Archive for Making Music More Accessible ™

Well, It’s One Louder, Isn’t It?

(Drum roll, with cymbal crash…)

I’m very thrilled to introduce the inaugural issue of GO 211, the Accessible Music Project’s newsletter.

Enjoy. Please share!

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Gramps Oliver – a silent musical

MUSICIANS NEEDED FOR “GRAMPS OLIVER”, A NEW MUSICAL ABOUT AN OLD MAN IN AN AMERICAN NURSING HOME

Gramps Oliver’s indigent family leaves him on the steps of a nursing home.

Mr. Bumble is the music professional at the nursing home. He feeds the old codgers a steady diet of one song daily. The same song, every day. It’s an old song because they are old people.  They’re always hungry for music.

One day, Gramps Oliver and several codgers draw lots to see who’s going to have to ask for extra music. Gramps Oliver draws short, which leads to the famous line: ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’

Mr. Bumble is like ‘More? He wants more gruel?’ and his face gets red and he’s about to break into song.

But Gramps Oliver says “No sir. Please sir, I want some more music.”

“Bwaaa-ha-ha-ha-ha! No one gets more music here!”

Mr. Bumble then offers 5 pounds for anyone who will take Gramps Oliver away from the nursing home.

Some stuff happens and then Gramps Oliver ends up running away to Nashville where he meets The Old Fartful Dodger and his merry musical gang. Revived by the rhythmic diet Gramps Oliver becomes one of the best wheelchair pickpockets around.

Half A World Away – episode #1

Half A World Away: a parallel universe REM tribute show

Episode 1: April 14, 2015 / Madison, VA

Alice and I had a great visit today to a new Community Venue. Since they were completely unfamiliar with my repertoire I decided to open the REM tribute tour right here at home, so the majority of the set list was comprised of songs either written by REM, cover songs they have done, or songs by their influences.

Set List 

Tired of Singing Trouble (REM)

Invocazione (original)

I’ve Been High (REM)

Hello In There (J. Prine / Michael cover)

Breakfast With You (original)

Half A World Away (REM)

Walk Away Renee (Left Banke)

Jolene (D. Parton)

Wendell Gee (REM)

Hallelujah (L. Cohen)

The One I Love (REM)

Dream Dream (Everly Bros. / REM cover)

**

The crowd was wonderfully attentive and appreciative, and it was clear that they liked the music even though a great deal of it was brand new to them.  The facility had an awesome floor made of old pine boards that contributed to some wonderful acoustics!

Alice was her usual adorable hit self, spending most of the time perched on a chair.  She eventually moved to the floor where she curled up in the guitar case and went to sleep.

I have the best job…

 

An Afternoon with R.E.M.

The first leg of the Play Something Pretty That You Like spring tour will consist of a series of Community Venue concerts featuring the music of R.E.M.

The music of this now-retired mega-band from Athens, GA has been consistently popular with senior citizens and the disabled children and adults that I have been entertaining since 1995.  Half A World Away was the first REM song I brought to seniors that year and it immediately established itself as a favorite, remaining on the set list for years.  I was invited to play it at the memorial service for one of the ladies from that very first Community Venue.

Without a doubt the two most common words that seniors have used over the years to describe most of the REM songs I play are “beautiful” and “relaxing”.  It’s fun and rewarding to introduce artists that I respect to audiences that might otherwise never experience their music.  It’s fun watching them quickly become fans and make requests like “Play that one about the blackbirds!”.

And it’s doubly fun to put a Community Venue REM Tribute show on the road because they have been so very supportive of the SongSharing effort beginning with their 1993 donation of CD’s, DVD’s, and T-shirts to our “CD’s For The Troops” drive.

I’m over the top thrilled that Michael Stipe once covered the John Prine classic Hello In There with Natalie Merchant. Hello In There is about how lonely it is to grow old, and how profoundly important it can be to just say “Hello”. I can’t think of a musician I’ve met that would idealistically disagree with the song. Play Something Pretty That You Like speaks to the opportunity to animate those lyrics and personify that spirit.

Below is the song list from which the set lists will be drawn.  It includes not only REM originals but a few songs they have covered over the years and some by artists that influenced them.

