Monday, March 23, 2009
How much service is enough?
I’ve been thinking about the concept of “service” lately. After six years of playing at Hospice every week I was in town I decided to move on for a variety of reasons including wanting to play for people who are healing. I do think that death is a form of healing but felt playing for people who are returning the serious challenge of recovering was important. I had a meeting with a local Volunteer Coordinator at a local hospital. Well truthfully one of the hospital chaplains wanted me to play in the sanctuary she had pushed to be built and wasn’t interested in my work with patients. When I met with the other hospital’s volunteer coordinator I had to bring a background check and letter of reference. I haven’t had a letter of reference in decades. As I sat across from her at the cafeteria table in a sport jacket no less I sensed some serious doubt. She asked what I would get out of it since they couldn’t pay me and there wouldn’t be an audience like I’m used to? I explained that the commitment to service is an important part of my life. I noticed a panicked look on her face and realized she was probably thinking I meant “community service” or something like it. Further I realized she was mistaking my ego for the unselfish idea of service I have which is doing something without any expectation of recognition or compensation. She did suggest that I could perform at some volunteer luncheons for free and drive patients around to their appointments.
It became clear there was no place for my music at this hospital when she said the director gave her a dirty look when she mentioned music. Hopefully I will meet an administrator through my work that will place my music beyond the red tape of it all. As I drove home I thought how else I can serve. I was probably depressed a little when I reflected on how so many musicians reached out to me when my music started to get such awesome airplay and I played more and more high profile venues. They all wanted to know point blank how I did it and how they could do it as well. Some were friends and others were people who hadn’t really spent more than a few minutes sharing the same air. Some sent email after email asking who? What? Where? How? How much? As usual I was generous with my self-learned information as I knew so many other flute players were downright hostile with theirs. One musician asked again and again how to accomplish what I did and I explained I hired a music promoter—the least expensive one I could find I should point out. I explained that there was one promoter who was way out of my price range but cold deliver the goods because he was so aggressive but that most programmers never played his clients again once the campaign was through. He asked me for his contact info. I told him to look it up. Seriously. It’s like someone asking you if you knew the best landscaper and you said yes but they charge $2million dollars and no one in this town can afford that and later you realize they hired “that” person for their middle class neighborhood.
Is that service? I have a video up on YouTube on learning to play the Native American flute. I get emails every day from people asking me where part two is. I play so many benefits that a radio interviewer asked me what I possibly got from it and why I play so many. I charge so little for performances that an Air Force Base who has hired me laughs every time I give them my fee saying “Do you know out of all the native American flute players we contacted you where the only one we could afford?” Schools and senior centers are on my regular performing “private” schedules which I do for free, etc., etc. When I did chair massage at Wild Oats in Albuquerque I would ask the employees to sit in the chair for a free massage when business was slow. I knew that gathering the energy going happened in both giving and receiving. I have logged over 1000 hours of hiv/aids educations in prisons, schools, hospitals and more because I knew there was a need.
Balancing the idea of service while still being able to eat and pay bills has never been exactly easy and I’m grateful for every check and .39 download I receive. Helping out other musicians who appear on the charts ahead of me whom I never hear from again is not quite what I had in mind and won’t be doing that type of free consulting any longer. Mother Teresa used to clean the sores of lepers in India much to the disproval of the church. I know the right service will present itself to me I just get a little discouraged in the meantime and should know better……