I don’t know how to begin or end this. So consider this a love letter.
At no time in western culture did the arts ever not rely on patronage. Sure, the occasional dilettante with some wealth has undertaken to paint or compose or pick up a camera, but for most of us mere mortals, getting our feet off the ground so we can get our heads in the clouds has taken more than our own blown breath filling our sails. Perhaps with visual artists it has been easier to see a tactile return on that investment, although sometimes one starts to wonder what makes a smear of oil paint on canvas so much more valuable when Picasso did the smearing than when anyone else did. With performing artists it becomes more tenuous, in that there isn’t anything solid someone can take home and say “I commissioned that.” You can’t take home a dancer and put him on your mantle if you subsidize a ballet. Sure, for a composer there’s a score, and nearly everything Bach or Beethoven or Mozart composed comes with a cover page with a dedication to some nobleman who gave them money or a living situation or did some nice thing for them. However, the score is only a description of a piece of music that a musician then has to realize. Think of it as though instead of a Mona Lisa, you had a written description of how to paint a Mona Lisa, each brush stroke, what pigment blend it is, where to apply it, at exactly what time to apply it… And every person who took those descriptions would paint a Mona Lisa, no two of which would ever be the same. And what makes music almost noumenonal… To complete the metaphor, as soon as you finish painting a Mona Lisa, it vanishes. In this day and age, where having a thing to show for the investment is so much more concretely understandable as hard return for the investment, it’s hard to justify asking for that sort of patronage for something so intangible.
Against this worry on my part, somewhat over a week ago Jesse started asking me if I’d be willing to consider a crowdsource means of raising some funds for a piano. I’ve been living without one for upwards of five years now. My skills as a pianist have decidedly deteriorated, to my deep frustration, and it has slowed my writing nearly to a halt. Compound this with physical problems I was experiencing with my vocal chords. An excellent physician specialist in Boston has finally reversed those, and an amazing voice teacher who has gone through this exact problem is now pulling me back to being able to sing again. Compound those again with as yet not having found any ensemble to play tuba with in Boston, and there’s only so much reward to playing in my little studio room by myself… I was starting to wonder if there really was any point to having a piano at all, if it was simply time to give up and find a job-job, if after all these years of idealistic artistic masturbation it was time to pack it in and move on.
It doesn’t help that my taste in pianos isn’t Bösendorfer concert grand extravagant (they’re awesome, but far more than I need), but I also can’t work on a $250 Casiotone keyboard. It’s like expecting a computer programmer to devise a new operating system on a Speak-and-Spell. What Jesse and I found which I can make work (and which we can get into our house!) is a “hybrid”, a Yamaha AvantGrand N2 specifically. The works are essentially identical to the actual working action of a grand piano, so the instrument feels right under the hands, but the sound processors are entirely digital like top-of-the-line electronic keyboards. It doesn’t go out of tune, it can be played with headphones in the middle of the night, and I can connect it via MIDI to my computer for input and output. Kinda perfect, but steep price-wise. I just couldn’t justify asking for help to the tune of the $15,000 list price tag of such a device.
But then we’d located a used one for less, and Jesse proposed perhaps just asking for some portion of the needed cash. I said what the hell, go ahead. I’d thought we’d get maybe $150 and a ton of well-wishers. So he posted a kickstarter campaign at http://www.gofundme.com/piano-for-dirk. Two days after he’d written the campaign, I finally allowed him to promote it.
And then this happened.
There’s data there that needs a little explaining. That screen capture was taken as I’m writing this post, 48 hours after Jesse went live with it; the “5 days” actually reflects the time since he wrote the page. The kicker is that we raised $5,000 in just shy of 24 hours after making this public. Having promised to post a recording of a piano piece I’d not published before, Jesse jubilantly posted to his own blog here. And even having reached this milestone, we’re still seeing you contribute more.
I can’t begin to say how much this means to me. For some years I’ve been thinking more and more “Why write, when I can’t seem to get anyone to listen?” Arts are about communication, about speaking to people’s minds and hearts in ways perhaps language can’t. In a certain sense, even language itself is an art, an “artificial” (in the archaic sense, think of the meaning of “artifice” as an adjective) means of conveying not only concrete thoughts but feelings, conceptions, ideas… And if you speak or write and nobody pays attention, how long can one really enthuse over the idea of writing or talking for your own enjoyment before it just starts feeling futile?
It’s been a revelation to me to know that you listen. And you not only listen, you want to hear more. And beyond that you want to hear more, to my utter astonishment, to want to help out with the purchase of a rather heftily expensive tool which will make it possible for me to create more.
We seem to have missed out on the used model we found earlier, but if years of watching eBay and other online sources have taught me anything, if it showed up once, another one will come along; we just have to be vigilant. Now we have the means to jump on it when the next one does appear. Meanwhile, the campaign is hardly closed; I’m still thrilled and delighted to send CDs and scores and manuscript pages to anyone who still wants to contribute, and believe me, every last little bit helps. The campaign is still live at http://www.gofundme.com/piano-for-dirk.
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!
I really, really hope that I can begin to repay this kindness. It’s not just the money, as vital as that has been. It’s the restoration of faith. That’s priceless.