Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Emergency Music

(A Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) band plays in Battery Park in New York City, ca. 1934-35. Photo from a FERA report.)
(A FERA orchestra class in Horseshoe Bend, Idaho, 1935. Photo from a FERA report.)
Before the WPA's music program, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) was employing jobless musicians to play music for the nation. The FERA's music program, offered symphonies, community sings, dance orchestras, chamber music, "hilly billy" orchestras, African American quartets, music instruction, radio broadcasts, and more.
FERA's music program created several hundred orchestras, of various types, and performed before an aggregate audience of over 10 million between the years 1934 and 1935. Many audience members were low-income and did not normally have opportunities for music appreciation and instruction.

It's probably hard for most Americans, especially young Americans, to comprehend a government program of this type. After all, for most of our lives the super-wealthy have been paying politicians to not help the unemployed, outside of some scraps (unemployment benefits). Indeed, a survey of wealthy Americans showed that the vast majority of them do not support the creation of a government jobs program for the unemployed. What a shame that so many rich people have nothing better to do with their money than to pay politicians to be mean-spirited, especially when we have the experience of FERA, and many other New Deal programs, showing us that good music, art, research, conservation, and infrastructure can be performed if we offer the jobless opportunities instead of insults.

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