Philip Rosheger: The Miracle of Music Among Us

Philip Rosheger, one of the most distinguished classical players and composers of our time, was immersed in music and composition, but loved to talk about injustice and poverty. I hope those who read this will consider being generous with the next street musician you see in his honor. He would love that.

by Carol Denney

Playing music on the street is not easy. Even if you play a loud instrument, have a loud voice, or both, the probability of breaking into someone’s consciousness and inspiring them with a few notes is small when your music must be heard over all the traffic and bustle. Amplification is illegal in most cities without a permit, which can be costly and takes planning to acquire.

Those most successful at stopping a crowd of hurried commuters or shoppers without amplification often have a gimmick. They play a toy piano and a trombone simultaneously, dress like clowns, or play catchy novelty repertoire — probably not their goal when they first fell in love with music.

Those compromises along the way often end up affecting, or infecting, that original surge of desire to play in a world of pure sound.

Philip Rosheger, one of the most distinguished classical players and composers of our time, never compromised, whether on stage at Herbst Theater or on Berkeley’s noisy streets.

He’d use a small amplifier if the cops would let him, sometimes dropping a microphone entirely inside the sound hole. He would arrange his legs in what looked like an impossible pretzel, and then he would simply play.

The depth of his classical repertoire is difficult to imagine for those who are not classically trained, but Berkeley has a fairly high ratio of people for whom hearing the world’s best, most challenging classical guitar compositions ringing from the instrument of a man playing on the street was too powerful a sight and sound to resist.

People walking by might hear the flawless technique, or the mastery of a classical piece they had never before heard live, but they would have to wait until the end of the piece to discuss it with Philip, who loved to talk but needed to make enough money to pay rent, to eat, or to put some gas in his car.

Playing on the street was sometimes his only income. He also respected the balance of a composition, and was unwilling to interrupt its flow even to schmooze with admirers.

When I first met Philip, we were two of the few musicians who got good-paying gigs in town. We talked for hours about the emotional content of various chord inversions, politics, housing, and the crazy life we were expected to live just to play.

Philip was immersed in music and composition, but loved to talk about injustice, poverty, and local issues. He felt strongly that the world needed to be a safer harbor for music and for musicians, and he was right. The musicians I knew in the 1980s who gave it up along the way would fill a stadium.

Philip fell ill this summer, and is currently in a critical care unit in Oakland. Those of us who know him well are not sure at this point if he’ll be able to communicate verbally again. So we play to him, we read to him, we talk to him in case he can hear us.

We have some of his own compositions on a CD player by his bed, hoping to reach him and possibly comfort him the way his music and his originality and spirit so affected us.

I hope those who read this will consider being generous with the next street musician you see in his honor. I know he would love that.

 

 

Have all these guitars been silenced? Philip Rosheger felt that the world needed to be a safer harbor for musicians, and he was right. The musicians I knew in the 1980s who gave it up along the way would fill a stadium.

Star Spangled Corners

(for the woman with the harmonica, for the man with the saxophone, for the boy with the guitar, for the family with violin and tambourines.)

by Mary Rudge

What a city long lacked, now is on every corner!

Music, shimmering over us all,

every note shines in our ears,

we wear our day necklaced in sound.

For coin we spare, we get so rich.

The poor have jeweled us with song.

Are we entertained by the starving poor?

There should be artist’s subsidy

for all who make those silver notes,

those emerald tones, gold mined from

the depths of soul…

HERE’S MONEY! HERE’S MONEY —

not worth half of what you give us! Your work

is worthy of support — fingers busy all day long,

you who play the saxophone, banjo, harmonica,

guitar, in patched shirt, torn jeans, bare feet

in the cold, blood and pain in every bleeding

drop of ruby rhythm!

It took joblessness and homelessness and hunger

to fill our streets with music. Song for food,

sing for (you hope) your supper, play your music

which is now our city treasure, our pleasure.

Starvation keeps thrilling us.

A Life Consecrated to Compassion and Justice

On the bleak streets of the Tenderloin, a sister took a stand against inhumanity. Her solidarity was inspired by the beatitudes and consecrated to the poor.

The Invisible Natural Cathedral of People’s Park

Builders, please go away. Allow the beauty of an Invisible Natural Cathedral to remain, a living shrine of open space that gives refuge to all people.

Street Spirit Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin

This atrocity was happening in a very wealthy city. It was happening right under our noses. It was very visible. And there was not the united voice of the faith community speaking out. That was the spark of Religious Witness. From that moment, I knew what I had to do.

Interview with Sister Bernie Galvin, Part Two

“What’s forming in my mind is Jesus in the temple when he became angry at the unjust and very exclusive systems of society. That is the very reason that there are the poor and the marginalized. It is not enough just to provide food, clothing and housing.”

‘Such Is the Magic and Spirit of People’s Park’

The mayor has no understanding of the awful defeat the loss of People’s Park would be. No comprehension of the cost in lives and the sacrifices people have made for the Park’s ideals. So many still find it a refuge in a country needing a political and spiritual overhaul.

I Remember Who I Am

“And Now Where?” Lithograph by Rockwell Kent

By and by, I calm down. I meditate. I pray. It is a beautiful day. The sun is setting. I weave my way toward the spot where I sleep, where nobody knows where to find me. I look to the stars, and say my prayers to the God who believes in Me.