Last week after lunch I walked over to 48th Street between 6th and 7th avenues in midtown Manhattan with a friend. After arriving we looked at each other in amazement. What was once a thriving, vital music scene looked like a depressed, deserted neighborhood. All the music stores gone, except for one. Music row or “the street” as it was affectionately labeled by the music community is no more. The rumor is the buildings will be leveled and high rises built. What happened?
If you came to New York during the 60’s-90’s you would have witnessed a variety of music stores unlike any in the world. It was a very competitive scene, but because of the high traffic volume, lucrative for the shops and deep discounts for the musicians. It was not unusual to see well known players walking “the street” looking for bargains and new gear going from store to store.
We opened our first shop on West 45th Street in 1979 and at the time I can recall at least 7 other stores selling drums within a two block radius. Man, was that some serious competition! But, somehow we all survived. There were recording studios, sound proofed to the max, tucked away in office buildings. Clubs featuring bands 5-6 nights a week. Broadway shows were active and classical musicians had a number of orchestras or ensembles they could participate in. For a number of years drummers would come into the store and purchase equipment near the end of the year in order to have deductions from their healthy tax returns. If a musician was proficient and enterprising they could survive on club gigs, teaching, private parties, demo recordings, etc.
And then the financial problems came and the schools began eliminating the music programs! When I was going through high school we had a full orchestra to participate in. This has become a rarity. Now with the bankruptcy of the NYC Opera and the ailing finances of major orchestras in the country we are seeing a smack down to the arts. Many of the clubs once having live music now have no music. The private parties once hiring bands are now supplying DJ’s or the guests bring an ipod and plug it in for entertainment.
Solution?? We need to have music education in schools and encourage kids to play an instrument. The value of the arts cannot be over exaggerated. The focus and determination to become proficient on an instrument has an everlasting impact on a person’s well being. We must all support the arts and spread the word so we don’t witness more of what happened to 48th Street.