During the Baroque period of music there were three types of musicians: the court musician, the church musician, and the town musician.
- The court musician was employed by a member of the nobility and, while employed at a high status position, these court musicians were regarded as servants. Demands for musical entertainment were high - music for meals, music for evening entertainment, music for celebrations.
- The church musician was associated with the church, most likely the Roman Catholic church, but possibly the Lutheran church. These musicians were composers, choir directors, teachers, and, often, guardians of children who stayed at the church as members of the choir. As such they devoted their lives to the church.
- The town musician was of the highest status being employed by the local municipal government. These musicians were on par with the middle class such as doctors, lawyers, and store owners. They played music for town festivals, parades, and other events.
During the Classical period of music there were three types of musicians: the court musician, the freelance musician, and the independent musician.
- The court musician's role during the Classical period was similar to that of the court musician during the Baroque period. These musicians were employed by a member of the nobility and were responsible for all the music required. As patrons for the court musician, the nobility controlled the musical endeavors of the musician and owned all that was produced while under their patronage.
- The freelance musician would appear during the Classical period of music. This musician was similar to today's freelance musician and was dependent on finding ways to get paid making music. They might compose or conduct or perform music for pay. Sometimes the need to earn money was so great that these musicians might have to compromise their own integrity. It was not necessarily an ideal situation. When money was scarce, that which is necessary to live was also scarce; when money was plentiful, life in general was good. Until the money ran out.
- The independent musician led the ideal life. This musician had patrons who gave him money to pay the bills and to live comfortably, if not luxuriously. The caveat is that while the patrons paid the independent musician, the musician did not owe the patron anything in return. The musician was free, independent, if you will, to compose, conduct, and perform how and when he chose.
What are the roles of the musician in the 21st century?
I do not believe that the musician today can be neatly pigeonholed into one of these descriptions. In fact, the role of musician is multifaceted.
However, what worked during the Baroque and Classical periods does still exist, if only with a 21st century twist.
- We still have church musicians. I have several friends who make their livelihood in this role. Some of them are part-time church musicians, but still they are church musicians. They may not compose or be personally responsible for the welfare of members of their ensembles, but they do usually direct a choir, play piano and/or organ, and plan all church musical events. I don't know everything about this role personally because I have not held this role so I'm sure I am leaving out some duties they perform.
- We still have town musicians. Though this type of musician is dwindling away as the economy eats away at city budgets, you may still find a town musician. As I was growing up my small town had what was called a "municipal band" - not to be confused with "community bands." Community bands and choruses are made up of volunteer musicians. The municipal band was made up of musicians who were members of the musicians union and who were paid for rehearsals and concerts as well as for mileage.
- I associate the freelance musicians of today as those who play gigs at events, bars, etc for pay. This is not a very stable way of life though many choose to live this way for the love of music. The freelance musician may also include those who perform on cruises, at amusement parks, or write for film and TV.
- The independent musician is a rarity. Not too many musicians are paid to just do what they want. Perhaps some of the top composers and songwriters are at a point in their careers where people seek their music and they can choose to write or not to write.
- The one that we do not have a 21st century comparison to is the court musician. Mainly because we do not have nobility in the US. Now that I type this I wonder if perhaps we could put those military musicians into the role of the court musician. They perform on demand and do and go as they are directed by the government. Hmmm...I'll have to think on that one for a while.
This is a very limited view of the role of musicians past and present. It was what was on my mind.
The role of the musician in the 21st century is near impossible to describe.
I'm just happy I am a musician in the 21st century.