REM Originals

The One I Love
Losing My Religion
Half a World Away
Driver Eight
Wendell Gee
Fall on Me
End of the World As We Know It
The Apologist
Country Feedback
Let Me In
A Poem and “Making Moves”
I Believe
Tired of Singing Trouble
Rockville
Photograph

REM covers

Dream Dream (Drifters)
Hello In There (John Prine)
Love Is All Around (The Troggs)
Arms of Love (Robyn Hitchcock)

Influences

Leonard Cohen / Hallelujah

Timmy Deane and I

Oh me… Oh my… there we were… the King and I.
Just a couple of regular guys we were having the time of our lives.

That’s my line. I should be singing that lyric. I’m at the front of the room, playing the
guitar. I’m the one with the amplifier and the microphone. But… it’s Timmy Deane
singing, from the third row. Timmy Deane is singing loudly and frankly I find myself
unable to sing just this second, relieved that Timmy can carry the entire chorus.

You probably don’t know Timmy Deane. Timmy Deane is twenty-couple years old. Dark hair, thin face… hell, he’s thin all over. He wouldn’t be so thin and he would stand pretty tall if he could ever get out of that wheelchair. But he’s strapped in.

Timmy Deane is quadriplegic. He’s developmentally disabled, and I’ve never heard him
say a thing, but I know he can make sounds. He laughs, and I know he likes music and
loves Elvis. The King and I is a song about seeing Elvis at the airport and the laundromat
and the bowling alley, and it’s Timmy’s favorite song from my repertoire.

It’s not popular, not a song you’d ever hear on the radio. I’ve never met anyone that has
heard it prior to hearing me play it, which I’ve done here once a month, for the last three
months. This is exactly the fourth time Timmy Deane has ever heard this song, and here he is singing the chorus fully through as loudly and clearly as a lead singer. His enunciation is impressive, his timing flawless.

I should be singing the second verse now, only I can’t recall the words so I continue
strumming the C-minor chord where Timmy left me hanging. Timmy Deane has knocked
me for a loop; snatched the rug fully out from under a host of notions about people and
music, ability and disability and life itself.

It’s air conditioned here but I find myself heat-stricken by an adrenalin near-overdose. It
feels great in an uneasy way – in that way that things feel great when they are great but
you’re not sure that you are really entitled to feel this great. Like driving a Porsche
undetected at triple digit speeds down the Blue Ridge Parkway, or winning the lottery.
Like an inmate set free.

I notice now that about half of Timmy’s friends in the audience are looking at him, some
turned fully around in their chairs. Most of the staff members present are also staring at
Timmy, and then I notice Christine, the director, is smiling at me. I notice it peripherally,
for I’m not about to make eye contact with anyone just yet. I will cry if I do.

Cm…. Cm…

…and I draw a long, slow breath of this rarified air deep into my lungs. It
works. I recall the line and pick up where Timmy Deane left off.

I saw Elvis Presley… and John Belushi..

On Co-Writing a Song for the Next CD

After my November Horizon House show a young man from the audience asked me if I could turn something he’d written for his girlfriend into a song. I said I might be able to and asked him if he had written it down.

He says “Yes. I’ve got about 5 pages.” Yikes!

I’ve been having the most incredible songwriting fun for the past two days!

After my November Horizon House show a young man from the audience asked me if I could turn something he’d written for his girlfriend into a song. I said I might be able to and asked him if he had written it down. He says “Yes. I’ve got about 5 pages.” Yikes!

But then he pulls out these little pieces of paper about the size of that notepad that Columbo used to keep in his coat pocket. Whew! I looked them over for a minute.

“I know it’s a love song, but you need a consistent theme. It kind of goes all over the place, and a good pop song has a focus; a recurring theme. Does that make sense?”

Shannon, a staff member, was listening and when Daniel said “Yes, that makes sense”, she said she would help him as he worked through a rewrite. Then I asked them to type it so I wouldn’t misread something. I was a bit nervous since it’s enough of a challenge for me to write my own songs.

After the show this past Thursday Shannon handed Daniel a piece of paper from the printer, and as he turned to me I recalled our chat. He looked a little shy now that the moment had come to share these intimate thoughts in this new way, or maybe he felt like he would be imposing on me.

