D-FW Indie Classical Musicians Seek Other Ways To Stay Afloat
Among arts professionals affected by COVID-19 cancellations, independent classical musicians – who rely on performances as their primary source of income – have been particularly affected.
“It’s scary not knowing when you’ll be able to pay your bills again,” says Eric Smith, freelance cellist and co-founder of the American Baroque Opera Co.
Now Smith and other North Texas freelancers are facing tough decisions. Many have started teaching online, while others are looking for other ways to generate income.
This week Miguel Cantú IV, freelance violist and co-founder of ABOC, starts working at the Central Market. There, he’ll fill online orders for curbside pickup.
Delivery and driving services like Lyft or Uber are options, but they come with an increased risk of contracting the virus. Brian Brown, a French horn player who performs for the Dallas Opera and submarines for the Dallas and Fort Worth Symphonies, started driving for DoorDash last week. He also teaches video lessons and takes coding lessons online.
“When you start out as a freelance writer, you have to have other sources of income,” he says. “It’s like going back to square one.”
Full-time members of large organizations like the Dallas or Fort Worth Symphony supplement their income by teaching and freelance work. Many brass instruments, for example, perform in Easter services for churches in the area.
But freelancers are more vulnerable to changes in the economy. They usually sign contracts with a force majeure clause, which allows either party to cancel the contract in the event of extraordinary events. Opera singers, for example, are worried about whether this clause will be invoked if their summer engagements are canceled.
Freelancers also don’t get the same benefits as full-time contract musicians. While some receive health insurance through their spouse’s plans, others pay out of pocket, if they can afford it.
“Should we land on a trip to the ER or should we go to a CareNow [Urgent Care], it would take money that we saved for accommodation and food, ”explains Cantú, who, with her husband, is not insured.
Several musicians compared the situation to the 2008 recession. “It was a dress rehearsal for now,” says Brown.
However, he pointed out some differences. In 2008, classical music organizations could still organize performances. They just had to cut concerts and find other ways to cut costs. From now on, all performances are canceled.
These cancellations come at a particularly bad time for many musicians. Due to Easter, April is a peak month for singers and instrumentalists performing in churches. St. Matthew’s Cathedral recently put its nine singers on leave and reduced its music director and organist, Keith Franks, to half his salary.
“It stopped abruptly,” says Katrina Burggraf-Kledas, who has performed freelance in Dallas since 1997. She has performed for groups such as Verdigris Ensemble, Orpheus Chamber Singers and the New Spain Orchestra, and she relies on freelance for 100% of his income. “I now live on my money for rainy days,” she says.
Burggraf-Kledas is not only facing a financial toll. There is also the feeling of connection that comes when singing in a choir. “It’s very difficult for us not to be together,” she said. “It’s like you’ve been cut off from your family.”
In addition to the hardships experienced by the musicians, organizations in the region are in shock. This includes not only the Dallas Symphony and the Dallas Opera, but also small and medium sized groups.
In March, the Plano Symphony Orchestra – made up of 35 musicians on one-year contracts and paid freelancers per concert – achieved a hit of $ 92,000 in just one week. Due to a policy in place between the symphony and the musicians that the orchestra must give them 21 days notice before making a change, the PSO paid its musicians for six performances that were canceled.
“We had to honor our obligations to our musicians,” explains Robert Reed, general manager of the PSO. However, orchestra members will not be paid for the subscription concert that was scheduled for April.
Classical music institutions across the country face similar conditions. “From top to bottom, our businesses face enormous challenges. It was catastrophic, ”said Marc Scorca, President and CEO of Opera America.
“In some ways, small businesses are more nimble. They can postpone something from this season to next season, because next season is not completely planned and contracted, ”he said. Big companies don’t have the same flexibility, but they do. have access to endowments and lines of credit that small businesses do not have.
The situation is not entirely grim, however. More than a few freelancers were able to maintain a few concerts. For example, Erin Thomas, a viola who works part-time for an insurance company, has pre-recorded services with eight-person choirs for churches in North Texas.
The Church of the Incarnation Choir employs 12 singers who now perform Sunday services as a quartet on a weekly, rotating basis. Along with the rest of the staff, these musicians continue to be paid, says Scott Dettra, cantor and music director for the church.
The American Federation of Musicians, Local 72-147, has launched a COVID-19 relief fund to help its more than 1,300 members “weather the storm,” said Stewart Williams, chapter president. “Our membership consists of virtually all of the professional musicians in Dallas-Fort Worth who were immediately affected by the loss of employment and engagement,” he says.
This open call for donations is available at musiciansdfw.org/dfw-musicians-covid-19-relief-fund. Information on additional emergency funds for musicians is available at icareifyoulisten.com.
Nationally, the $ 2 trillion relief bill, enacted on March 27, has provided several opportunities for independent entrepreneurs. Self-employed musicians now have access to expanded unemployment benefits and can apply for economic disaster loans as well as paycheck protection program loans.
“This is just the start,” says Heather Noonan, vice president of advocacy at the League of American Orchestras. “The aid passed by Congress was meant to be a short-term emergency fix to help people stay afloat. We know that won’t be enough to keep self-employed workers in business for months. “
Musicians interested in learning more about unemployment benefits, says Noonan, should check their state’s Department of Labor website.
CORRECTED at 9:05 am on April 7 to include the full name of Katrina Burggraf-Kledas.