It was sobering to witness the extreme poverty and homelessness in the towns and cities to which I travelled for concerts and music-related stuff to Peterborough, Ontario, Fredonia and Dunkirk, New York, Prince George, B.C. and Portland, Oregon… most dramatically in Portland where thousands of tents LINE THE STREETS. I was shocked.
I stayed in a massive historical hotel in Portland, built in 1912, a scene of thousands of past and present conventions and gatherings of business people and those pursuing the American dream (like all of us). Right beside this monument to ambition and well-being, the flimsy filthy tents flutter in the wind as the residents scurry quickly and furtively, trying to stay out of trouble but really, no way to avoid it.
What are we doing to equalize opportunity for everyone? Where do classical music concerts fit when thousands of people have no safe place to sleep, let alone a means to find good food? Musicians need work to keep off the streets, and as hard as it is for us to find work, we still seem better off than many. It seems that a major tipping point has to come sooner than later if we don’t address this in a daily steady way. Regardless of the political party, there is an army-in-training on the margins of all the towns I visited… literally marginalized people who are surviving with very little and yet, are tough, resilient and possibly getting angry. If you are doing anything at all to help, that is good. I’m still thinking about this. I regularly donate to music charities, including educational groups and regional orchestras, and I established a nationally registered education charity, the Council of Canadian Bassoonists… these things help with the educational and cultural layer, but what about all the others who face stark, immediate poverty? And how many of those destitute people are also talented musicians, as deserving of education and opportunity as anyone? More than I few, I reckon.