“Are those your lyrics, Daniel?” I smiled, and he kept the piece of paper at his side.

“Yes.”

“Is that my copy?”

He looked up with a smile. “Yes.”

“Okay, I’m on it. No promises about how long it might take though. Okay?”

“Okay. Thanks.”

I scanned the page and saw a lot of repetition; a LOT of repetition. He had taken the theme idea to heart. But I knew right away I could work with what he had written, because he had some really great lines in there; some really great poetry.

“Okay. Look, I might have to shift some things around, and cut some of the repetition out. I might change some words to help with the way it flows, or the way it rhymes. But I’ll keep it true to what you’ve written. Once I get my adaptation done I’ll let you look at it, to be sure it’s what you want. Cool?”

He had lit up like a Christmas tree. “Yes. Thank you, Greg.”

Friday morning I grabbed the guitar and started banging out some chord progression ideas that worked with his theme then set to work on the lyrics, honing and shaping them into a pop song sort of verse/chorus format.

It’s been a little over 24 hours since I sat down with it and I’m rather in awe of how easily it went. My own songs take days and weeks to craft and shape, but this one really came together – a testament to the quality of the poetry he gave me, and his dedication to theme.

I’m not due back until January, but I may well make some time to drive down and sit with him to give it a test drive. If he likes it I’ll have some time to rehearse before the next show, and if all goes well I’ll debut the song for him and his friends, and especially his girlfriend, in January.

What an honor this experience has been. Thanks Daniel! Hope you like it bro…

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Of Sacred Space & Audiences Starved

Take me now, baby, here as I am
Pull me close, try and understand
Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe
Love is a banquet on which we feed.

Patti Smith / Bruce Springsteen

              DON’T SHOOT ME
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                                                                           I’M ONLY THE MESSENGER

In the summer of 2014 I sat with Kent Williamson of Paladin Media at Charlottesville’s Golden Living / Cedars for an interview, part of which is linked below.

I talked about the artistic space created when a musician performs a song – the sacred space wherein the listener can be precisely who they are in the moment. The song has no judgment; the song just does not care if it’s a world leader or a homeless person. The song and the space have no concern for the listener’s race, creed, physical situation, sexual orientation or anything else. This is true also of a painting, photograph or sculpture on display – the space is open to all.

So I wonder why so many musicians wield discriminatory and exclusive judgments about who they entertain. It might not sound so great when I say it but the fact is that this is the systematic practice of audience discrimination, and it’s astoundingly widespread in America. It’s doubly mystifying since musicians routinely sing out against discrimination, claiming to stand for equal opportunity & fairness. Weird, huh?

When I first began the SongSharing effort I heard time and again that musicians did not have time to volunteer music in Community Venues ™ because they were aspiring professionals, struggling financially to remain dedicated to their craft. As SongSharing found ways to pay musicians the song remained the same, with a sickening twist. They still did not have time because they were professionally busy, but now they said “Oh, dear. I couldn’t take money to play for those people.”

I have grown to despise the classification of Community Venue audiences as “those people”, as though somehow they are to be pitied. I don’t pity folks in senior and nursing homes, nor do I pity the disabled children & adults I share music with. I feel for them, very deeply & profoundly. But I regard them as artistically equal to anyone that might bask in the sacred space as themselves, fully and unapologetically.

And I feel for the musicians that do pity Community Venue audiences and believe that I am driven by pity, because they know not what they do. The result of this artistically condescending mindset is that these human beings are systematically excluded from the domain of musicians and artists, but the musicians and artists think someone else is at fault. “Those people” become the domain of charity workers, and the social services, and strange people like me who end up ostracized.

And if you want to confirm your hunch about what sort of artistic exposure this yields then visit a nursing home in your area. Wait in the lobby every day for one week – a fraction of the time the residents wait. Bring a pencil and sliver of paper and wait for the music. Make a little mark for every musician from your town’s “thriving music scene” that entertains for even 45 minutes; a mark for every artist that incorporates Audience Inclusion ™ in their professional bag of tricks. Make a mark for every musician that lives their lyrics in this way. Trust me, you won’t need more than a matchbook cover because you won’t be making many marks in America.

