Musicians Make Ends Meet Every year American colleges, universities and conservatories graduate hundreds of trained classical musicians. Only a small handful will be able to get full-time salaried work with a major orchestra. Yet flutist Tod Brody has managed to find a way to pay the bills with his music.

A Flutist Makes Ends Meet With Music

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Money might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of trained, classical musicians. Of the thousands who graduate every year from American colleges, universities and conservatories, not many land a full-time, salaried job with a major orchestra. But many do manage to pay the bills with their music.

As part of our series on How Artists Make a Living, NPR's Laura Sydell has this profile of a classical flutist.

LAURA SYDELL: Tod Brody's office in a cavernous Victorian in downtown Petaluma, California, isn't hard to find. Just follow the music.

(Soundbite of music)

SYDELL: Since he was eight years old, Brody has spent hours each day playing the flute. Today he's practicing a Bach Partita.

(Soundbite of music)

SYDELL: Brody has to be prepared, because he serves a lot more masters than Bach.

Mr. TOD BRODY (Flutist): I have, I guess, seven or eight regular music jobs that I do. I play in two different opera orchestras, and I play with a musical theater company and I play with an orchestra that works with a large choral group. And I also play with…

SYDELL: You get the idea. Brody is busy. On average, he works an 80-hour week. His jobs include teaching flute and running a nonprofit group for composers. He's a boyish-looking 55-year-old with responsibilities. He's married. He has three children. Together, he and his wife support a household.

Brody 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.

Mr. BRODY: There were around 400 people who applied, who sent their materials. And somewhere around 200 actually came to audition. This is for a single position.

SYDELL: Brody made it to the top five, but he didn't get the gig. For many 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.

Mr. BRODY: Each one of them has come about through an evolution, a series of connections, or getting a chance to play with somebody and doing a good job and then getting the next call to do that and it leading to something more long term.

(Soundbite of music)

SYDELL: Festival Opera in Walnut Creek is among Brody's jobs. He plays during its two-opera summer season. He gets about $1,300 for four rehearsals and four shows. In the orchestra pit at a recent performance, the feeling among the musicians was one of familiarity.

Ms. MICHELLE KOMODO(ph) (Flutist): Ew, get out of here.

Mr. BRODY: Oh, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SYDELL: Like Brody, most of musicians here have cobbled together a living by playing in small orchestras and taking what work comes their way. Flutist Michelle Komodo does video games and movie soundtracks, too.

Ms. KOMODO: If you consider video games and movie soundtracks classical, I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman: (unintelligible)

Ms. KOMODO: Yeah.

SYDELL: Tonight at Festival Opera, they are playing Puccini's "Turandot," an opera both of them like because there's plenty of flute music.

(Soundbite of opera, "Turandot")

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

SYDELL: 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.

Mr. BRODY: It means oftentimes working with the composer of the piece, many times playing music that's never been played before.

SYDELL: Brody is a member of Earplay, a new music chamber orchestra.

Mr. BRODY: We do commissioned works that have been written expressly for us. It's really an adventure, taking something that's never been heard before and bringing it to life.

(Soundbite of music, "Nataraja")

SYDELL: This is Brody performing "Nataraja" composed by Jonathan Harvey.

(Soundbite of music, "Nataraja")

SYDELL: The conductor of Earplay, Mary Chen, says Brody has been successful as a flutist because of his technical proficiency.

Ms. MARY CHEN (Conductor, Earplay): That includes not only how he plays his instrument, but also includes this awareness and ability to try different things with his instrument that will allow a composer to let his piece speak.

(Soundbite of song, "Nataraja")

SYDELL: 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 anytime soon.

Mr. BRODY: I'm hoping I can continue doing this into my 80s, 90s, I don't know. Maybe I'll be the first 100-year-old professional flutist.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SYDELL: 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.

Mr. BRODY: I almost think of it as something that I'm getting away with doing.

SYDELL: Although summer is actually the slowest time of the year for Brody, he never really stops. Next week he'll play in the pit orchestra for the California Musical Theater in Sacramento.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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