Melissa Tong has a signed poster of Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen in her front room. It’s a memento from her faculty days at USC the place she studied violin efficiency and performed within the college orchestra when he visitor performed. She was an L.A. Phil groupie, attending a live performance a minimum of as soon as per week, and she or he labored for the Hollywood Bowl for a number of summers, chauffeuring stars like BD Wong, Alan Cumming, Tito Puente and Maceo Parker.
After commencement Tong moved to New York Metropolis and started the arduous strategy of carving out a profession for herself as a contract classical violinist. At first, she took each gig that got here her means. She performed with orchestras all around the metropolis’s boroughs, and she or he toured with pop stars together with Sara Bareilles . She existed on a gentle stream of 1099 tax kinds — the de facto weight loss program of an impartial contractor.
Then, two years in the past, whereas at dinner together with her companion, she bought a name that modified her life: She was employed for a Broadway orchestra gig on the brand new jukebox musical, “Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Occasions of the Temptations.” She began crying on the desk.
“It was the primary time I used to be going to have monetary safety in my life,” Tong recollects. “Along with being my very first predictable weekly paycheck on a W2, it was an absolute dream job.” (A Broadway pit musician can herald between $1,000 and $2,000 per week minimal, plus additional if they’re enjoying multiple instrument or make an look onstage.)
Tong lived in that near-perfect narrative for a yr earlier than the COVID-19 pandemic added an unwelcome plot twist within the type of shuttered theaters and shattered goals.
Her reminiscence of the times main as much as the March 12 Broadway shutdown are nonetheless vivid. Attendance numbers had been starting to dip, and on March 3, in the course of the present’s finale, when the orchestra seems on stage, Tong remembers trying up at an eerily empty balcony and seeing an viewers member in a masks.
This time has confirmed that I’m a musician to the core. I need — and want — to play music.”
Melissa Tong, violin
“The whole lot went into surreal mode for a minute, and I simply had this queasy feeling,” Tong says.
The orchestra saved in contact after the shutdown, and the present’s producers met with every division individually over the summer season. The query inevitably got here up: If this continues till 2021, how lengthy are you able to dangle in there?
Tong was already working a instructing studio. As a result of she was on tour usually, her college students had been used to studying on-line, and she or he was capable of rapidly pivot to instructing. She additionally did just a few recording tasks from house. At first, she couldn’t accumulate unemployment due to her instructing gig however ultimately she grew to become eligible for support.
Between instructing and unemployment, she managed to remain afloat. She feels lucky that the present has continued to supply medical insurance for its members in the course of the downtime. With out it, she could be going through extra bother.
She has good days and unhealthy days.
“At first my type-A classical musician, Manhattan persona kicked in,” she says. “I assumed, ‘I’m going to memorize your complete canon of Johann Sebastian Bach and train two hours a day.’”
That didn’t occur, however she did do yoga instructor coaching, which she had lengthy needed to do. She additionally started providing free courses for important staff.
Broadway is formally shut down via Could, and Tong says she hasn’t but heard any information on a means ahead. She is watching nervously. In January, “Imply Ladies” introduced it could shut for good. Tong hopes that “Ain’t Too Proud” can dangle in there only a bit longer.
“This time has confirmed that I’m a musician to the core,” says Tong. “I need — and want — to play music.”
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