Plenty of musicians but not enough music

For a pleasant evening out, take in the M-PHS concert on Dec. 18. Polished young musicians, some in their final year of high school, will fill the hall with sounds fit to gladden any parents’ ears. Two more concerts slated for March 20 and May 28 will wind up the musical year. Years of practice and lessons on instruments costing up to or above a thousand dollars hit their peak in these concerts. Don’t miss them.

Graduation puts an end to music-making for too many seniors. Once diplomas are in hand, graduates are cut off from school bands or orchestras. Instruments end up in closets for lack of around-town musical groups to join. All that talent and nothing for it to do.

Outside of schools there simply aren’t a lot of outlets for instrumental musicians. There is plenty of garage music happening but it wants nothing more than guitars, keyboard and percussion. Rock, grunge, heavy-metal, and hip-hop seldom find use for oboes, violas, trumpets or clarinets. And to appeal to today’s tastes, one has to play loud. Louder than band or orchestra instruments and if that’s still not loud enough, one should come equipped with a quarter-ton of amplification equipment. Un-amplified wind or string instruments typically don’t crank out a fashionably ear-splitting decibel-level.

Independent minded musicians make their own opportunities. A couple of trumpets might get an urge to merge with a trombone and tuba to form a brass quartet and thanks to the popularity of top-notch groups like Canadian Brass there’s no shortage of literature for them. Our local music store, Cascade Music, can supply oodles of tunes for woodwind quintets and string quartets. These are musical groups that can be tolerated in living rooms while driving parents no further than to back bedrooms. No need to banish such groups to garages, the domain-of-choice for budding hard-rock groups with names like Resurrected Road-Kill or Imploding Zuccini.

Churches offer another outlet. More opportunities every year, it seems. If you’re not a church-goer, do slow down when passing to hear what’s happening inside on any given Sunday. Evangelical churches, Charismatic churches, Roman Catholics and main-line denominations spice worship services with a type of church-pop music. In fact, churches provide far more live instrumental and vocal music opportunities than all the clubs and bars in the county. Again, the bulk of it hinges on the standard rock instrumentation of guitar, keyboard and percussion. All of it performed by amateur local musicians.

In churches with memberships of a thousand or more, music directors may hold the number-two positions. In the biggest mega-churches professional-level music sets the stage for worship and the music minister’s pay might hit a rare and lofty $75,000 per year. Compare that with struggling congregation where pianists posing as organists pull down $20 per Sunday. Historically, churches had only to pay an organist and choir director. Now they might add music directors and lead musicians who head up worship-team music to the payroll.

Add it all up and you find the bulk of any town’s live music happening in churches. Come Christmas and Easter, those same churches tap dormant musicianship in their congregations to put together ad-hoc orchestras. Otherwise, young players might hook up with the Everett Youth Symphony. Monroe, Stanwood, Burlington, Lynnwood, Woodinville and Bothell all have active community bands that welcome newcomers.

Nothing against church music but opportunity for doing live music should reach across the whole community. So here’s a plan: Set up a community database that lists every used-to-be musician in town. Don’t wait for volunteers to surface. Blow the whistle on them. Turn them in. Get them listed so that anyone needing a clarinetist or tuba player has a roster of musicians to select from. Marysville has the talent to form a brass group—or a Dixieland combo, string quartet, bluegrass band, woodwind trio or polka band. All that’s needed is a way for musicians to meet.

Music is too important to the mind and soul to let it slide. Elite schools like Cal Tech look for music when evaluating applicants for admission or scholarship. Studies show that music sharpens mental processes that apply to math and science and other creative endeavors. Musicians inspire each other. Pianist Clint Eastwood inspired his son, Kyle, an award-winning jazz artist and composer of the scores for five of his father’s films. As shown by the Eastwoods, Marsalises, Osmonds, Ravi Shankar and Norah Jones and countless local families in Marysville neighborhoods, music is being passed from one generation to the next.

Face it, staring at the tube with someone is a poor substitute for actually doing something together, whether it be playing catch or making music. Marysville’s sense of community runs only as deep as the meaningful connections we make with one another and music offers wonderfully rewarding connections. Making music is cheap entertainment and with lean times upon us, cheap is good.

How many musicians from the M-PHS graduating class of 2007 are still making music? How many stayed so passionate about it that a year later they’re having fun pushingskills to new heights? A few, but not enough. The big reason is lack of musical infrastructure. Too few groups to join and not enough places to practice and perform. Since schools and churches simply can’t be expected to fill a town’s musical needs, new opportunities are needed.

Stay tuned for more on this topic.

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