October 28, 1916
Page 36

What Shall Be Done to Take Care of Them—Practically Alone Among the Trades and Professions, Musicians of This Country Make No Provisions for Their Aged Colleagues—A Problem and Its Most Practicable Solution

IS it possible that the votaries of the “purest of arts” are so immured in their profession that they cannot hear the plaints of the army of their distressed, aged colleagues in this country? The question occurs even after a casual investigation at the headquarters of the Musical Union of New York, Boston or Chicago. Musicians of this country are suffering to exist a condition that has been stamped out in nearly every other civilized country. In the nations where governmental systems of protection do not provide for aged and indigent citizens, the members of various professions and trades band together for the purpose. The stage profession in America works for the relief of unfortunate and superannuated members; the actors of Germany have their Genossenschaft, which provides for a modest monthly pension; trade workers of England are cared for by the compulsory old age insurance system; school teachers, policemen, seamen and numerous industrial organizations have devised means that they may, in Goldsmith’s words, be blessed with, “a youth of labor and an age of ease!"
Fortune is far from favoring the aging man in any circumstances. Witness the thinning out of the New York orchestras a few years ago and the filling of the chairs with younger men. Modern. orchestral programs are taxing; brass fingers, an agile wrist, sure wind and sterling virility are demanded; The old player must yield his seat to the newcomer, who probably fails to read in his usurpation his own coming doom. And not only are there orchestral players to be considered, but there is the unnumbered body of discarded singers and teachers, men and women.
Can the old man who has been forced out of his place in the orchestra join another orchestra? Whispers of his discharge for the crime of age usually settle his effort, even if he is still physically fit to handle his fiddle or horn. He finds himself, with a large company, in competition with the world of youth. If he is one of the affiliated, rigid rules circumscribe his efforts to exercise his profession. It may be suggested that he can teach. But teaching requires time and capital. The old musician knows as no one else the amazingly small number within the charmed circle of successful teachers.
As a last resort to turn to, there is the country farm of the Union (if the unfortunate is a member) and the Philadelphia home provided by the philanthropy of Theodore Presser. But his family? And institutional life, no matter how benevolently conducted, is crushing even to a person not so finely organized as the one whose life has been spent in music. If the musician can resign himself to await his end within strange walls, all the better for him. But, even then, the number of such retreats for the superannuated musician is strangely few. There is something of irony in the fact that $100 rests in the ‘treasury of the Union promptly available for’ burial expenses (if he be a member) upon official information of his death.
Of course, the ideal solution of the problem thus briefly outlined would be a universal system of old-age pensions by the government, as in other countries. Failing this, the remedy seems to be to follow the methods of other professional and trade bodies. School teachers, for example, in many places have a humane retirement plan, patterned on a system of compulsory insurance. The instability of employment in the musical profession would possibly militate against a similar plan of regular contributions from the workers. But, doubtless, this system might be modified so as to afford complete protection for the incapacitated and infirm musicians, including, of course, singers and teachers in all branches of the profession.
The most sensible way would be to provide the means first and allow the technical methods of administration be worked out later. The Actors’ Fund is extending relief to the amount of about $70,000 a year (this figure is taken from published announcement). A Musicians’ Fund should be created at once, it would seem, to provide for the immediate relief of needy professional persons, while competent heads are devising a permanent old-age pension plan. Such a pension would help to attract talent to the music profession and would hold those already in and be an encouragement for unhampered work. Certification of all recruits to music would be required and this would mean a gradual uplifting of the standard. No great complications stand in the way of a retirement pension; there is the tested experience of years to build upon.
Another feature should be a national agency to serve as a clearing-house for musical engagements. Many a worthy musician past the age of vigorous muscular activity could fill a responsible place in some conservatory or school.
A glance into a lexicon tells of the immortal work of many “superannuated” musicians.


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