Friday, November 1, 2013

It's a matter of (public) perspective

Disclaimer: Before I dive into the topic du jour, I have to say that I get it. I really do. It's just a little joking around, and there are jokes about every profession and every class of people. (Recently I played a gig for a bunch of sewage system engineers, and, let me tell you, those were some pretty crappy jokes.) But there is an underlying problem, and it's time that we, musicians and non, face it head-on.

A friend of mine, an insanely successful and renowned guitarist and music educator, tells one of my favorite stories. Shortly after he and his family moved into their brand new, beautiful home in a somewhat exclusive part of their city, he was chatting with a neighbor at church when the guy asked him, "So what do you do?"

"Oh, I'm a musician," he replied.

"No, no. I mean, what do you do for a living?"

I love this story, because it exemplifies the standard attitude toward musicians from many people who aren't. Music is fine as a hobby, I guess, but you can't seriously call it a career, right? It's just not important enough. 

Alright, so that characterization might be a touch incendiary. In a nutshell, here's my problem: musicians, and music education, have always been marginalized by mainstream society. Whether it be in the professional world, in education or at the gym, music is often viewed as a sidebar.

Too often, musicians and music are turned into a punchline.

Example number one. Here's the commercial that just about made me fall off my treadmill.

I get that it can be tough to support a young personn through the cumulative hours it takes to develop a musical skill, but the mom is essentially saying, "I deserve a reward just for being in the same space with a kid practicing her instrument - that's how bad it is to have a musician in the house!" (It's also a subtle dig at bassoonists, and I get that, but...)

Example number two. Although KFC has taken their ad down (you can't even find it on YouTube), you can get a sense for it and read their response to criticism here. The commercial contrasts the "good idea" of buying fried chicken for dinner, to a bunch of "bad ideas." The one that caught my ire? "Bad idea: buying your own kid a drum set."

Again, I get that marketers are just trying to get viewers to laugh and remember their product. But as I wrote above, it betrays an underlying attitude that musicians, like lawyers, proctologists and used car salesmen, are somehow not people, and that their contribution to society is a necessary evil.

It's a topic for another blog post, but music is possibly the most reliable catalyst for positive change for students and society, and to marginalize it simply reinforces many of the things that are wrong in the world.

What do you think? Just laugh and let it roll? Or is it a more serious problem? I'd love to hear your perspective in the comments below.

Happy drumming, even if it is a, "bad idea."

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