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.

Resurrection of the Poor People’s Campaign

Rev. Barber told the activists gathered in the nation’s capital that by demonstrating in solidarity with poor people, they had become a link in the long history of people who fought for justice.

Hate Crime Laws Needed to Protect the Homeless

As homelessness becomes more visible, people living on the streets are targeted for bullying, assaults, harassment and even murders.

Life Is A Precious Gift: Mother Teresa’s House in Washington

We will never know how many huge pots of soup Jacob lifted with the sisters into trucks, to take to the homeless in the park. We will never know how many diseased bodies he fed, held and bathed, and the number of tears he dried in the early morning hours.

Mother Teresa’s Gift of Love in San Francisco

She took home with her the men who had only a few days left to live and were suffering the most, and tenderly cared for them around the clock. I am certain some of the people I was meeting were angels, whose job was to make certain no soul died alone and unloved.

My Back Pages: A Song for Miss Kay

She softly sings the soul anthem “Stand By Me.” It is a song for Miss Kay, a song for all of us. Her life, with its music and joy, followed by a downward slide into homelessness and death, tells us something deeper than words about the human condition.

My Back Pages: Kerry’s Kids, An Undying Dream

Oakland pediatrician Dr. Karen Kruger said, “Kerry’s death was so sudden and seemingly purposeless and shocking that I think there was a need for people that loved her to carry on her memory in a way that she would look down on from her cloud and be happy about.”