Who needs the arts?

AN OPEN LETTER TO PRIME MINISTER MORRISON:

Imagine a world without music. To get personal, Mr Morrison … imagine your charismatic church without the fabulous music that so inspires you and the congregation, and according to you, brings you closer to the divine?

Birthdays, weddings, funerals. What do we agonise over, apart from the presents and the catering? What must we engage with to mark these occasions? To honour the person, the event? To create the memory that will sustain?

These milestone events would be nothing without music.

Music lends gravitas at a funeral; it reminds us who that person was and what was meaningful to them. At a wedding, music amplifies the love between these two, their commitment, how they met and where they’re going.

I recently attended a musician friend’s funeral. She was a jazz musician so there was a New Orleans style jazz band walking into the church alongside my friend, as they played ‘Oh When the Saints’. Likewise they accompanied her coffin as it left the church. This was exactly as it should be.

When I remember my first trip to Europe in the seventies, above all else I remember The Eagles’ song ‘Welcome To The Hotel California’. Whenever I hear that song, I’m transported back to this milestone adventure, the sights and sounds and people – a defining time of my life.

We all have our own unique soundtrack … the soundtrack to our lives. And we spend hundreds of hours of our lives going to concerts, listening to music, talking about music and sharing it with our friends. We exercise to music, take it with us in our cars and headphones.

Some of the most powerful music ever written was inspired by God (Whoever or Whatever she is). Ponder on the Mozart Requiem in D Minor, Handel’s Messiah and countless other uplifting works. Music sings us the stories that nourish our souls.

Music enriches all of our lives in so many ways and what do we do? Sadly, we take it for granted. In good times and bad, we place little value on the role of music and musicians in our lives. Not to mention the importance of the arts sector in general to our society and our economy. If we continue to undervalue the creative contribution of artists, we risk losing a whole generation of musicians.

Never has this been more apparent than in this dreadful time of COVID. Sure the government is taking care of business – the butchers, the bakers, the candlestick makers – during the pandemic. But who’s taking care of the music makers?

In the spirit of transparency, I should announce that my daughter is a hard-working musician. She’s part of an Aria award winning band, and an ‘ambassador’ for APRA (Australia’s peak music body). Like all musicians, she supplements her income from writing and performing with teaching. But the pandemic has hit the arts sector hard. The gigs disappear; teaching hours dry up. These workers are almost always casual.

Festival and gig cancellations represent a huge loss of income for working bands. Often they will have already paid session musicians to travel and rehearse, only to be told the event will not go ahead.

The government needs to remember that working bands are small businesses. They have expenses. They need to plan ahead. And while the government is helping many small businesses, musicians and artists in general have been largely overlooked. They simply don’t fit the government’s criteria for eligibility for financial support.

Mr Morrison, this is unfair.

As Melanie Safka sang so poignantly all those years ago: ‘Look what they’ve done to my song, Ma!’

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