Friday, May 29, 2009

Lt. Dan Choi

"I am not asking anymore. I am telling."

Those are Lt. Dan Choi's words. He's trying to get President Obama's attention on the subject of Don't Ask Don't Tell and gays in the U.S. armed forces.

His words inspire me, for I have been asking and asking and asking for folks to embrace the idea of Audience Inclusion. But lately I have felt like telling people, not asking.

I've lately grown tired of asking, because lately I recalled the definition of insanity - to continue doing the same thing repeatedly and expect different results. How naive of me...

I realize of course that there is a balance to be struck here - a balanced way of shifting from asking to telling. And I also realize the risk I run.

A couple weeks ago I played at nursing home in Orange, Virginia, where I have been entertaining the residents monthly for about 8 months or so. We've run the gamut of inconsiderate staff behavior - from loud personal conversation to being displaced from the performance room so they could clean the floors. I've been very nice, and very patient. I even went for months without saying anything.

One day I spoke up about the incessant chatter and interruptions - the total disregard for the fact that a musical performance for the residents is taking place. I was promised that the staff had been reminded about courtesy.

Then came the "floor buffing incident" - the first one. Midway through a show staff members walk in and start moving the audience out of the room. Right in the middle of a song. They're chattering away, and then one of them noisily wheels in the floor machine. Someone announces that the show will now move into the hallway - THE HALLWAY!! They line the residents up there, where the closest is two feet away and the furthest about 45. Then they leave the doors open, turn on the machine, and increase the volume of their personal chatter so they can talk over the machine noise.

Perfect for an acoustic performance, eh?

Well, I brought it up with the lady I work with, and she brought it up with the nursing home representative, and again I was promised it would not happen EVER again. And it didn't. For a whole two or three months...

The other day they were lining them up in the hallway when I arrived. "Gotta do the floors" they smiled.

I smiled too, and said "Okay."

Again they left the doors open, negating any Opportunity for an enjoyable listening experience. After a few songs I asked the staff "monitor" could she please at least shut the doors.

"Can't do it. Fire code. We're expecting the Fire Marshal today." Great - we operate out of fear.

So I smiled, and again said "Okay."

Then another staff member came to apologize. "Wednesdays are really hard," she said. "So much to do," she said.

"What day is it not hard?" I asked.

"Wednesdays are really hard," she repeated.

"What days are not really hard?" I repeated.

"Wednesdays are really...", and I smiled, and lost it, with composure.

I lowered my voice, pasted a big smile on, and proceeded to tell her that my observation has been for the last fifteen years that staff members forget who pays their salary. I told her thatI found it interesting that Dolly Parton, Billy Joel and REM understand end encourage performances for seniors, but that local musicians, facility staff and administration, and local media do not.

I was being nice. I never swore. And I was being honest.

Within minutes the doors were shut. According to them in clear violation of fire code.

But the honesty, the speaking up on behalf of the residents, promptly earned me the label of "ugly". She went to the Activities Director and said I was "very ugly" to her.

So be it, I reckon. So much for asking.

It's Time.

To quote Lt. Choi again...

It's time to Tell.
It's time to Stand.
It's time to Fight.
It's time to March.
It's time to Love.

Thanks Lt. Choi. If you need some music for a rally, let me know...

Arts in the Schools? Yes, we could...

Lately I'm amused when I hear the same old tired traditional call for more arts in the schools coming from artists.

A musician friend recently posted something on Fakebook to this effect, and of course lots of musician friends rallied round the tired old flag of apathy and blame.

I commented that the artists could just quit bitching and show up in the schools, and the thread died a sudden, chilling death...

For over a decade I have been asking musicians in my community to share an hour of their Time and Talent with folks in Community Venues - places like senior and nursing homes, and facilities for our disabled Fellow Beings. I've spent some time in the schools, when asked, but this has not been my focus.

And, for over a decade, most musicians in our community (claim they) have not had time. These are the same folks that are always up to play a free show for the victims of a natural disaster thousands of miles - or half a world - away. They always have time to open a friend's CD release show for no charge at the local acoustic club for the designer beer crowd. They always have time to busk on the downtown mall for a few bucks, if that.

But they never have time to share their music with folks that... well, with folks that do not have any money for them, I guess. Money, and ego currency, maybe...

I've been watching it for eleven years, this blatant audience discrimination coupled with blatant apathy and indifference. I can understand the lack of desire in the Community Venue arena, because there has never been a societal cry to "get more arts into senior homes, nursing homes, or in front of disabled folks". Those perceived "Poor Others" are problems, and obligations maybe, but they are not Opportunity.

But I've been hearing cries for more arts in the schools since I can remember.

And lately I am struck by the reality that most artists do indeeed have a great deal of free time, and I find myuself wondering when they might quit bitching about What Is and simply go live their dream. You know, if you dream of arts in the schools, then bring arts into the schools. An hour a week, or a month, is better than your repeated hollow cries from a distance.

If every artist in our town donated one hour a month, there would be several thousand hours of arts available to our schools every month. THOUSAND. Several thousand hours.

Liekwise, if every musician in our town would share an hour every three months in Community Venues, there would be well over 1,000 hours of music available each quarter. That's well over 4,000 hours a year.

We would not be able to place them all, without overwhelming the facilities, and the schools.

It would be perfect.

All it requires of course is action. Personal action, Nike style - Just Do It.