Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Artists on the Edge

Like many artists, Beth and I are struggling to maintain financial equilibrium in an economy that seems akin to a serious earthquake. While the life of an independent artist has never been without its share of minor tremors, we are currently experiencing some awfully big shocks that are threatening our ability to stay in business. Wouldn’t it be a shame if we had to switch careers at a time when we’re at the top or our game, when we feel like we have the most to share with children and teachers?

Before you get any ideas to the contrary, please know that Beth and I have no intention of giving up our lives as children’s musicians. We will continue to search for ways to trim our expenses and create more income. In the last year, we’ve examined our expenditures and saved quite a bit of money as a result. We’ve also invested a tremendous amount of time into marketing, becoming much more proactive when it comes to reaching our existing and potential clients.

We have also expanded and improved our programs. Since moving to our home in Yorktown Heights, New York, we’ve added new assemblies on wellness (Beth & Scott’s Nutrition Mission), character education (Do the Right Thing!) and, not coincidentally, financial education (Money Matters). We’ve seen tremendous growth in our song writing program, Creating a New Hit Song, not just in the number of clients who regularly book it, but in its usefulness to teachers.

Sadly, there are clients who have lost their funding. State and federal grants – once plentiful for schools in need - are harder to come by resulting in a decreasing number of opportunities for students in these districts. Just today, we found out that a school where we’ve had tremendous success for the last three years has lost their funding. By all measures (including test scores) our song writing program was an unqualified success according to the principal and the teachers. In fact, last year we were asked to speak at this school’s moving up ceremony where we were presented with an award for our commitment to the children of that city. As wonderful as it felt to be accepted and honored in that community three months ago, today it feels like we were declared “expendable”.

During most of the last twenty years, Beth and I were fortunate to see our income rise and our lifestyle improve. Married in 1992, we moved from a small apartment in New York City when we had children to a co-op in Westchester and finally to our own home in 2006. Like most Americans, we believed that hard work and education in one’s field were the ticket to consistent expansion and, eventually, a well-deserved retirement. In the meantime, we never longed for much in the way of material goods. To us, happiness has always been about enjoying our job, our family and friends and serving the community with our talent. And while we weren’t immune to the advantages of comfortable, beautiful things, most of our purchases were reasonable. Our choice has always been to measure our life not by what we were able to afford, but by how much time we were able to spend doing what we love with the people we love.

The hopeful part of me, the idealist who always looks on the bright side of life, wants to believe that what matters most cannot be taken away by a shifting economy. I cling to the rock that God has a plan and this is merely a passing phenomenon, a storm to be followed by bright, blue skies and happy, song-filled days. Heck, I grew up in an era where we laughed at zany comedians and sang ourselves happy.

Raindrops keep falling on my head 
But that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turning red 
Crying’s not for me ‘cause 
I’m never gonna stop the rain by complaining 
Because I’m free 
Nothin’s worrying me 
(Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head ©1969 Blue Seas Music, Inc. )

Some forty years later, I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit to some fear. I worry that our country has lived too long on credit, that we’ve lost our competitive edge and become ill-equipped to find the higher ground while the tsunami approaches us. I watch our government, paralyzed by money, power and old partisan ways, and I feel that are leaders are arguing with one another about the values of their beach condos while the waves are building on the horizon. The current movements like Occupy Wall Street attest to our collective belief that the earth is opening up, that people are being swallowed up and our leaders are trying to use duct tape to keep things together.

At times like these, I’m convinced that music is not a luxury, but a spiritual, medicine for the soul. I also reject the claim that any part of the school curriculum is more important than another. In fact, we are the only country in the world that has created a hierarchy of subjects where math and english sit at the top, social studies and science are in the middle and foreign language, physical education and the arts rest on the bottom. This is an antiquated, artificial system that doesn’t take into account all of the best thinking that has been applied to education. Imagine what our country would be like if creationists wrote all the textbooks and scientists who don’t believe in climate change wrote all of the laws. Narrow-mindedness rules in our educational system and our country and our people are suffering as a result.

All of us can make a difference. We can speak out in defense of what we know to be true, what we intuitively and logically believe is best for our culture and for our citizens. In the end, I think that this is our best and only hope to regain our momentum, to be part of a world that values humanity and what humans create. I plan on being there, a bit bruised by the seismic forces around me, but still hopeful that we can rediscover our better natures.

No comments: