It’s Time to Kon-Mari Our Careers

March of 2020: Performances were canceled mid-rehearsal cycle. Some managed to pay the musicians. Most did not. That seemed horribly unfair. 


May 2020: Still no gigs, and all summer concerts, camps, and festivals canceled. With no work for the foreseeable future, musicians were left feeling the burn. 


July 2020: Receiving unemployment benefits for freelance musicians was a tricky, almost un-navigatable mess. The system was NOT set up for people who have a mix of different income streams. Some 1099, others W-2. It felt like the whole system was rigged against gig workers. 


September 2020: While sports teams around the world were “making it work” concert halls remained shuttered. A few people did a few live streams, but overall, musicians started to realize that their current career MO was not sustainable. Not only that, but some aspects of it weren’t all that great to begin with. 



And with all of that newfound free time, musicians began to dream about different projects they could do. Projects that they’ve kinda sorta been wanting to do for years. Start a festival, create a new kind of concert series, program and highlight a different genre of music. 


New concepts. New paradigms. New visions of how a classical music industry could look…


If only…


And so many great projects were born. Student and professional musicians gathered online from around the globe. Friends and Family were able to watch, support, and enjoy live-streamed concerts that they otherwise would have had to miss, and there was growing energy around the idea that things were not working before. 


If concerts were so slow to return because the general public didn’t care about classical music? Then we needed to find ways to connect with our wider communities in a deeper way. 


Is the freelance model not creating enough stability? Perhaps there is a better way? 



September 2021: The concert halls start opening up, and the emails start coming in. Musicians are so relieved to be able to make music again. To feel “like themselves” again. Income is returning, bills are getting paid, and stress levels are lowering. 


As a cellist myself, of course, I am thrilled that concerts are coming back, and I don’t begrudge anyone who decides (for whatever reason) that they are happier, after all, just going back to the way things were. 


But I know many folks are left with the nagging feeling that things can improve. Business models can shift, evolve, and adapt–at both the institutional and the personal levels. New projects can (and should!) get launched, and a more stable financial existence doesn’t negate artistic integrity. That they can be a performing musician and create that new thing. And that with the additional income from their new project, maybe they could shape their performance work to only include concerts they were excited about.  


As I wrote last week, this is going to be a huge year of experimentation for all of us. I think that as we return to the work we did pre-pandemic, it’ll feel a bit like trying on a pair of jeans from March 2020. They might be a bit too snug (damn you, Ben and Jerry’s!) or even a little too loose (I wish!) or they might fit just right. It’ll be up to us to decide whether we keep them, toss them, or find a way to alter them to fit our lives and priorities better. 



The alternative is to keep showing up, slightly uncomfortable, until we simply get used to things again. Enacting change takes effort, time, and commitment. It’s not always easy, but it is always worth it. 

September 2022?: It’s up to us to decide.





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