A Short History of Fundraiser Musics


I propose that music is a fundraising tool predating the stone ax and perhaps the opposable thumb as well. Some may question the choice of the word ‘tool’ as applied to music and may also question whether fundraisers were even necessary or desirable in ancient days. I will present arguments for both postulates with an ear toward possible fundraiser musics of the near future.

Early humans lived in a very inhospitable environment with almost no control over their natural surroundings. One exception, available to all, was to bring the order of rhythm to bear on the chaos of noise. This simple device, or tool, was an appeal to a pantheon of gods to control those elements of the environment beyond human grasp.

In short order certain individuals realized that by controlling this channel of ritual communication they could also control their fellows. The shaman is the earliest example of the power of music to line one’s own pockets, or bear skin, as the case may be.

The Catholic church serves to illuminate the next stage in the history of fundraiser musics. By the use of a single god, music was elevated above ritual to the sacred. Composers were thus beholden to do the bidding of an oligarchy. Sacred music was not intended to control God—as it belonged to God—but to control human spirit. The collection plate leaves little doubt as to what else may have been controlled.

This paradigm was to persist for centuries, until the advent of harmony, ironically brought about by an acoustic fluke of Church sanctioned architecture. Harmony was an attempt to synthesize this spiritual music with the philosophies of the new-found sciences. Music gained the mystique and authority of the sciences and with these an additional new arena for environmental management—the mind.

Composers were to find new freedom outside the sphere of religion—and also find themselves out of work. Royal patrons, who had sporadically funded the sciences, wholeheartedly began buying up musicians. These were the dark ages of fundraiser music, as monarchs generally use other means to generate revenue. It is interesting to note, however, that this is the first incarnation of music as true commodity; privately owned, and having a somewhat symbolic use-value.

General insurgency and, finally, outright insurrection were to bring about a renaissance of fundraiser musics. With its new symbolic use-value the idea of music allied with, say, revolution was actually palatable. By appropriating the concert hall the bourgeoisie became capable of controlling music by controlling the representation of music. Ownership was to be had for the price of a ticket.

This heady populism was short-lived however as new audio recording technologies made fundraising music a business rather than a vocation. By controlling the reproduction of music, a new wealthy hegemony arose, solely in pursuit of profit. Without the problem of having to explain away any less than altruistic motive. Almost as soon as we learned to define ourselves by the music we possess we found our choice delimited by massive advertising campaigns, music videos and endless, endless repetition.

Today the liberal left, and poor, arts community is besieged by the radical (and even moderate) right. Artist run organizations are scrambling to maintain a reasonable level of funding. There is even talk of using the organizing and fundraising strategies that the right has used to such remarkable effect. I believe there is a danger in this. In just a moment we will be subjected to an example of a hypothetical fundraising music of the near future. (roll tape) While this tape is playing I am going to commit a cardinal sin of fundraisers—asking for more money after you’ve already bought a ticket. Don’t despair, I only want your pocket change—a mere token. Now I know that you’ve already done your part to support the arts, you are here after all, but while we listen to this I want you to consider your support as a kind of art prevention. Unless we continue to fund our local arts organizations they may subsumed by this new ordure.

Thank you.

Ean White
Nita Sturiale
11/17/90