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Musicians for Michiana - The Musicians

This is Part Three in a series of posts about Musicians for Michiana.  What would a chamber music series be without a fantastic set of musicians?

This is not a large town - which is why I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there were so many serious topnotch musicians living in the area, and so many more who come in every month to perform with the South Bend Symphony.  We are just far enough from Chicago and Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo that our members frequently choose to spend the week here in town during orchestra cycles - with the result that there are a large number of professional musicians who consider South Bend a home base.  Who have connections here to the community, and a stake in its success and growth.

And this was definitely another part of my inspiration in starting this project.  Musicians love to play, and crave more opportunities to dig deeply into chamber music with friends. There are few things more fun than working together in this way. And all of us have a significant level of commitment to the community but a limited amount of material resources to offer.

I’m generalizing here, from my own position.  The number of worthy organizations here in town is very large, and I would love to support them all.  The amount of cash on hand I can offer to these groups is noticeably limited.  I do have a skill, though, and a number of talented colleagues who feel the same way.  Hence, Musicians for Michiana.

Now, you may ask, why pay the musicians if the whole point is to raise money for the organizations in question?  Aren’t they willing to give of themselves for free?  In surprisingly many cases they are, in fact, but I am not willing to ask them to.

For a freelancer, like myself, time is absolutely money.  I am not on a salary, and I don’t have significant investments, so money only comes in when I work.  Work takes a certain amount of time - I can’t power through a rehearsal or a lesson by working extra hard and then get out early.  As much as I’d love to offer my services for free, I know that if I do I’ll end up resentfully turning down other paying work on the day of the performance, or accepting that work which is too good to refuse and leaving my colleagues in the lurch.  Playing for free is not a sustainable model, and I won’t ask my friends to do it.  We’re not paying them much but it can’t be nothing.

So far my favorite thing about Musicians for Michiana is the enthusiasm I’m getting from EVERYONE I talk to, and no one is more on board than the musicians. The conversation tends to go,
“Hi, Friend!  I’m starting a new chamber music series -“
“Ooh!  Can I play?  What do you need?  You know, I have this great piece…”
 It’s really humbling to have so many people leap on board with me.  I know they are all wonderful players and committed human beings, and just hope that we can bring the nuts and bolts of the project up to the level of our collective enthusiasm.

Who are these marvelous players?  These people who are eager to help out with this new series, and make it special?  They are principal and section players in your local symphony and other orchestras.  Members of professional quartets.  Tenure-track professors at real universities.  Local music teachers for your child and mine.  And active members of our community.  I love them, I’m proud of them, and I’m one of them.  We are the Musicians for Michiana!

Please visit our Indiegogo campaign before November 30, and help to support our plan.  Please tell your friends, and your families, and your colleagues to stop by and check us out!


  1. Thanks for this post! As a student musician making the transition into the freelance life, the issue of working for free is something I've been struggling with. On one hand, many of my best musical experiences as a younger student happened in extra-curricular volunteer ensembles (and, frankly, I wasn't good enough at the time to be worth paying.) However now I'm in my last year, have a job in a regional professional orchestra and have much less time. At the beginning of this school year I agreed to play for free as a favour to two different friends. Now I've been offered a paying gig that conflicts with both free ones, and since I'm not in my position to turn down a paycheque, and I don't want to put the people I already made a commitment to in a difficult position, I've been running around trying to find someone else willing to play for free instead of me... yikes. I guess I've learned my lesson... playing for free is no favour at all if it means you aren't able to make that music a priority.

  2. Yup, you have hit the nail on the head. Starting out I had the same conflict much of the time - I'd be asked to play for free with the promise that I'd meet lots of players and presumably begin building my network.

    As you said, you have to be able to prioritize the work you are playing - playing poorly because you're not being paid well is unacceptable, and ducking the concert at the last minute is similarly unacceptable. Although you are not being paid for the gigs, you are still being judged, both on your work and on your behavior. AND YET, there is of course an economic tradeoff and it's hard to turn down a paycheck.

    I'm not lecturing you - you said all of this yourself perfectly. Just trying to express it in other words so anyone else reading can agree with us.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Congratulations on your efforts.I hope they culminate to a desirable fruition. For many years I was involved with various musical groups in the Chicago area. Students, semi-professionals, ethnic and folk.In almost all in a supporting, helping capacity. The idea is wonderful, and I would be willing to help with organizing, disseminating information etc.
    Though not personally involved I thought about the issue of playing for free-fee. I concluded that it must be faced as a transitional phase without guilt when a choice has to be made. An old Latin saying: ‘primum vivere, deinde philosophare” Or to put it in modern vernacular, “eat first, sing later”
    I strongly favor public participation, in person, with people attending rehearsals, or performances like the one you had a while back at the Snite, with short musical games. (You might reverse the format; instead of asking the people to guess the pieces, you can have people give the musicians a few notes and have the performer(s) improvise.(This from an impro-group at the U of Chicago, yyyears ago that included Mike Nichols and Elaine May.
    The ease working through the internet is seductive. We must get together and listen to the wonderful sounds that are produced, otherwise we’ll all feel disembodied.

  4. Dimitri, yes. Public participation is always the goal - I intend these concerts to be as interactive as possible while remaining fully professional, prepared, exciting performances. And OOH, yes, I will absolutely welcome any help you offer. Once we finish working through this fundraising campaign and figure out what we've got to work with, we'll get started on the official production of the production, as it were.

    Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting!



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