Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Solano Stroll Stops Paying Musicians

The Solano Stroll Non-Payment Issue Berkeley/Albany, CA
Philip Rosheger, a superb musician sent this to me today. Please read.
    For those of you who don't know, the Solano Stroll is an annual event involving local businenesses and the hiring of street musicians.  I have never participated in it but many of my colleages have.  This year they announced that they will not be paying any of the musicians for their services.  Here is what I wrote about that, to be forwarded to Berkeley Daily Planet, Solano Avenue Association, Eastbay Express and Street Sheet of Berkeley.  I want the whole world to know about this repugnant development.  If you wish to know more about it, go online to the Eastbay Express or consult me.
                                               THE SOLANO STROLL & NON-PAYMENT
First of all I wish to point out that there has taken place over the last 30 years or so what I have been calling "a radical devaluation of music and the arts" and that a major problem has been the lack of acknowledgement of this problem on all sides.  If there is to be any "blame" I must point the accusational finger toward both those who hire and those both hired and unhired musicians who have complacently settled for less and less and less and opted out for no pay at all and who have no sense of solidarity among each other.  Here solidarity desperately needs cultivation. 
It is true that there have always been musicians willing to play for nothing.  (I know this because I have been a professional musician since 1963 and so were my father, grandfather, great-grandfather and so on before.)  But comparing these to 10 or 15 years ago and before is comparing an ant hill to a mountain. 
It's important to realize that the devaluation of music began long before the current economic crisis.  While the arts have always suffered, I think an intense sharpening of the problem began circa 1980 and then increased at an accelerating rate without the awareness of most people to the present day. 
If a problem goes unrecognized then there can be ony one direction:  down.  You can't fix a problem you refuse to admit exists, and that is the ongoing devaluation of music, the arts and the humanities in general (which exist to remind us necessarily of our humanity).  If you have a sore on your foot, for example, and choose to ignore it, then it will fester and become infected.  Eventually it will turn gangrene and in time it will become necessary to amputate said limb.  I know this from having lived in an equatorial tropical climate. 
There is no way you you can have a local community of musicians who have overwhelmingly decided that it is okay to play--or better said, work--without any compensation without severe consequences compounded against all of us.  Pay heed to what I write:  this is a wildly unprecedented development.
To cut to the chase, fellow musicians, those who do not follow Carol Denney's and Carol Ginsberg's decision to not play for no pay are effectively dong not only yourselves a grave disservice and cutting your own throats, but you are betraying all other musicians and, indeed, participating in a massive cheapening of the art of music itself. 
To the complacent musicians I ask:  if you were a plumber and suddenly all other plumbers decided to work for free, what would that do to your business?  The answer is obvious. 
Having said this I now point in another direction.  I point in the direction of the organizers of the Solano Stroll (Solano Avenue Association) who have the naked audacity to lay the entire burden of the budget deficit at the feet of the musicians, a gross absurdity on the face of it, as though the musicians were the cause of the problem.  Listen up folks.  Not a single one of these musicians should be held responsible for the state of the economy and be expected to take the full brunt of it--and this totally apart from what I said regarding their lack of solidarity.  Nor for that should they be penalized. 
My father was a musician during the Great Depression and yet he found gainful musical employment under a program known as the WPA (Works Progress Administration, 1935, renamed Works Projects Administration in 1939) which proved that it can be done. 
Beware.  Be aware.  A mentality that diminishes the value of the labor of others, and specifically the work of musicians, and that labor is worthy of honor and respect despite commonplace prejudice against music and art that knowingly or unknowingly assumes otherwise, that the Solano Stroll organizers who are otherwise decent human beings, intelligent, well-intentioned and educated, cannot possibly be making a fair decision by expecting people of any field to work without pay. 
For that matter, as one example, why not expect the shuttle service up and down Marin during the Solano Stroll to also go unpaid?  Where do we draw the line as to who should or should not be paid?  It is a matter of values and this proposal sadly reflects an unenlightened, frightenly and shockingly low esteem for music and art and the whole ideal of workers' rights.  Musicians are not slaves.  Unpaid labor equals slavery. 
Philip Rosheger
guitarist, composer and music teacher half a century
Tuesday, August 2, 2011
Oakland, California

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