Live music brings people together and improves physical, mental and emotional health, according to several studies by the National Association of Music Merchants. However, underserved populations often cannot afford to attend concerts, and musicians need money to make a living.
Rockville Centre resident Dan Beck is on the front lines of bringing free, live music to the public and getting musicians paid for those events across North America.
Beck, 69, is trustee of the Music Performance Trust Fund in New York City. “We take the funds [we receive from record companies] and stretch them as far as we can,” Beck said. “It provides supplemental income to musicians, and goes towards enhancing the public’s quality of life with the impact of free, live music performances.”
The 71-year-old organization, which has a staff of four, provides grants to musicians’ unions, which pay artists to perform throughout the United States and Canada. By doing this, the MPTF makes possible more than 2,000 concerts each year at which people enjoy free live music.
Beck began working at the trust fund in 2013, and launched MusicianFest, a program that brings intimate, live performances to senior centers, in 2015. The trust fund chose the name because “we wanted to focus on a single musician and the joy that musicians could bring to seniors,” he noted.
While the fund has supported shows at senior centers for decades, MusicianFest put a spotlight on them — raising awareness of their importance with more promotions and increasing concert frequency. Last year, MusicianFest funded about 500 senior center shows and will have sponsored about 1,000 this year.
“We’re seeing just what these performances in senior centers mean,” Beck said. “It gets people moving and emotionally, mentally and physically engaged.
“And socially, it’s important,” he added. “You see, people may be slightly isolated, but when there’s a music performance, people get engaged. They talk to each other about their favorite songs. It’s an important thing to help fill their lives with meaning and to give them some great memories.”
Beck brings expertise from a decades-long career in the music industry to his duties at the trust fund. Originally from Pennsylvania, he headed to Nashville after college and worked at Record World magazine. He became southeastern editor of the publication in the 1970s.
Then, he worked in publicity at Epic Records in New York, eventually becoming senior vice president of marketing and sales — and working with acts such as Cheap Trick, Boston, Cyndi Lauper, Pearl Jam and Michael Jackson.
In 1984, he moved to Rockville Centre with his wife, Clare Kidder, who grew up in the village. After more than 20 years at Epic Records, Beck was asked by Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Records, to become North American president of his new music business, V2, and he accepted.
In 1999, however, after about two years, Beck left the position because he was losing his hearing. He was “semi-retired,” he said, but still did consulting work. In addition, he became a hearing loss advocate and created the short film “Listen Smart,” which examines music and hearing loss. He also serves on the board of Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers.
Sandra Jordan, who handles public relations for MPTF, said she appreciated Beck’s “insight into how much music affects people.”
“Dan has this useful wisdom about him,” Jordan added. “He’s very young at heart, and has such vast experience between his songwriting career and starting a record label with Richard Branson, to artist relations and the day-to-day.”
Beck’s work with MusicianFest is on full display in the fund’s short film, “Never Too Old,” directed by Ken Schreiber, which premiered in March. It also screened at the Lonely Seal Film Festival in Boston on Oct. 11 and the second annual Cutting Room International Short Film Festival in Manhattan on Oct. 19.
“In making the film, we always felt it was about the relationship between the musicians and the audiences,” Beck said. “We believed that focusing on them would take us on the path of the individual stories and personalities. To capture their warmth and joy and dignity is so special.”
The short film features senior center workers, musicians, attendees, record label representatives, Beck and others, all speaking about the benefits of musical performances.
“I hear certain songs and it takes me back to a time where I can remember where I was or what I was doing,” said John Diorio, who appeared in the film and attended a show at Visions Center on Aging in Manhattan.
Carrie Lewy, the senior center director, explained that the facility has around 700 seniors registered for its programs, and most are low-income and losing their sight. They love music, but can’t necessarily afford to attend concerts or Broadway shows.
“They might play show tunes or music from a different era,” said another senior, Carman Becker, “but whatever it is they play, we appreciate it. We really appreciate it.”
In addition to MusicianFest, under Beck’s leadership, the MPTF has joined the Grammy Music Education Coalition, which brings high-quality music programs to public schools. The trust fund also helps stage large community concerts, educational music events and more, all free of charge. Still, MusicianFest occupies a special place in Beck’s heart.
“They’re a lot of fun,” Beck said. “You realize there are a lot of seniors out there with a lot of stories. It’s so much fun to hear them talk about their experience with music over their lives. They talk about songs they love, artists they love. They may have lost their life partner, but they tell you about the song they have with them.
“It’s truly inspiring,” he added. “You realize the dignity and stories they have and how much we should appreciate them.”
Ben Strack contributed to this story.