Monday, 26 May 2014

Can charities spare a thought or even a dime?

 Here is the link to Yorkshire Evening Post who printed my letter on that perennial Musicians' problem: Work Not Play.
And here is the full text:
Spare a dime?

I’d like our charities to spare a thought or even a dime, for our local musicians.

On a regular basis my [steel]bands and I asked to play for charity events – races, summer fairs usually. And I like to play them if we can and if we can afford it, because I understand the power of live music. We like playing good cause gigs. But there is always that awkward moment when I bring up the question of budget, expenses, not even pay; donations, refreshments.

We get- it’s for charity, and, of course, if that was a one-off that would be okay. And there are some close-to-home events, eg Unity Day when I do volunteer to play, and payment is not a consideration.
For races the organisers have to get security barriers, marshalls, water; the risk assessments and general admin must be phenomenal. Do they all work for nothing, because they work for a charity. Do the ice-cream van give away ices? Is it only musicians?
All bands spend years learning their craft, saving up for and buying instruments, paying for lessons, then paying to tune and upgrade, buy insurance, maybe save up for a van, hire rehearsal space, get baby-minders. And in the run-up to all events leaders spent their time ensuring we have enough players, enough transport, a van, know all the new tunes . . . And the bigger the band the harder that is to organise!
Good musicians generally are trying to earn a living, so are charities expecting only to use amateurs, or are they asking professionals to work for free?  A band brings occasion to an occasion. We create an atmosphere, drive the runners on, bring in the passers-by from the streets outside. We choose and change the repertoire to suit and encourage the runners, or the toddlers skipping round the cake stalls, or do requests for Memory Lane. Are we just a nice extra or integral to an event? [Two years we met runners afterwards from a Leeds town centre race who said that hearing us as they turned off Briggate and up Albion Place gave them the strength to keep going.]
Organisers sometimes suggest that playing their event will give you publicity, but we have played the endless sides of endless roads only to find, in the local press, we rarely get name-checked or our pics shown.
Curiously it’s often the smaller organisations who make the effort to offer donations i.e those playing with less money. One such group [actually not so small] that I would single out for praise is Otley Carnival. The year that they couldn’t afford the previous year’s fee, they wrote and asked us if we could play for less. They always give us pride of place on a huge float, and always name-check in the local paper. Here we are treated with such respect; it is an honour to play for Otley.

A few years ago I tried to have this conversation with a big cancer charity’s event. On this occasion I did agree to play for nothing.  Later they wrote and thanked us, said they had made over £8,000. Taking into account our costs on the day, as well as the years of study, we ended up paying to play. We felt deflated and used. As a music teacher [obviously my main source of income] I encourage my students to consider music after school both as a hobby and a career. I would think that the pleasure and value that local musicians bring to local events is worth paying for.
Victoria Jaquiss FRSA

Bandleader, music teacher


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