Musicians patrolled streets and city gates—carrying badges and even taking an oath of office. They were often as bulky as football players nowadays. But why?
I am an American expat living in the city of Bergen, Norway. One of the reasons I left a principal position in a prestigious American orchestra is that the Bergen Filharmoniske is still supported by the city. It is the second oldest continuously playing orchestra in the world at 253 years. Yes I pay about 5 percent more in taxes but my taxes go to support healthcare, education, public support programs and all facets of the arts. America could support the arts easily if corporations and the military industrial complex were no longer top priority.
Some friends and I sometimes play music in our local park, in what is a prosperous but culturally boring town (Americans would call it a city) in the midlands of England. Our efforts are always appreciated by passers by. Sadly, in England, the weather is often against us. I think it would be great if more people would do this.
Incidentally, for a taste of "municipal" music from 16th century Venice, try Giovanni Gabrielli's brass compositions. Typically for two antiphonal groups of four instruments, a music student friend once told me they were designed to be performed outdoors as well as in indoor church and municipal spaces. The effect of this in St Mark's Square must have been stunning.
This is just amazing, Ted. I appreciate the fact that you have created an essay that is available nowhere else, and that it took you decades of note-taking to compile it. I also have decades of note-taking and references on various subjects, but I'm running out of time. Thank you for taking the time to share this important historical piece. You are certainly a treasure.
At first I was sceptical. Did Ted make it all up? Then I googled stadspijpers (the Dutch term) and indeed the article I found confirmed every point of the article. How come we've never heard of them?
When I visited small W. African villages in the 80's in Ghana I learned that the drummers were accorded more respect than about any citizens save the Chief and his coterie. They were present, and working long hours, at all important ceremonies in the village, weddings, funerals, etc. They were guaranteed an income greater than most citizens and always divided it evenly. As such they seemed to be guardians of the culture. We, in America, at our very best, are guardians of the counter culture. That this job comes with no pension and almost no respect is of no surprise to anyone reading this. You're ahead of the game if you get a boot in the ass, at least then you know you're alive.
Perhaps the reason we don’t see musicians at our city gates is because we’re all in closed vehicles traveling at more than 30 mph. I recently was on a cruise and one of our ports of call was a private island. It was suitable there to have a live band, singers and dancers greet us as we walked through the entrance. It helped set the tone for the day. But as long as we maintain our busy fast paced daily lifestyles in our self imposed bubbles of solitude, I doubt we’ll ever return to those traditions of old.
Buskers play in tunnels of O’ Hare airport, and in many subway systems. So yes, musicians remain at the city gates and throughout its nervous systems. Some places the performances are officially condoned and govt supported, other places they happen despite lack of interest/tolerance, and even police harassment. I like coming on musicians taking it upon themselves to play in public, in accord with their surroundings.
Great piece Ted. I wonder what the musicians' set lists would be in the major cities in this troubled country today or tonight. I guess that depends in which state the musicians were playing.
Injured: I think I broke my leg......
First Responder: I can help, but first, let me play you a little tune I'm working on......
I like it.....
Great article. Although what you present may not be original research, how you are able to bring interesting and little known music history into an engaging and informative format is praiseworthy
Fascinating! The role of musicians in society is more integral then we realize! Very cool to learn these historical facts and stories…. Thank you :-)
Once again Ted, a very interesting, eye opening, entertaining bit of writing.
I had NO IDEA of this bit of music history!
Would you kindly share a few of the historic references for this piece? I would really love to learn more about the history of minstrels and city musicians/first responders.
You continue to add spice to my life, I would have never put this together, musical first responders; it did flash in my mind that community musicians are also seen in the "final moments", the funeral parades in New Orleans, and on the deck of the Titanic as it sunk. Perhaps the bass violin could have been used as a lifeboat. You amaze me with your fund of knowledge, just got your book, Jazz Standards, and I am delighted. Thanks again.
For it is the doom of man, that they forget...
Thanks for the reminder!
On marketdays in many Dutch towns you will hear https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NlWGkiaMqiY
Splendid piece, Ted!