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The Business Of Music: Perspectives On The Struggling Economy

South-Central Indiana is chock full of part-time musicians who cobble together a living by playing in the many regional orchestras in this area. As the economy took a plunge and arts organizations started tightening their belts, these musicians felt the effects in their bank accounts.

Artworks spoke with two such musicians in 2009 to find out how they were being affected. I recently caught back up with them to find out how their musical lives have changed since last year and where they see their careers growing in the future.

Jack of All Trades

Mary Moran spent three years in Indiana playing viola in regional orchestras in Columbus, Terre Haute, Evansville, and even Owensboro, Kentucky. She now lives with her husband in El Paso, Texas. She says she has started teaching violin lessons as well as viola lessons in order to make herself more marketable as a private teacher.

"I can't control when people are going to call me for gigs," she say, "but as long as I have students, it helps to keep my income steady."

In addition to her private studio, she does play viola with the El Paso Symphony Orchestra. Unlike in Indiana, she says, the El Paso area does not include as many smaller orchestras with which she could play. So, she supplements her income by playing weddings and informal gigs, like private parties – anything to get her name out.

Moran says networking is key to getting hired to play gigs.  "It really just takes one gig," she adds. "You show people that you do a good job and you're a pleasant person and that you show up on time. I know those sound like basic things, but for anything you do, that's really important!"

Getting to the Next Level

In addition to networking, musicians use word of mouth to secure gigs.

Krista Weiss recently finished school at Indiana University and now makes a living plays clarinet with various regional orchestras, like the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic and the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra. She says thanks to connections she's made with other musicians in South-Central Indiana, she has music teaching job at Indiana State University that now takes up most of her time.

"When some of the other faculty members heard that there was a clarinet opening, they all know me through the symphony, and they encouraged me to apply," she says.

Weiss sees this new job as something that will propel her to the next level of her career, which she hopes will be a full-time orchestra.

Moran, on the other hand, has found stability in building a private studio and seeking out performance opportunities on her own.  "In some ways, I'm a little bit happier now because I'm not so focused on professional auditions for full-time symphony orchestras," she says. "So, despite not doing those sorts of things, I'm working a lot and I love that."

One Orchestra's Journey

Both Weiss and Moran have performed with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic. While Columbus is probably best known for its architecture, this town of 40,000 people has been supporting its regional orchestra for 23 years.

"It's wonderful that people can stay in Columbus and hear the classics; that they don't have to come to Bloomington or go to Indianapolis," says Alice Curry, Executive Director of the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic. Along with Music Director David Bowden, Curry has been with the orchestra since its formation in 1987.

Budgeting for Success

Due to the difficult economic conditions, Curry says they prepared for the worst when planning the Philharmonic's 2009-2010 season, budgeting for a $38,000 deficit. They cut rehearsals, cut wages, and reduced staff. However, when the season ended in July 2010, she says they found themselves with a $14,000 surplus.

Curry sites single ticket sales as one reason for the healthy budget.  She also says that inviting guest artists like Dan McKinley who are well-known by the Columbus community help ticket sales.  "And, we did a sports-themed concert that brought in people who had probably never been to a Philharmonic concert," she adds. "So, variety has been the password."

Attending Over and Over Again

Getting single ticket buyers to return for future concerts is one of her goals.  Curry says making Philharmonic concerts "a night out" is one way to encourage repeat visitors.  In addition to holding receptions after the concerts and offering ticket discounts, Musically Speaking, the Philharmonic's pre-concert lecture series, gives the audience a backstage look at what they will hear during the concert.

"We try to make our events events, that they don't just walk in the door, sit down in their seats, listen to a concert and leave," she comments.

Saving for the Future

Thanks to the surplus in the budget, the board of directors has reinstated rehearsals that had previously been canceled and some pay cuts will be reversed.  In spite of all the good economic news, Curry is cautious. "The economy is dictating to us 'Don't get too excited here. Continue that conservative aspect you had last year.'"

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