Sunday, March 13, 2011

Please help!

By Ken Johnston, Concertmaster

On a different note...
   Being a musician, I’m allowed to tell you this, and maybe you already guessed it- artists in general are terrible at the business of life. I wish I were different, but I’ve come to accept it. I’ll submit everything I know to the IRS this year as always, and keep my fingers crossed that Turbo Tax got it all right. My checking account remains more or less balanced, I’ve finally managed to stay on top of a schedule that is not in the least structured, I do make oil changes on time, and this might be the limit to my pragmatism. (Or maturity, if you must...) I will never manage to get to bed at any reasonable hour, I still find my keys in the front door where I left them the night before, and once, after puzzling over why a credit card company didn’t credit a payment I’d made, I found a soggy envelope in the driver’s side door of my car. Months earlier, I had stuck a check in it, took it to send in the mail, and promptly forgot all about it. 
   I’m used to seeing this in many of my colleagues. It comes from some sort of inability to think logistically through life. One of the greatest violin teachers in the world appeared in his conservatory to teach, and a few minutes later emerged downstairs at the front desk, looking abashed. He had forgotten the room number of his own studio. I remember a great player who was on the phone in the hallway of my school. This was back when phones actually had cords on them, and as he spoke, someone walking behind him said hello. He twisted his body to respond, and then someone else walked by. He turned and twisted, saying hi to all who passed, and then panicked, realizing that the cord was wrapped umpteen times around his own torso. He yelped, fought the thing, and finally fell on his rear end, bringing the entire cord out of the phone. I know great musicians who have finally figured out what “autofill” is on a computer, others who had to be told that the tires on their cars don’t last forever, and ALL of us, in our early days of freelancing and driving from town to town, remember the feeling of agony that crept through us when we realized that we had double booked a gig! In fact, this is all part of our history. It was said about Mozart that you could steal his wallet anytime- he’d never find out. Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Schubert; all seemed to suffer from the same “life” affliction. Even Leonard Bernstein dug a few holes for himself. He managed to do incredible things at 5:00 in the morning, mainly because they needed to be done by 9:00 and he hadn’t gotten around to them before then.
  Obviously there is a pattern here. Strangely enough, however, musicians are working very hard while their heads are in the clouds. My friends and I come to Erie from several cities to perform. If I’m in Pittsburgh, Buffalo, or Cleveland, I can share stories of the Avalon, Molly Brannigans, Pufferbellies, the Warner, etc... One of the tragedies of being a classical musician lies in the fear that we are distant characters in tuxes and gowns, floating in and out of a town speaking an old dead language. (The “old” part has some truth to it. I have spent all of my life, almost 24/7, with one piece of technology that hasn’t changed much in 400 years- a violin.) None of us in performing have chosen this field for the wealth. What we do has required, in most cases, two degrees in music, a lifetime of lessons, and practice every day. More important than these are two more things that musicians share. First, this is the only thing that we’ve ever wanted to do! Second, we know that the thing we do is significant. I remember being very young, gripping the bed at night listening to the Tchaikovsky Pathetique Symphony, Scheherazade, Mozart piano concerti, Sibelius symphonies,Tosca, etc.... (I can vividly remember repertoire that my parents have probably forgotten that they ever played for me on record.) When I was a kid, these were the most thrilling things in the world. I have gotten to know a bit more music as an adult, but I still feel the same about them. Next year will be the fifth time that I’ve performed the Pathetique, but I’m still getting to know it, and when I perform it, what I want is for people to hear it the way I do.
 Lately, of course, all of us tired of hearing of economic issues. We aren’t all that sympathetic, and this of course is because all of us are in the same mess together! With this mind, however, I’d like to ask your help. Speaking about the National Endowment for the Arts is like speaking about someone very sick and on life support. We wonder when it’s time will come. I learned recently three things.....
1. that the federal government spends $1.4 billion every year on the arts. I was surprised to hear however that arts   organizations, through taxes, give back $12.6 billion. Even the dismal business side of my brain can see that this is a good investment. 
2.     The National Endowment for the Arts awards grants to a state on condition that the state give money as well.
3.    In partnership with the NEA, state arts agencies awarded 24,000 grants to 18,000 organizations, schools, and artists in more than 5,100 communities across the United States.
So, my point.....
Urge Members of Congress to Support the NEA
Tell Them the Arts Mean Jobs!
Every time I walk onstage, I can recognize many of you. It is an unfortunate thing about the ritual of a classical music concert that seems to make for a wall between performer and audience. Please know that as performers, we are in fact playing for you, not just ourselves, and I’d be grateful if you had a moment to help by writing a message of support.
Who to Contact

pastedGraphic.pdfSenator Bob Casey (D-PA) 
pastedGraphic_1.pdfSenator Patrick J. Toomey (R-PA) 
pastedGraphic_2.pdfRepresentative Mike Kelly (R-PA 3rd) 
How to Make Contact
The quickest and recommended way to contact is through the Americans for the Arts website.  
Please use this link to send your message electronically:
Messages from this site will be sent to all three of the elected officials above.  After your message is sent you will also be given the opportunity to invite others to send a message also.

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