Summer Strings in a Gift Economy
How my creative work is and isn't undertaken in the commercial sphere
For the last six months or so, I've been talking about my interest in "gift economies." I think I started down this path when my husband finally convinced me to do something about a dormant retirement account I had that was left-over from a school where I worked a long time ago. I'd always chosen the social justice box on the re-investment paperwork when it came in the mail, and consequently a little less money was sitting in the account than had been there before the 2008 crash, and well, I didn't really pay that much attention to it. When my husband and I talked about it, I just said "I don't want to buy bombs."
So finally, when I turned 50, I realized that retirement money was actually a concern that might need some attention. So I went to see a financial adviser who works for Thrivent Financial with the stated goal of finding a way for my little tiny retirement account to grow that didn't entail buying bombs.
The bad news is that I didn't succeed. Even the very honest and very clear financial adviser working for an avowedly "Christian" company couldn't sell me an investment that would make money and keep entirely clear of the defense industry. This adviser did point out to me that because I had very little invested, with clear management, I could buy very few bombs and little more of slightly more palatable end-results with my investment dollars. It was not a very satisfying outcome for my conscience, even if it did come with something we moderns might call better financial security.
My adviser, who really knows her work well, asked me all sorts of other salient questions--such as how much money did I think I would need to retire, when did I want to retire, and how much money do I spend to keep myself alive now? In other words, she started me on a project the telos of which I cannot even see, much less fathom. I am deeply grateful for this nudge.
Then I ran across a short film based on a book by Charles Eisenstein: Sacred Economics: Short Film. I was fascinated by the ideas in the film, and ordered the book and read it all fairly quickly. It made me want to wake up one day and find myself in a fully realized gift economy where I could contribute my gifts and be supported with what I need. Like everyone else, however, I still wake up in this real world we inhabit with gas pumps distributing subsidized, carbon-producing fossil fuels, and decisions about what is possible always created by consulting the balance sheet so many of us keep in our heads all the time.
When I analyzed my own life, I could easily see what I want to contribute. I found my calling in teaching, performing, and creating music in my mid-thirties, and I can't imagine my life not being centered around music-making. Luckily, I teach for a school that pays me a salary which takes care of my basic needs, even if that salary doesn't really provide for retirement savings, or much in the way of funds for travel or producing my music. I think it makes sense that I get paid to teach music because I have invested a lot of time and energy in learning how to play, learning how to make music, and learning how to teach it. I know that what I offer as a music teacher has value, and asking students or their parents to pay me seems correct.
When it comes to creating, though, it's much harder for me to figure out how to ask for pay. I write classical music. I don't consider what might or might not be popular or "marketable" when I write--I just write the music I want to write. I am lucky in finding friends to play my music. I do like to write with a particular person, and usually a particular performance, in mind. I don't want to put up any barriers to other musicians playing my music--in fact one of my pieces was performed in Tallinn, Estonia, earlier this year because a musician found it on the International Music Score Library Project webpage.
The good news is that I am much more aware, nowadays, how thoughts about money and its power seep into everything I do. Being aware of this seepage, I hope I am doing what I can to take the power away from money and put it into what is more real to me--community.
Summer Strings is a project I'm undertaking this summer. It is a new music festival that will take place over three days in August in North Conway, New Hampshire. It will involve 12-16 players, all of whom are playing for free. The works of four composers will be included in the program. I have a donated space to use--Christ Episcopal Church for the rehearsals and the concert. I will still need to pay the piano tuner and I would like to offer players travelling from far away a mileage stipend.
Summer Strings is also an experiment in community funding. I've decided to ask for monetary help from people who get something out of my music. If you've read all the way to the bottom of this page, you must be a little interested in economics. You will see a link at the right of this page to a simple appeal for the project Summer Strings. If donating money to this cause seems right to you, please do. If you can find another way to help the universe along, please do that.
I feel like signing this blog, so I will:
In a sharing spirit,