Friday, June 09, 2006

playing and working

I am rehearsing the music for a wedding I am playing at in 8 days. Playing for weddings is an interesting thing…I do not really find it all that enjoyable, though I get a great deal of satisfaction from doing it well and making someone’s special day everything they want it to be. You have to leave your own personal taste and artistic ego aside, for you usually end up playing pieces you do not like, having to learn some challenging selections that you would rather not put into your repertoire, playing some boring music (surely these people know there are more than 3 chords!!!), and spending hours and hours of your life preparing to play basically background music which most of the people attending will never remember and in fact, during much of your fine performance, will most likely end up talking over it. To be fair, there are usually a few pieces that I truly enjoy and some friends have given me much liberty in song selection, but the thought of being a professional wedding musician –it just holds no appeal for me.

I have spent most of my life as a volunteer church musician, and the occasions on which I have received any remuneration are few and far between. Truly, I do this because I love it, because music gives me joy, but I have also had to develop the attitude of a servant in order to not become a bitter, under-appreciated artist with a chip on my shoulder. One cannot be upset at being overlooked, taken for granted, or thought of as difficult when you balk at a request, for most people have no concept of the amount of effort that goes into rehearsing or the money you have invested in your instrument and training. Just because you make it look easy, people assume it IS easy, and they are quick to ask you to play just a little something for their occasion and usually don’t think twice about what it costs you.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining, and though I would love to be handsomely compensated every time I place my fingers on a keyboard (who wouldn’t?) I realise it is not realistic. The reality is that in most church circles, preachers and teachers are regularly paid for their 30-minute presentations, while the faithful musicians who show up week after week and set up gear and rehearse never see any part of that. I don’t really know the reason for this (the rare exception was one church that my husband used to play at as a guest drummer and they always paid him for his services…it really lent an air of integrity to their leadership). Does the church as a whole undervalue its artists? Do we truly believe that teaching is more vital to the life of the church than worship?

While I was working at an office job at a world-class theatre, one of my colleagues found out that I regularly played without any pay and was appalled at the way the religious establishment was taking advantage of my talents. Hmmm…it was interesting to see it from the point of view of someone who worked in the arts. Artists can be some of the most highly paid people in the world, yet in the world of faith…they are notoriously underpaid or never paid at all, yet absolutely vital to every meeting.

Now before this gets to be a poor artist pity party, which I really did not set out to do, let me say that musicians and artists will always do what they love to do, to get together and create and play and make something out of almost nothing, but when they are exercising their creativity at the request of another party, when repertoires and demands and song lists and time limits and expectations are thrust in their way, perhaps those who are making the demands should offer some compensation in keeping with the quality and quantity of artistic endeavour they are asking to be graced with.

And to all those pianists and organists and singers and songwriters and guitarists and bass players and drummers and dramatists and any other creative artists, and even those under-appreciated soundmen, THANK YOU for your faithful and generous hearts. You are among the most humble and interesting people I have ever known. May the measure of your true value and the realisation of what your gifts and sacrifices are worth come from the Master Creator himself, and never be diminished by any lack of appreciation or ignorance you may encounter in humankind.

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