The local coffee shop where I did a lot of performing in between church gigs a while back has announced that it is no longer going to run live music. I met Matt Scott, the owner of the shop, while he was working for Till MIdnight a restaurant. We chatted briefly about his tastes in music and books. He told me about his work as a drummer in a CCM (contemporary christian music) band.
When Till Midnight decided to close its coffee shop section of its restaurant, Matt jumped at the chance to start his own in the same location.
I remember going down with my guitar and sitting and playing and singing at this point attempting to encourage him. Not too much later Matt began running live music. After a few years I challenged him to pay his musicians (which he was not doing other than splitting the extra cover charge he sometimes charged when they were playing). He seemed to take this to heart and did begin paying them. Not a great amount. But I always wondered how he afforded it.
I noticed that he was not really playing drums that much. I tried to involve him in the music asking him to sit in with me once and also hired him to do a gig with me at my brother’s church.
Matt quit asking me to perform a few years back and never indicated why. Fair enough. I suspected at the time it was a combination of my own eccentricity, my old age, and the fact that many of the young CCM bands were competitive and did not see me as a colleague.
In fact the last time I performed the owner insisted that one of the other bands do my mixing and they killed me.
The performance survived but in retrospect I sometimes wondered how much had been deliberate sabotage of another act.
Yesterday I rehearsed Mozart violin sonatas with Amy Piersma my friend and colleague. It was lots of fun. It has been a life long goal of mine to read the Mozart and Bach violin sonatas. They are amazing music, challenging and fun for me.
While we were practicing, Amy said that the music we were playing would be well received in a luncheon situation. She thought we could sound pretty good and it would be interesting and exciting. I replied that I also felt that we should share this wonderful music in some way, but didn’t really know how. We both know we could perform at my church, but Amy is a former member and this is not comfortable for her.
I also attended a noon recital by my friend Rhonda Edgington. Pillar Church, a local conservative Reformed church, runs noon organ recitals in the summer. The first year she was here, Rhonda was invited. Then the second year not. She seemed to suspect that she had played too esoteric a program. This year she was asked and she mixed it up a bit, playing well as usual.
What interests me is how the idea of working performing live musicians is so alien to how most people listen to, seek out and appreciate music in their lives. People still spend their lives learning a music craft, but unless they are willing to enter commercial consumer type situations, the number of places for them to perform is very limited.
Matthew, the owner of Lemonjellos, offers some ideas of why his audience for live music dwindled in his blog. I don’t think he nails it in general, maybe it applies to his situation.
non hominubus sed deo
I was reading in Snyder’s bio of Buxtehude and she relates that his motto was “Non hominibus sed Deo” (Not unto men but unto God.) While I feel atheistic most of the time, I think Buxtehude’s idea of looking beyond the audience to a larger concern whatever it is makes sense these days. I think that music is intrinsic to being human, but even unrefined music seems in the USA to be more and more a matter of passive consuming than making it for yourself or with others. More refined music (whatever the style) has probably always had a much smaller audience. So when I offer up my music it’s often helpful for me to be thinking about the more cosmic conversation between me , the music, the composer (if not improvising) and the idealized listener than gathering too much energy from a dull and disinterested people in my immediate viscinity.