Each day we hear of more musicians losing their jobs. Some reasons given for this epidemic are 1. The economy, 2. Reduced ticket sales, 3. Change in direction, 4. Tracks are more economical. 5. Tracks don’t make mistakes, 6. No one is using horns any more, and the list goes on.
It started with the big bands during the Swing Era from the early 1930’s until the late 1940’s. Men serving in the war were not available to fill the sections of the popular big bands back home. Money and materials were needed for the war efforts. Gas which was necessary for big bands to travel from job to job was also in short supply. It is safe to say that the economy had a significant roll to play in the decline of the big swing dance bands. But we adjusted and downsized to combos. It didn’t take much gas to play a club date down the street and you didn’t have to supply a uniform. Most musicians were paid in cash so your income tax forms were easy to fill out. Bands dropped from 25 members down to a piano, bass, drums and a horn or two. That worked for the club owners. Combos replaced the expensive and cumbersome big bands.
During the next period, we had combos and a few big bands which functioned as performing ensembles with less focus on playing dances and more on playing concerts and making records. Then came Rock and Roll and back to even smaller combos which drew more electricity than ten big bands. Horns were out . but we adjusted. Combos began to bring the horns back with BST, Chicago, Tower of Power, etc. and we were back again. Rock bands with a trumpet, tenor and a trombone became heaven on earth.
I would like to use Branson as an example of the next big decline in live music. When I moved to Branson about ten years ago, there were fifteen trumpet players working full time in the shows in town. Today there are NO trumpet players working full time. I’m not saying that this is the norm across the whole nation but it does seem to be a consistent complaint from my friends in the music field in many parts of the country. The reasons are always the same- 1. The economy, 2. Reduced ticket sales, 3. Change in direction, 4. Tracks are more economical. 5.Tracks don’t make mistakes, 6. No one is using horns any more, and the list still goes on.
Many excellent musicians have begun to change occupations because of the lack of musical employment. I know of at lest a dozen players of the highest level who have given up on music as a profession. What a waste of talent. To dedicate your entire life to your instrument and now in your most productive years decide to hang it up. How sad. Is it time to make drastic adjustments again in order to save live music? It would seem so. I would like to offer a few suggestions as to how we might try to turn this dilemma around and again bring back live music to our areas.
Possible steps to revive live music in your area.
1. Music Performance & Film Trust Funds
The American Federation of Musicians set aside money for the promotion of live music many years ago and this fund is still available for use by members of the AFM. If you are a current member of a local chapter, take advantage of this money for it was first established do what we are trying to do “Promote Live Music in Your Area”.
2. Donate your time and talents to your local schools
Offer to visit your school’s music department and give a free concert or lecture on live music. The students you are contacting will be the consumers of music as they mature. It would be very productive to educate them in the art of live performances. We need to be more proactive in our approach to our art form. To see a real musician performing in their class room could change a student’s direction in life.
3. When’s the last time you were in church?
Few church organists will turn down a qualified musician’s offer to play in their church. Having someone up there in the choir loft is usually a treat for them and you will be taking the load off them during the service. And remember, “if you make a mistake in church, they have to forgive you”!
4. If your community doesn’t have a city band, start one.
You will find it amazing how many players in your area are just waiting for someone to start a concert band. First ask your local band director if he/she would have interest in forming such an ensemble. The director has use of a rehearsal room, a library, names of former band members and a baton. What else do you need?
5. If a concert band is too big, start with a brass quintet.
Even the smallest community will have an old horn player hiding somewhere in town. If they don’t own a horn like many horn players, make arrangements to rent one from a music store. Chances are also very good that the music store has one in the back room they would lend free of charge. Invite the band director to play in your group and he/she will have access to a tuba if you need one.
6. Choose your players wisely- you will see them often.
When the jobs began to shrink in Branson about four years ago, I decided that it was time to start playing again and I formed my trumpet group, the Branson Trumpet Ensemble. The reason for its formation was to give me as well as some of my friends a need to keep our chops up. In the last three years we have been performing concerts in the immediate area and have developed into a very fine chamber ensemble. I have the greatest respect for our members and we have really enjoyed our time together (at least I have). Each player has his own area of ability and we all work together to get the job done. We even make some money doing it.
7. Someday we will be living in a retirement facility.
If you have ever visited a retirement facility and observed the joy in the faces of the residence as you play “Stardust” or watch their feet start to tap the floor as you rip off the trumpet solo to “In the Mood”, you have realized the impact live music can have on individuals. It doesn’t pay in dollars, but it more than makes up in human kindness.
I would like to help but I don’t perform any more.
If you no longer perform and would still like to help promote live music, you can get involved in other ways. The next time you read of a concert being performed in your area, go and tell the promoters what a great concert it was. If there is a combo performing in a club in your area, go and show your support that way. Write a letter to the local paper praising the wonderful concert you heard at the high school last week. Live music needs to have supporters cheering from the side lines just as the local football team needs fans cheering in the stands. The more attention we can draw to the importance of live music, the better.
Is it worth it to make the effort?
If this posting does nothing more than start you thinking about our responsibility as musicians, I would have accomplished my objective. If this posting gets you thinking of other ways to promote live music, I will have made a difference. If, after reading this information, you actually start organizing a small movement to promote live music, I will be very grateful. If you decide to sit there and continue to complain that there is no work and it is the fault of the show owners and club owners, I would not be surprised. In the past two weeks, I have played in my church, played with a polka band in another church, I will be playing a church service in still another church this Sunday, I will play duets with one of my best friends Wednesday morning, the Branson Trumpet Ensemble just played for the fourth year in a row for the Branson Arts Council and we have a concert in two weeks in still another church. Who says there’s no work in Branson? It might not pay all of the bills but at least we are out there “Promoting Live Music”. What are you doing this week?
Branson Trumpet Ensemble