Earlier this week I attended the Local 5 (Detroit) Musician’s Union annual 30/50 party. Last year was the first year I qualified to attend because I had finally been a member of Local 5 for 30 years. It is hard to believe it’s been that long. It has actually been longer than that for me because I was a member of Miami’s union for about ten years before that, so I may qualify for a 50-year membership in ten years. When you reach these milestones, it gives you pause for reflection. It also gives you a chance to see old friends. In some cases conversations take up right where they left off last year at the same gathering.
This is what happened when I sat next to the same person two years in a row, a harpist who has a son around the same age as my son. We were commiserating last year about our children and revisited that conversation briefly this year, too. Then the discussion at our table turned to more professional talk and my harpist friend told of a recent Facebook message she received from a woman who remembered that she had played at her wedding 20 years ago. The woman related that her husband had died ten years ago, both of her parents had passed away in the last few years and she was left with nothing . . . but memories of her wedding and the beautiful harp music sustained her through her sorrow. She remembered the harpist’s name and looked her up on Facebook.
What an incredible testament to the power of Facebook to connect these two people after 20 years! The harpist and the bride who, under normal circumstances, would never have seen each other again after the wedding were now in communication about a moment 20 years earlier, a moment of music that was tinged with bittersweet memories for the bride and carried her through her sorrow and sadness.
To the harpist, that wedding was probably like any other gig – brides and weddings become a blur after a while. We musicians tend to look at wedding gigs as a way to pay the bills but they are usually not musically rewarding experiences. We tend to become inured to those once-in-a-lifetime special occasions. For us, it’s about doing our job well and getting paid. As I reflect back on all the weddings I have played, they run past like pictures in a slide show, indistinct, details fading from memory. What comes to mind are general concerns such as ‘where do we set up?’ and ‘who do we see to get paid?’
I take away from this story a reminder that we never know who is listening to us and what meaning our music has for them. A quotidian gig for a musician could be a life-changing experience for a listener. The bride may be too busy or distracted to come up to the musicians after the wedding to tell them how much the music meant – she may not even realize it until years later when she reflects on happier times. Playing music cannot simply be a way to make a living – if we look at it that way we will be poor indeed. We are enriching people’s lives by giving meaning and memories and, in doing so, we are elevating ourselves in intangible ways.