Alice’s pal Les Iszmore says “You know, out here on The Road Les Travels ™ it’s not right and it’s not wrong. It’s just the way we do it.” And I am not saying that it’s wrong to practice audience discrimination. It is what it is, and I, like the space this writing creates, do not stand in judgment.

But I don’t understand, because all I hear about these days are starving artists and declining demand for music, while the audiences starved in Community Venues represent staggering, rewarding marketplace demand and therefore professional opportunity. But the valuable demand they represent for live and recorded music is not even recognized as such, which has to do with why so many musicians wonder what the hell I’m talking about and think I’m crazy.

But I’m not. The sacred space has been forgotten, forsaken in pursuit of money and a distorted sense of recognition. And the result is the sound of silence.

Fools said I, you do not know
Your silence like a cancer grows…

Simon and Garfunkel

A Reflection on 20 Years of Making Music More Accessible

I wondered how different these past two decades would have been if just 50% of the musicians in our area had dropped by 3 or 4 times a year for a 50 minute show. You know, bring your guitar, sit down, play, leave. No big deal.

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Today Alice and I visited Charlottesville Health and Rehabilitation for one of our two monthly performance visits. This is the place where it all began for me in 1994. It was known as Heritage Hall then. I was working with the fine folks at Lakeland Tours (now known as WorldStrides) in those days and the community outreach committee organized a holiday party for the residents. The mom and aunt of my pal and co-worker Nedra shared a room at Heritage Hall then, so that’s how we ended up choosing that facility for the event, which was a continuation of their Make A Difference Day efforts that year.

In those days I had a pretty regular acoustic gig at a little coffee shop called Blackstone’s, so I had become known around the office as the music guy. The outreach committee had groups of Lakeland workers doing various things – some of them were making cookies and other goodies, some of them were making little ornaments that they could hang on the door of every resident at Heritage Hall, some of them were making and wrapping gifts for the residents, and so on. They brought me a list of office folks that either played an instrument or liked to sing and asked me to coordinate the music effort. So I printed up chord charts to a handful of Christmas songs that we would present, made up an agreeable schedule of rehearsals that would take place in one of the conference rooms at Lakeland, and things got underway.

One of the fun memories of the whole thing was the fact that one of the company Vice Presidents was part of the group – a good natured chap who I had gone toe to toe and face to face with a few times over the years on various points of differing managerial and administrative philosophy. Now here I was, making sure he got his part right for a few weeks. (Whuttup Jim? ;*)

So the holiday party came and went, and our little group of performers did a most wonderful job with our part of the deal. I have to tell you it was an incredibly moving experience for me, being the softie that I am. After the formal concert in the dining hall a few of us went room to room and sang a song here and there for folks who couldn’t get out of their beds.

When 1995 dawned Nedra came to ask if I would – or should I say insist that I would – continue bringing music to her mom and aunt Alice, and after plenty of attempts to wiggle out of it, I began to visit them weekly, on Wednesdays at lunchtime. I honestly believed that I didn’t know a doggone thing that two ladies in their 70’s or so would want to hear, since I played some original songs and covered bands like REM and KISS and the Beatles, and folks like Paul Simon and Gordon Lightfoot. How naïve of me.

Within a few weeks folks were coming to Alice and Clara’s room to listen – one or two at first, then five, then eight or ten. Soon they were spilling out into the hallway, creating an obvious safety hazard – if something happened and medical staff needed to reach someone in that room, precious time would be lost getting past the crowd.

That’s when Iris, the Activities Director, asked me if I would begin to stage a regular show in the dining hall on Wednesday evenings for anyone that wanted to attend. And the rest, as the French say, is histoire. I’ve been doing two shows a month there for most of the past twenty years.

So today… today Alice and I were there. I bet I’ve played more than 200 shows in that facility, which is pretty noteworthy I suppose. But there’s something even more noteworthy, something that makes me a little proud and at the same time rips my heart out.

There, today, at a table in the front row sat a lady who was at that very first show in December of 1994. Today, at Charlottesville Health and Rehab are two people, actually, who were at that first show. They don’t attend very often these days so it was a bittersweet delight to see her there, to be in her presence and share the joy and power of music with her.

