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From Symphony Orchestras To Wedding Bands, Musicians Cope With The Coronavirus

Left to right: Jennifer Koh, Molly Kirk Palier and Rory Ferreira
Juergen Frank, Liz Rhode
Courtesy of the artists
Left to right: Jennifer Koh, Molly Kirk Palier and Rory Ferreira

With a societal shift away from buying albums, touring has been one of the main ways for musicians to support themselves. But now, as the coronavirus precautions shut down public spaces, clubs and concert halls are empty, the tour buses are parked and artists are trying to figure out how they'll get by in an era of social distancing.

To try to get a sense of how artists are coping with the loss of their main source of revenue and what they can do to offset that loss, NPR's Ari Shapiro spoke to three musicians from three different genres about how their lives have changed over the past weeks: Jennifer Koh, a classical violinist who plays with symphony orchestras all over the world, joins us from New York; the rapper Rory Ferreira, who performs R.A.P. Ferreira, joins us from Nashville; and Molly Kirk Parlier, who performs with the Bluewater Kings Band, a group that plays weddings and corporate events, joins us in Charleston, Ill.

Listen to their conversation at the radio above, and read on for highlights of the interview.

Interview Highlights

On the impact of canceled performances

Jennifer Koh:I remembered very clearly what it had been like when I was younger, and how much every week of work would make a difference and I couldn't make ends meet in a month. So I realized it was much worse for many other members of my community. I don't even really have savings, I just have fees coming in from performances I did. So if this goes on into June, then really I also will be in trouble. But to be honest, I'm more concerned with finding funding for my colleagues that are younger and more at risk.

For classical music, in terms of streaming, we don't really have the ability to monetize as much as other fields of music, because for us the place where we are able to make income is really from live performances. I think right now, we're in an incredibly fragile position, all of us freelancers. And it's very scary. For me, I love collaborating with people, I love my fellow artists, but I don't know how we'll get through this time.

Molly Kirk Parlier:Starting on Sunday, we started to see all of our fundraising events and corporate events getting canceled but we all thought that perhaps the weddings were going to stay put. Weddings as a whole are considered recession-proof: People continue to get married and have weddings, they just scale back the budget a little bit. But then once our governor started restrictions of under 150 people, under 100 people and then the CDC recommended under 50 people, we started to see all of our weddings either get canceled, or we're working on rescheduling the dates. My husband's a drummer in the band, we have no income from any kind of performances coming in for at least the next few months.

Rory Ferreira: Nashville, about a week and a half, two weeks ago, was just hit by a tornado. So the first show [of my tour] was here at home and all the proceeds are going to Gideon's Army, to rebuild efforts and whatnot. So we did that show, but even on day one we knew we were canceling all other 20 shows after that. I'm kind of proud of that. Most rappers I know canceled tours before any governor or Senator or president said anything. We take our audience serious, our health serious — a lot of us don't have health insurance, so that's not something we really want to gamble with.

On what musicians are doing to make ends meet

Molly Kirk Parlier: A lot of our musicians who play in our band are performing concerts live on Facebook and on Instagram, and they're asking for just tips via Venmo or QuickPay or any other app. I think that people think musicians — particularly jobbing musicians, which is what we call ourselves in the wedding industry — do this for fun and that it's a hobby and not that it is our primary source of income and how we pay our bills and how we pay our mortgages. So I think if you have friends or family that are in this world, look up and see what they're doing online right now and see if you can help them out. If they're creating new music, in the case of Jennifer and Rory, as well as just playing some cover songs from their living room, perhaps you can send them $20 on Venmo and really support them.

Rory Ferreira:Most of my peers down here are doing the exact same thing you just heard — they're streaming, they're making work live and broadcasting that and giving it an audience online. Obviously with social distancing, we're not able to share our art in the most ideal way, but to me it seems like here in Nashville, musicians are focused on maintaining their ability, their edge, their craft and that inspires me.

We're not the only occupation or people with these kind of perilous questions hanging over us, but we are an occupation that affects and inspires others. So at this time, I'm seeing a focus on that sort of social duty to be naive. It looks like a lot of performing for nothing, for free. I know homies who have started dropping their records online down to zero, just to get people to click on their page and see what they're doing, monetizing YouTube videos, doing things like that.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.