Just an entertainer?

So like most people, I do check my Facebook pretty frequently throughout the day.  The thing that has been popping up today is an “open letter to Kanye West” from an Ohio police chief.  Actually, I don’t know what exactly Kanye West said–I don’t know that I’ve even heard one song of his.  Apparently he compared himself to a police officer or a soldier, and then said he’s greater than Nelson Mandela…  Probably not worth trying to figure out what he meant; sometimes I think celebrities say things like this just to get attention. 

I’m actually fairly neutral on Chief Oliver’s response, for the most part.  It seems like he’s no stranger to social media and had a following on Facebook for awhile before this happened.  I can see why–he has a really entertaining style and after this I may very well go and “like” his page.  Actually, I had to laugh at the one part covered in sarcasm where he said something along the lines of if you rap really fast without a chance to inhale you could pass out.  It’s funny because last week I actually did start to feel lightheaded from a combination of singing in a dress that was tight enough it made it impossible for me to get as much air as I normally need to sing, and not eating or drinking enough beforehand.  I wouldn’t say passing out was a completely unrealistic possibility!  Lesson learned, never sing in a tight dress without at least having some kind of nourishment beforehand!  Who would have thought you actually need to think “safety first” as a singer.  Although I didn’t see that as “dangerous,” just another addition to the collection of funny stories during performances.  Now, organists who actually build and restore pipe organs as well…they’re the ones doing the really dangerous stuff; it’s entertainment all on its own to sit back and watch them crawl through pipes some 100+ feet in the air where they could fall at any minute.  They’re the real daredevils of the music world!     

I digress.  But all reminiscing aside, there’s one thing he said that is troubling.  Chief Oliver says that part of the problem in society includes “entertainers thinking they are something more than entertainers.”  I’m not sure I know what he really means by that.  Does he really see no value in the arts?  I probably shouldn’t assume that, as I have no desire to slam a police chief or to receive internet notoriety, nor do I wish to defend anything said by a rapper I don’t even know.  My problem isn’t with that one sentence, but with the whole picture of both artists and non-artists alike not understanding what it is we are really supposed to do when we perform.  Because to me, being a musician is much more than just standing on a stage for a few hours. 

I should clarify:  I’ve been involved in classical music, not rap, and certainly would never consider myself a celebrity–unfortunately “celebrity” and “classical musician” almost never go together in the same sentence.  Let me explain how it works for most musicians in the classical world:  you perform on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Holy Week, Easter, weddings, and funerals.  If you’re able to make a full-time living out of it, you can expect to perform every weekend.  Ultimately, you give up your weekends, miss family events, and cut your own holidays short so that you can make other people’s weddings Christmases and Easters beautiful.  Strangely though, most musicians don’t complain much about it.  Sure, there’s always a bit of insanity involved in trying to stay on top of everything, but in many ways it’s those times you spend with other musicians during those busy periods that help bonds and friendships develop.  And I will say, there is something enjoyable about spending a few hours in a church singing for Easter Vigil, getting home close to 2am, and then being awake, warmed up, and ready to go by 8:30am on Easter Sunday!  Surprisingly it can be a real confidence booster when you do that and still manage to make it sound musical. 

Now, I’m probably being too sensitive to the whole thing.  I doubt Chief Oliver was actually thinking of classical musicians when he referred to “entertainers.”  I doubt most people even consider it entertainment!  But I do think those of us who have spent some time in this field ultimately know that we are more than just people who perform.  Musicians practice, train, have the honor of being able to perform at weddings/baptisms/confirmations/graduation parties of our friends and families, and then after awhile are finally asked to use our music to commemorate those same friends, family members, children, and yes, even fallen police officers and soldiers at their funerals.  Whatever the event in life, I like to think that there are musicians and entertainers who are there to help us experience all of the emotions of it.

Again, I’m not one to bash others online, and I don’t wish to defame or defend Kanye West.  I don’t think I know one song by him–I don’t even like rap or hip-hop, and it’s very possible that in 50 years nobody will even remember who he was.  I do hope that he and all of the “real” celebrity entertainers think more about what it is they really set out to do when they perform.  Maybe part of the reason most people think music has little value is because too many celebrities have forgotten why they’re even performing.  Maybe part of the reason they say things that sound ridiculous is because it’s been so long since they’ve had a real connection with their audience.  But maybe that’s also judgmental on my part. 

There could be endless debates about whether certain professions or vocations are more valuable than others, and during those debates the arts would very likely fall pretty low on the list.  Personally, I don’t see the need to compare.  We all have different gifts and abilities, and there is always a way to provide a service even if your vocation is perceived as “less valuable.”  Indeed the most poignant experiences I’ve had have been seeing military veterans remain very composed through discussing traumatic experiences and seeing their fellow officers being buried, yet as soon as they hear “Taps” playing, the wall is able to come down and deep emotions are exposed.  Maybe we are “just musicians,” but I like to think that in some of those moments we manage to connect with people whom we will never see again and provide some sort of comfort and “service” in our own way.  In this day of social media connections, where it is becoming more and more difficult to truly reach somebody, those moments, to me, are the value of being a musician and an artist (and yes, a rapper as well), and are more valuable than any monetary compensation, public recognition, or celebrity status combined. 

I wish my entire blog audience a beautiful holiday season, and I hope Kanye West at some point gets to experience the beauty of a Christmas filled with classical music. 

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