It thrills my heart to know that I have brought this little speck of light to her for twenty years.

But it kills me to think that in some ways I’ve let those folks down, because I spent one of the past two decades trying to get Charlottesville’s “thriving music scene” to embrace the simple idea of Audience Inclusion ™. I built a non-profit that at its peak received in-kind support from REM, Billy Joel and Dolly Parton. International performers like Paul Rishell & Annie Raines, David Wilcox, Greg Howard, Dave Crossland, Zoe Mulford, Slaid Cleaves and Andrew McKnight played shows at area senior and nursing homes when I asked them. A very dedicated small group of local musicians including Tom Proutt, Thomas Gunn, Julie Goldman, and The Rusticators from Staunton played many a show in an effort to help make SongSharing successful.

But it never truly caught on here – in fact it was pretty steadfastly shut out by our, uhhh, our uhhhh… geez, I’m trying to be nice here… our uhhh… well you know… the people who sing about love and peace and getting along and taking care of each other and changing the world and all that. The people who played benefit after benefit for Katrina and tsunami and earthquake victims while they kept telling me they didn’t have time.

I don’t really like to harp on that era in such negative light, but I bring it up because here we are 20 years later, and I am not aware of anyone from our thriving music scene that includes these audiences in their musical vision. And as I played music today I could not get away from the painful little jab in my heart that comes from thinking about what it must be like to live in a nursing home for 20 years in a town like Charlottesville and be systematically excluded from the joy and healing power of music that so many could so easily bring.

I wondered how different these past two decades would have been if just 50% of the musicians in our area had dropped by 3 or 4 times a year for a 50 minute show. You know, bring your guitar, sit down, play, leave. No big deal.

But of course to the residents it is a big deal. Huge. Because recognition and inclusion are healing things that bring joy. And sharing your gift with your fellow beings is a sign of recognition – the recognition that these folks too are part of the community, even if they can’t drive a trendy car to the trendy bar and buy trendy beers. It’s a recognition of their humanity, and of the contribution that they have made to bringing this world precisely where it is today.

And while some might think the world’s a mess and they need to get out there and sing songs to “fix it up”, in one sense that’s bullshit. It’s bullshit because this world is also a place where musicians have unprecedented access to so many things – nice guitars, nice cars, nice venues, nice roads between their nice home and the nice venue, nice restaurants and nice radio stations and these people are a big part of why this world is so nice in so many way, and… and… do you see? Am I making sense here? How can they not see?

Or is it me? Maybe I’m crazy to think that people who sing about giving a shit might one day actually live their lyrics and act as though they give a shit. Maybe I’m nuts to think that the people who sing about what the rest of the world should do to change things, might actually start doing those things themselves. Maybe these musicians justifiably roll their eyes behind my back when I say that this is serious music, and when I call them Community Venues ™ and label the shows concerts. Maybe I’m just crazy to play for old people and sick people and disabled people.

Maybe….

No. No I’m not crazy. But I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was not more successful, for the sake of the residents.

And mostly I’m sorry for so many musicians. I’m sorry they’re in such a dark place, struggling to find the light. I’m sorry they’re struggling as they chase a vision so far away and so much later, while the success their heart seeks is right here, right now. I’m sorry they drive past it every day.

Happy Holidays, from Alice and me! _MG_9835

IF I HAD A FLOOR BUFFER

“It’s like this. This kid who is quadriplegic, nonverbal rolls into the room. We’ve never met him, he’s never met us. He’s never done any art. I don’t think he really ever went to school. And here he is.

We find out his signal for yes and no then tell him, in this flat serious professional tone, how the A.R.T. techniques work.

One of the staff leans in to speak, quietly suggesting, ‘I don’t believe he understands anything you’re saying.’

I was talking to my mom about this last night, so maybe now’s a good time to post something here…

One of the prominent mindsets that keeps musicians away from Community Venues™ has to do with how the audiences are perceived. It’s unspoken perhaps, but the fact is that Community Venue audiences are looked down upon. They are pitied and they are not considered artistically equal nor viable, and that explains why they are systematically ignored by contemporary musicians. They are considered “charity cases”, which is horribly exclusive.

