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The Coronavirus Economy: How my job as a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra changed

March 18, 2020, 5:00 PM UTC

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Carol Jantsch holds the principal tuba chair with the Philadelphia Orchestra and was the first—and remains the only—female tuba player in a major symphony orchestra in the United States. After studying at the University of Michigan, Jantsch landed the job in Philadelphia in 2006, two weeks shy of her 21st birthday. In addition to performing with the orchestra, the musician teaches at the Yale School of Music. She also founded Tubular, a brass band playing covers ranging from the Beatles to Beyoncé.

Last week, orchestra members learned they would be on hiatus until April 11, but the most recent CDC guidelines call for a ban on large gatherings for at least the next eight weeks. Jantsch is a salaried employee, so she will be paid for the foreseeable future.

Fortune spoke with Jantsch for a new series, The Coronavirus Economy, to ask about how COVID-19 has affected her employment status and her plans for the future, and to get a sense of how she has been handling this news, both emotionally and financially.


Jantsch: I’ve been with the orchestra for 14 years. Typically, we have rehearsals earlier in the week for the concerts. We change programs every week during the subscription season, so we’ll have three or four rehearsals on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday for concerts Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and sometimes Sunday. That’s the amount of time that we are at the Kimmel Center [performing arts venue] as a unit rehearsing, but it’s expected that you are prepared before that. So you have to do your daily maintenance to make sure you can play and also prepare your parts before you get there, because rehearsals aren’t for learning your parts, they’re for putting all the parts together. You practice at home, or when I lived a block away, I would walk to the Kimmel Center and practice there. You could usually find a space to practice alone. All together there are just shy of 100 people in the orchestra. Rehearsals are two, two-and-a-half hours.

Our subscription season is usually September to May. In the summer, we’re at the Mann Center for part of it, and we do neighborhood concerts for some of it. We do two weeks in Colorado every July and three weeks in upstate New York every August. So we’re on the road about eight weeks a year.

Carol Jantsch holds the principal tuba chair with the Philadelphia Orchestra and remains the only female tuba player in a major symphony orchestra in the United States.
Rob Shanahan

[Most recently, the orchestra] was actually performing a Beethoven series—playing all nine Beethoven symphonies in the course of four weeks. That was a huge undertaking. Beethoven died just a few years before the tuba was invented—the tuba was invented in the 1830s and Beethoven died in 1827—so I am already off for this month. Now they’re in the same boat as me. I’m on a bunch of committees, so I’ve still been communicating with my colleagues, and they’re pretty devastated to not be able to play.

My last concert was March 7. We had meetings with management. The orchestra was rehearsing on March 10, 11, and 12 for the Beethoven series. Their last rehearsal was March 12. They had an orchestra meeting after the dress rehearsal for the concert that night, where they learned that everything was canceled—at that point it was through March 23. What they did is really cool, though. They did a live broadcast of the concert. They had prepared the concert fully, so it was a shame not to play it. They performed the concert to an empty hall on Thursday night and broadcast it online. You can still watch it on Facebook Live. I wasn’t there for it, because it was the first week of Beethoven, but they got the first couple of symphonies out there. There’s not going to be any full orchestra performances like that for the rest of the month. Originally everything was canceled through March 23, but then I got a phone call from the Kimmel Center saying they canceled everything through April 11. Because we play in the Kimmel Center, then, we’re off until April 11, which is exactly the date I was supposed to come back to work. When we get back, we’re scheduled to play Strauss, which has a really great tuba part.

I also do an annual event called Tuba PlayIn. It’s a free event; we invite tuba players of all ages and skill levels to come play on Verizon Hall stage with us. We perform, and I make all the arrangements. I turn The Blue Danube waltz and the Game of Thrones theme into tuba ensemble music, and we just play it together at the hall. That’s supposed to be on April 18. I’m hoping it can still happen. It’s hard to say right now where we’ll be. But that’s something I work really hard on every year, and it would be a huge bummer if it didn’t happen. Maybe we can postpone it, but there’s gonna be a lot of other stuff that gets postponed too.

It’s really worrisome, though, for the orchestra, because we’re nonprofit. All performing arts organizations are going to get hit really hard in this time. We rely on ticket sales, but also we rely mostly on philanthropy. And the fact that there are no events…that’s gonna hit us hard. I’m worried about the long-term implications. We’ll probably have to dip into our endowment, which is probably down because the stock market is doing so poorly. And then people are going to donate less because of all that. So we’re just trying to work together to be okay. We don’t even know, are we gonna be back that week in April? Are people going to want to come? It’s hard to say.

I also play in a group called Tubular—it’s two euphoniums, two tubas, and drums, and we also all do vocals. We do all kinds of music. We did the entire Beatles Sgt. Pepper album last fall at [Philadelphia bar and music venue] Johnny Brenda’s. We were going to play a gig at Franky Bradley’s on April 3, but we had to cancel that because my friends in the group are in military bands in Maryland and D.C. and they have a strict no-travel policy—I think their radius is 75 miles from the base until May 11. We’ll do another gig another time, but that was our next gig and we haven’t done anything since our recording sessions in January. I know them from Michigan. It’s a super fun group. We played Led Zeppelin, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Queen. Anything I arrange, we play. It’s become a really fun hobby, turning pop music into tuba band music.

It’s hard because musicians live to share their art with people, and to not be able to get people together to do that is pretty devastating. And then, what kinds of things bring people solace? Music. Online, virtual stuff is great, but there’s a different feeling when you’re there in person that you just can’t recreate online.

So hopefully it’s only for this month.

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