“The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others” Gandhi.
Jingle Bells…Jingle all the way! Well, ready or not, Christmas is almost here….and so is the supposed time of good will to all – the giving of gifts, and of ourselves.
Yuletide is considered a peak employment time for a musician and happily, my diary is filling up…..and yet this year my thoughts are elsewhere. Gandhi’s words resound in my ears as I arrive at the London offices of “Help Musicians UK” for some training. Together with “The Royal Society of Musicians” (formerly known as the “Fund for Decay’d Musicians”!!) this amazing organisation supports professional musicians in the UK who have hit unfortunate times, crisis or old age. And so, pursuing a different seasonal spirit this year, I’m forsaking my usual Bristol Cream Sherry and keeping Marley’s ghost at bay by signing up with ‘Help Musician’s UK’ and their volunteer programme …much better for my liver and soul! The scheme matches up visitors for isolated musicians, providing companionship and essential nurture and support from likeminded people, who know and respect the life and psychology of a musician. Being remembered for their creativity, at whatever life-stage they are at, but especially when they are no longer able to play or sing is both validating and empowering. Bearing in mind that the Arts have been undervalued for nigh-on a generation, thankfully ‘Help Musician’s UK’ is a necessary safety net which promotes the belief that society must respect and acknowledge the artistic contribution that professional musicians make to the world. Just take a moment…can you imagine the silent days and nights without any music? Exactly! – No lords leaping to drums drumming!
This benevolence is not new, it’s been around since the early 1700’s, way before the welfare state, when acclaimed musicians such as Arne and Handel (and later on Liszt, Dvorak and Mendelssohn) recognised the need for financial security for professional musicians, and raised considerable funds to this end. This altruistically practical way to acknowledge the worth of musicians is thriving still today, due to the work of “Help Musicians UK” …..and during my training I find myself in tune with other likeminded and musically passionate individuals from all over the country, wanting to help those in need and eager to support the profession.
Later: the training day was full of emotional and heart wrenching film footage and stories of elderly musicians – with eyes sparkling and toes tapping they spoke of their long and varied careers, as if yesterday. I was especially struck by Lauretta, a most charismatic and glamorous 95 year-old who spun tales of her life as a singer/pianist….and she still continues performing today when she can. The film documented how “Help Musicians UK” became involved when health issues jeopardised her capacity to earn a living from performing. Her focus had always been to survive in the present rather than planning for future retirement – something that affects young and old musicians alike. “Help Musicians UK” understand this unpredictability of the profession, its low pay and the on-cost of maintaining instruments, thus making it nigh-on impossible for many musicians to save for retirement. And so alongside helping with Lauretta’s living costs, they’ve ensured money is available for her treasured ancient piano to be looked after and tuned regularly too….and that there are visitors, like myself, who afford her the opportunity of talking about her beloved music with people that understand. Wow! What an opportunity to meet such legends who have dedicated themselves to a lifelong creative service to others (alongside enjoying and finding themselves in the process too! Hallelujah!).
As I leave the training room I reflect on my learning, and look forward to being a joyful and triumphant musician giving back to my profession with all my resources to the ready. A little kindness goes a long way, particularly at Christmas time when many people feel shunned and that there is no room for them…..(secretly I’m hoping that a likeminded soul will visit me in years to come, when, as a “decay’d” musician, I’m reminiscing about the “sell out” concerts I played at St Michael’s Church in Thorpe-le- Soken!)
Check out: www.helpmusicians.org.uk/retirement to find out more about their work.
A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A WONDERFULLY CREATIVE NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL…..and remember, a musician is not just for Christmas!