If a musician should happen to entertain a room full of developmentally disabled children or adults, it is not for the same reason they entertain traditional audiences. They book a gig in an acoustic club because those are “their people”, their genre, the people who “get” their music; the people who tap their feet and sing along and cheer and applaud when the song is finished. They’re the people who look up, and musicians like to be looked up to.

But musicians comes to play for developmentally disabled folks out of a sense of charity; a sense of pity. They generally do not regard or approach these audiences as being artistically equal to a more traditional audience. Charity audiences are not “their people”, they don’t really “get” their music, and so many of them are incapable of tapping their feet or singing along or applauding with hand claps. And they’re most certainly not regarded as being one’s genre, or target audience. “Mainstream” (for lack of a better word) musicians play for the disabled (and the infirmed and the aging) because they pity them. They feel sorry for them. It’s condescending, honestly, because they are held in lower esteem than “normal” audiences.

It’s a truth that has had me shaking my head in disgusted wonder for 16 years now.

And what is even more mystifying to me so often is the fact that most of the staff members in so many Community Venues act precisely the same way. They do not regard those in their care as being artistically equal or viable.

I know this because I do consider these folks artistically equal. When I take music into a Community Venue I consider it every bit a sincere performance, not a charity gig for “poor them”. And when one attends a sincere musical performance, one does not carry on chatting and talking and vacuuming and buffing the goddam floor just down the hall, while the performance is underway. But it happens to my audiences all the time. We get stuck in a room where people are walking thru chattering away and laughing and carrying on, and of course there’s music going on and so they have to talk more loudly to be heard. Or we get stuck in a dining room after lunch while the staff is cleaning up and dishes are clanking away and silverware is being tossed into tubs.

Years ago, in a facility I was asked never to come back to, I arrived at the appointed time. My audience was waiting, and so was the lady with the floor buffer. She was pushing people out of her way so she could slide tables to the wall, clearly aggravated that they were here. You know, residents: the people who employ her and pay her wages; the people who are the reason that the bloody facility exists, and thus the reason she has her damn job.

This was the second time it had happened in three months. The first time I had asked the activity director to simply schedule me at a more convenient time. I understand work schedules. I wasn’t put out at all, that first time. But the activity director fumed when she heard that they were buffing the floors at 1:30 on a Wednesday, and she grabbed her little desk phone and she called housekeeping and she grumbled at whomever answered, and she slammed down the receiver and said “That won’t happen again.” And I walked out wondering why the residents and I should be caught up in a petty turf war.

So this time I said something to the buffer lady. I told her that I was here to stage a performance and that I had been told that the floor buffing would wait. And she stormed away grumbling obscenities and in a couple minutes she showed up with some supervisor type person. And this supervisor type person told me that the buffing would go on, and if I wanted to play music then I would do so in the hallway, where they would line the residents up along the wall to listen.

And I leaned towards her and hissed through my teeth, “That’s bullshit. These people pay your fucking wages. Get a clue.” And I turned my back on her and picked up my guitar and began to play, and they did not buff.

And the next day I got a call from the arts organization that sponsors me telling me that I had been asked not to come back. And this nice lady tried to make me understand that I was out of line. And I thanked her and said “That’s bullshit. Those residents pay the wages of those jackasses; those residents are the customers and they are entitled to be treated as such. I will never stand down on that point.”

Because I don’t understand. In every facility I entertain it is quite clear that the people who pay the tens and hundreds of thousands of annual dollars to be cared for are about fourth or fifth down on the organizational chart of priorities. But I believe that a resident should sign everyone’s paycheck, from the administrators on down. Residents should hand those paychecks to the staff face to face, every pay period.

This article from the fine folks at Artistic Realization Technologies, which I ran across years ago, is refreshingly supportive of my observation on staff attitudes.

“It’s like this. This kid who is quadriplegic, nonverbal rolls into the room. We’ve never met him, he’s never met us. He’s never done any art. I don’t think he really ever went to school. And here he is.

We find out his signal for yes and no then tell him, in this flat serious professional tone, how the A.R.T. techniques work. One of the staff leans in to speak, quietly suggesting, ‘I don’t believe he understands anything you’re saying.’

