This weekend in Quincy, FL, roughly 30 minutes west of Tallahassee, is the Down on the Farm Music Festival
. I will be performing with various bands during this musical weekend that will feature performances by Gov't Mule, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, Tishamingo, Moonshine Still, and New Orleans bands like Robert Walter's Super Heavy Organ, Ivan Neville's Dumpstakfunk, and Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes.
I have consistently showed my support for the organization responsible for this fest, Spanish Moss Productions, because of the ways they are giving back to the community. One key avenue has been the push for continuing music education in Gadsden County Schools, where the Spanish Moss Farm (the site of the festival) resides. I mention this because of an article that just appeared in the WaPo:
The past four decades have seen such an erosion in music education in public schools that Leonard Slatkin, the music director and conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, calls the situation "quite alarming."
Some school systems have whittled their program s to virtually nothing. In Florida, some schools set up musical ensembles, but students are seldom given time to attend. Sometimes music classes will be added to the end of a busy day.
The other day I wrote of the coming crunch of the live music scene. While that is detrimental to someone like me who tries to make a living in this artistic business, what is more detrimental is what we are doing to our children and each other as far as high school education is concerned.
Stirling Newberry, who lately hasn't been hiding his pessimism, linked to the above WaPo article and filed a post regarding this subject:
The reality is that we have imported brains from around the world. This is not going to continue much longer, as we make it harder and harder for people to come here, we put more and more hurdles in the way, and the homelands that we have pulled people from are now economically rising, and thus there is less incentive to leave. America's ability to starve human infraastrucutre, as with its ability to starve other kinds, is coming to an end.
Part of this starvation is the starvation of arts education. Art is one of the lenses through which human beings view the world, and one of the ways that we adapt it to us, and ourselves to it. To be unable to think artistically, in a world increasingly driven by design, is to lack fundamental skills in the world.
I'm a web programmer, but the majority of jobs I see available are for web designers, graphic designers, etc. They are quickly becoming the only major computer-related job left in this country, and yet we proceed to wipe all traces of creative thought for the sake of simply passing a test and being able to move on to the next level. Stirling then offers one sombering exclamation (emphasis mine):
[Musical education] is social and intellectual both.
It would seem an easy sell, except that there is a problem, or rather, several problems. Not the least of which is the American attitude towards high school, where in people are being increasingly expeted to learn the mandrinate rules of college admission, and at the same time work out the consumer sexual identity which we demand people have. This collision between having to learn how to be a conformist,and learning how to be an individual living in a society that sells sex, but forbids people unwrap the package, is why high school takes up so much time. Instead, Americans learn what most other countries learn in high school during our college years.
That last line should worry everyone. Why? Because it is obvious to everyone that college is increasingly becoming a privilege for the wealthy rather than an opportunity for all. If what most of the world learns is what we learn in college, then how can the poor, disenfranchised, or even now the middle class be able to obtain the knowledge they need to compete in an increasingly globalized job and science market? All the while, we spend our time not worrying about this, but ranting and raving about why Intelligent Design is not being taught in our public schools, and when it isn't why you are a Christian-hating pagan.
But I digress.
Music has had an impact on all of us. It has, at times, touched us in a manner that normal thought or speech cannot. It has also opened the doors of our minds as to how we can think and organize simple patterns and ideas. It boosts our own creative abilities in other projects we attempt. It is also healthy - why do you think the whole concept of playing Mozart for plants has been passed down over the years?
People can say what they want to about music festivals in general. Hell, even South Park got into the fray last season; needless to say Trey & Matt weren't exactly friendly to the idea, especially when you have them making Cartman as the hero. But knowing the folks involved with this fest and the family that owns the property, their aim has not been entirely on having a festival for the sake of having one. It's been about, in particular, giving back to help foster music education in our children:
The Spanish Moss Foundation is starting a scholarship fund to benefit music students in the Gadsden Co. Public High School Music Programs. This fund will provide support for rising seniors to pursue degrees in music when they go off to college, or, if the need is greater, to provide current high school students with scholarships for summer music programs to better prepare them for entry to degree seeking programs such as the well renowned Florida State University School of Music in Tallahassee, or the Georgia State University School of Music in Atlanta. Recognizing the importance of giving back to our host community, a portion of our proceeds from Down on the Farm will be donated to this cause, as will proceeds from all Spanish Moss Productions events hence forth.
Now, I'm an official member of the Spanish Moss Foundation, so I can't say completely that my opinion is unbiased. However, when you have been around music as much as I have, and you experience it first hand in high school, college, and then real life, and you continue to read stories about the decline of music and art education, you try to do what you can to help nuture those whom you want to enjoy music and the joys and benefits it offers to all.
I would not have been promoting or hyping this festival and organization as much if I did not believe in what SMP were attempting to accomplish. I have seen and heard the decline of music in this southeast region, from the fall of live music support over the last three decades, to the indifference toward providing and sustaining such a scene through venues and other shows. Only recently has the urge to fight back against the tide come back, and with pretty much a new jazz revival happening in Tallahassee alone, any bit of help counts.
I encourage anyone living within the southeast region to attend this festival if you have nothing planned for this weekend, and would like to experience a great time and help support a good cause. Last year's festival was a small triumph, small in ticket sales but triumph in the attitude towards it - it was one of the best, small music festivals of the fall season. I hope to see you all Down on the Farm.