A Flutist Makes Ends Meet With Music

Hear Tod Brody Play

  • Tod Brody, flute/piccolo, with Eric Zivian, piano
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hide captionTod Brody has found creative ways of earning a living in music by taking a wide variety of jobs.

John Martin

Tod Brody's office in a cavernous Victorian in downtown Petaluma, Calif. isn't hard to find. Just follow the music. Since he was eight years old, Brody has spent hours each day playing the flute. He's a boyish-looking 55-year-old with responsibilities. He's married with three children. Together, he and his wife support a household.

"I have seven or eight regular music jobs that I do," says Brody. "I play in two different orchestras and I play with a musical theatre company, and I play with an orchestra that works with a large choral group."

On average, Brody works an 80-hour week. He once dreamed of getting a well-paid staff position with the San Francisco Symphony, considered one of the world's finest. But he had a lot of company. "There were around 400 people who applied, and somewhere around 200 actually came to audition," he says. "This is for a single position."

Brody made it to the top five, but didn't get the gig. For years, he worked a part-time job at a medical lab to support himself and his family. Eventually he was offered part-time but permanent positions with several small local orchestras. His jobs also include teaching flute and running a non-profit group for composers.

Festival Opera in Walnut Creek, Calif., is among Brody's jobs. He plays during its two-opera summer season. He gets about $1,300 for four rehearsals and four shows.

The feeling among the musicians in the orchestra pit is one of familiarity. Like Brody, most of musicians have cobbled together a living by playing in small orchestras and taking what work comes their way. This season at Festival Opera they are playing Puccini's Turandot — an opera Brody likes because there is plenty of flute music.

For Brody, the upside of having so many jobs is that he gets to play a large variety of music — not just the classics, but newly composed music. Brody is a member of Earplay, a new music chamber orchestra. "We do commissioned works that have been written expressly for us. It's really an adventure, to take something that's never been heard before and bring it to life." The conductor of Earplay, Mary Chen, says Brody has been successful as a flutist because of his technical proficiency.

In an average year, Brody says he does between 60 and 100 performances. He won't say exactly what he's making, but with two children in graduate school and a four-year-old at home, he doesn't expect to retire any time soon. The truth is that Brody really can't imagine ever giving up the flute. It takes a lot of work to make it pay, but he feels lucky.

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