‘Tis the season to break out the ode to musicians everywhere– “Little Drummer Boy.” This has always been my favorite Christmas tune because of my love for music.
It’s a song about a poor little boy who gets told to come see this newly born prophesied king–a mystical baby of sorts, and everyone is bringing all kinds of riches to give as gifts. Well the little boy’s got nothing to give, let alone something fit for a king (much like humble artists of our time…). But he’s gotta give something, so he decides he will play his drum. His music is all he has, and that’s what he gives as his gift.
Most people can grasp this much of the song, but there’s more to it: the boy knows in his head that he has nothing that can compete with stuff like gold and frankincense, but he plays his music anyway. Something, if only his subconscious, tells him that playing his song for this new king IS an appropriate gift. Maybe it’s because he and the king have something in common (“I am a poor boy too…”), but regardless: music is seen to be worth as much as gold. This king loves the song, and smiles at the little boy and his drum.
I like to take it a step further. I think this song is also about a musician’s relationship to his audience. Taken as a metaphor–and I don’t think this is too much of a stretch–it explains how performers view an audience as royalty. When you’re on stage, the audience is your hero. Look: some of them work 9-5 all week at a job they tolerate, or 9pm-4am covering shifts at a bar to pay rent, but they save and save and pay good money to watch someone play songs. They would rather watch music being played than have that money. There is this amazing thing going on at a concert. And the performer, knowing these people deserve so much for making the trek to see the show, can give back nothing but some songs. And yet this is enough. It’s all the audience, these regal members in front of the stage, want.
This might be why musicians are paid a “royalty” for their music. Because in the land of a concert hall, the audience is King…