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.

Writing for the Street Spirit: My 17 Year Journey

Writing for Street Spirit has awakened in me a sense of responsibility toward others. Street Spirit is a way for people silenced by big money and big media to have a voice.

Animal Friends: A Saving Grace for Homeless People

“I wrapped her in my jacket and promised I’d never let anybody hurt her again. And that’s my promise to her for the rest of her life. In my mind she’s a little angel that saved me as much as I saved her.”

A Testament to Street Spirit’s Justice Journalism

The game was rigged against the poor, but I will always relish the fact that Street Spirit took on the Oakland mayor and city council for their perverse assault on homeless recyclers. For me, that was hallowed ground. I will never regret the fact that we did not surrender that ground.

Tragic Death of Oakland Tenant Mary Jesus

Being evicted felt like the end of her life. As a disabled woman, she saw nothing ahead but a destitute life on the streets. She told a friend, “If I’m evicted tomorrow, I have no choice but to kill myself. I have no resources, no savings, no money, and nowhere to go.”

They Left Him to Die Like a Tramp on the Street

Life is sacred. It is not just an economic statistic when someone suffers and dies on the streets of our nation. It is some mother’s son, or daughter. It is a human being made in the image of God. It is a desecration of the sacred when that life is torn down.

Joy in the Midst of Sorrow in Santa Maria Orphanage

This amazing priest not only housed 300 orphaned children from the streets of Mexico City, but he also took care of 20 homeless elders in his own house and started a home for children dying of AIDS. Father Norman also ran a soup kitchen that fed many people in the village.