I think but do not say, ‘We’ll see about that.’ What good is it to presume this young guy won’t understand? How will we know until we let him show us he does?”

It was nice to find someone else who not only sees it and is mystified by it, but who also chose to speak up about it – albeit not in the moment. (Frankly I admire that the author of this piece held his tongue, which I did not. It’s arguably more professional and you end up not getting kicked out. Point well taken.)

And so this quadriplegic child paints their long-ignored heart out, and produces an impressive work of true art, and…

“The piece was far better than most of the stuff you’d see in a fancy art school. Much better. It was a real painting. Very direct, no fru-fru. It had power. It was clean.

One of the staff coming through the studio asks, ‘What is it?’ I say, ‘A painting.’ And he shakes his head the way you do to dismiss something you think is bogus, like shaking his head ‘no’. He couldn’t see the painting. There was nothing there, or at least nothing that struck him as art.

So I see the irony that the thing we figured would prove the depth of these young people’s inner lives: painting, didn’t register as true, awesome, serious, pro level high art.

The kid no one thought capable of sophisticated thought or feeling just fired out this gorgeous painting, it clearly proving the kid is more than whole inside. It proves the kid has some exceptional powers no one’s letting him tap. And this staff-person can’t see it. It doesn’t prove anything to him.”

“What it proved to him,” Solman says, “is that the abstract expressionists were a bunch of retards.”

Read the article.

This is a direct parallel to what I encounter all the time from Community Venue staff. They do not consider their charges to be worthy of a true musical performance. They do not realize that a dining hall becomes a theater when a musical performance is taking place. A TV room becomes a music hall when a concert is taking place. If you can’t see it look again. Walk a minute in their shoes… rather, sit a minute in their wheelchair.

It’s a huge lesson to be learned by the people that run and work in these facilities; it’s a huge societal paradigm that I am trying to displace. And sometimes it feels like it’s only me, which feels lonely, but I know it isn’t only me. There are those who get it, and I am so thrilled when I run across them.

My mom was taken aback last night when I began to share this insight, and she asked me if it was going to make its way into Play Something Pretty That You Like. I said that it is.

The book would not be complete without it, because the truth is that this is one huge reason why musicians who might once dare come to a Community Venue may never return, and it’s a huge opportunity for the staff and administration of these venues.

Stop treating live music as though it’s plastic bowling or bingo, for God’s sake.

Or I swear I’m going to bring my floor buffer to the listening room next time you go to an intimate music performance.

A.R.T. – Painter of the Month: Danielle Conti

Innocent Seniors Given Life Sentences – an observation…

Life without music.

Millions of seniors, alongside millions of physically and developmentally disabled adults and children. Audiences starved; tucked away in facilities across America that Alice and I refer to as Community Venues(tm).

Systematically ignored day after month after year after decade by today’s self-proclaimed “starving artists”.

And perhaps the most puzzling, and at times nauseating, thing for me…? That would be the fact that these fine folks are looked down upon as “charity audiences”. “Poor them”… They’re not considered artistically viable; artistically equal.

After a decade of advocating on their behalf locally I gave it up in the formal sense. Ten years of being told “What a good thing you do Greg. I’m going to come play for them soon.” But they never did.

But during those same ten years I watched them answer the call to come play on stages to raise money for hurricane, tsunami, and earthquake victims half a nation, or half a world, away. I even watched them play at fundraisers for Community Venue residents affected by Alzheimer’s or cancer or what have you. Musicians will gladly play at an event that is “about” poor them, or “on behalf of” poor them.

Because musicians care, you know. Not enough to actually drop by and mingle with them, mind you. But, at some level, the musicians say they care.

These days I rarely invite musicians to come and “be the change you sing of seeing in your world”, because I am tired of hearing that they don’t have time. As though time resides inside their cell phone, telling them what to do and when to do it.

But I know from years of mystifying firsthand experience that if a tsunami or an earthquake or a hurricane should come along and knock down The Cedars or Colonnades in Charlottesville, the musicians would rally. They would find time – make time – and they would drive to Staunton or Richmond, and play a benefit concert far, far away from them.

And they and the media would be damn sure to make you aware of what wonderful, caring, compassionate people they are.

Oh my heart…