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Brother, Can You Spare A Gig? 06:18

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Mezzo-soprano Ja-Nae Duane is in her thirties, but she has been hitting the high notes since she was 13. At age 18, she sang at the White House. She has performed at top venues such as Lincoln Center in New York and Jordan Hall in Boston. Her opera career seemed to be right on track, Duane said, until this year.

"I haven't done any singing since May," Duane said.


She was supposed to sing with the Granite State Opera in New Hampshire this season, but "that fell through because they had to shut their doors." Then, Duane said, the job she won at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, was canceled because of funding issues.

"To have two gigs fall through within three weeks of one another is devastating," Duane said. "It's one thing to be a musician and not be able to do it full time because you can't afford it as a singer, but it's another thing to have these little glimmers of light just sort of dash away."

Finding humor in the situation, Duane laughed, adding, "It's been an interesting year."

The life of a freelance musician has never been easy, but the current economic downturn is making things a lot harder for working performers in all genres. CD sales are down; orchestras are slashing budgets; gigs at weddings, corporate events and rock clubs are drying up.

"I don't know what's going to happen this coming year," said Fred Aldrich, a freelance french horn player. "I would suspect that we're going to see less work."


Aldrich is 50 years old and has played the Boston Symphony, the Boston Ballet and the Boston Lyric Opera. He said he's making ends meet, but admits he's more concerned about the less experienced players.

"If people at the very top are being offered less work, they're not going to be able to turn down as much work as they have in the past," Aldrich said, which he worries will create a trickle-down effect all the way down.

Aldrich is on the board of directors for the Boston Musicians Association, a labor union representing more than 1,600 artists. The union's vice president, percussionist John Grimes, says many classical organizations appear to be tightening their budgets by tightening their programming.

Looking at the upcoming fall schedule, Grimes is seeing more smaller pieces with less instrumentation. "That's huge in terms of fear of anticipated reductions," he said, "yet it's all not clear yet — you come back to me in a year and I can tell you how it played out."

Reductions are playing out in other genres, too. Pamela Gouveia manages the pop-rock band Francesca Reggio and Blue Shift. She also plays the keyboard. The band's been together for over a year, the musicians are all 25 years old, and they play at clubs around town. But Gouveia says there are fewer bookings since the recession hit. Clubs are looking for a guaranteed crowd that will pay the cover charge.

"Now they want the headlining bands drawing 40 to 50 people on a Tuesday," Gouveia said, "so it's becoming increasingly difficult, I think, for emerging artists to get gigs who haven't been playing as long in the area."

So, for now, Gouveia said, she and her band mates are holding on to their day jobs.

Flamenco guitarist Juanito Pascual survives by doing a slew of jobs related to his music. He teaches, he tours and he just recorded a CD for $25,000. It was tough cobbling together the funds for it, the 36-year-old says. And the freelance gigs that normally supplement his income have been fleeting. Weddings, anniversaries, corporate gigs.

"In 2007, the number of overall performances per month was around 15, and lately this past year it's been more like three or four per month," Pascual said. "Obviously, percentage-wise, that's drastic."

Cancellations are up, too, Pascal said. But like most freelance musicians, he's used to dealing with uncertainty. If one income source falls through, he says he'll work hard to hustle up another.

This program aired on August 6, 2009.

Andrea Shea Twitter Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.


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