nation realize the power of music and validate the arts, we will no longer ponder the demise of the audience; we will emerge stronger because we had the wherewithal to do what other countries have known for a long time: that music is GOOD FOR YOU. Now stop complaining and go practice!
-- Rebeca


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