Editorial Page Editor, Quad-City Times

I'm the Ringo of the trombone section. And that's OK.

About 50 people showed up Sunday to St. John's United Methodist Church in Davenport. They watched the Bettendorf Park Band, of which I'm a member, open its 2017 season with selections from Wagner, Reinke and Sousa. 

My horn sat in a barn for 17 years until, last year, I decided to again pick it up. I sit with the second trombones in a section that's littered with talent. Music teachers, long-time musicians and even a city planner anchor the section.

And then, there's me. On a good day, I hit 85 percent of the notes. I'm the one most likely to miss a key change, a glaring mistake that tosses the entire section into momentary chaos. My peers suffer me, though. With each week, more skills come back, fewer mistakes are made.

There's been a lot of talk about the National Endowment for the Arts, targeted for elimination in President Donald Trump's draft budget. Liberals love to point out that NEA's total annual funding, $146 million, would be less than public spending protecting Trump Tower in New York if the first lady stays there the entire year. 

A cute jab, for sure, which speaks to twisted priorities. But Trump's proposed beheading of the NEA didn't come from nowhere. It's the ultimate end for an argument, long held by conservative intellectuals, that the government should have no role in arts funding.

Fox News' Tucker Carlson offered a dumbed-down version last week, calling the NEA "in effect, welfare for rich, liberal elites." Public arts funding is the pet project of wealthy coastal urbanites, the argument goes. The oft-ignored fly-over states get nothing from publicly supported arts programs. Tell that to anyone who benefited from "Sesame Street."

Bettendorf Park Band, a not-for-profit entity, is sponsored by the city's Parks and Recreation Department. Every Thursday, about 50 musicians pack into a public space and rehearse. The organization lives on a blend of public support, its endowment and a one-time $15 fee for new members, which gets you the requisite T-shirt. And, every couple months, the band plays free concerts for those who love music. 

At the professional level, public support is instrumental for the arts in the Quad-Cities. The Figge Art Museum and Putnam Museum thrive largely due to Davenport's continued funding. Davenport's Adler Theatre is a regular host for the Quad-Cities Symphony. 

Last month, I attended a Quad-Cities Symphony performance. I went, in part, because the guest soprano was highly regarded. But, also, I saw that Strauss was on the playbill. Just maybe, I wanted to feel sad, an emotion in which the German composer excelled.

The crowd was respectable. The wine was passable. And the symphony surpassed my expectations. For fleeting moments, all in attendance were removed from the struggles of our own lives. The woman next to me wiped her eyes as a few tears smeared her makeup. 

The region's live music scene, in general, punches above its weight. So, too, does its classical arts scene.

And that's because people do care. Some can afford to make big donations. They get their names listed in programs and can claim bragging rights among the monied set.

The rest of us buy tickets and pay taxes. The rest of us donate cash and used instruments to Bettendorf Park Band's "Build a Band" program for aspiring young musicians. The rest of us join government-backed community bands and stumble through particularly quick circus marches. 

The rest of us show up and dispel the myth that the arts are only for those "coastal liberal elites." 

Jon Alexander is editorial page editor at the Quad-City Times. He can be reached at jalexander@qctimes.com