Navigating the pandemic: Facing the music one note at a time

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay.

By Mark G. Auerbach

If you’re running a small business or nonprofit, sometimes you have to think outside the box to adjust to changing times. Such is the case with the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit the music industry hard, from orchestras to ensembles to individual musicians. One orchestra and one individual are taking bold steps in our region.

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra: Seeking relief for its musicians

The Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO), a regional orchestra in Western Massachusetts, was celebrating its 76th season when the pandemic hit. It has a 10 to 12 concert season, two youth orchestras, a chorus, and a lot of education and outreach activities. Its 71 musicians are primarily freelancers, who play with the SSO, other regional orchestras in New England, in small ensembles that perform in churches and assisted living facilities, in theatre pit bands, and clubs.. Some teach, but as freelancers, they piece together a career of playing here and there.

The SSO is a class act, with a world-renowned conductor, Kevin Rhodes, who also pieces together a career as music director of two orchestras and a chamber orchestra in the USA and in opera houses and ballet theatres in Europe, where he’s a sought-after conductor.

When the pandemic hit, the orchestra had to cancel the final third of its season, which meant significant loss of work for its musicians. As freelancers, they don’t have benefits that larger orchestras offer their players, and all modes of other work dwindled as schools, churches, clubs, and theatres closed down. The orchestra also took a major financial hit, because it lost about one-third of its ticket sales revenue plus income from educational concerts and a gala.

Understanding the importance of their musicians, the SSO launched a Musicians’ Relief Fund, seeking corporate and individual donations for a special fund to support its contracted freelance musicians. According to the organization’s executive director, Susan Beaudry, all of the monies raised will go directly to the musicians in need. The orchestra will not take any money for administrative costs. The orchestra has launched an aggressive social media campaign, and will participate in the national fundraising initiative, Giving Tuesday Now.

As Beaudry said in an interview with the ArtsBeat Radio/TV special “How We’re Doing,” the musicians are the core of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, and without them, there’s no music.

According to John Anz, the SSO’s goal with the Musicians’ Relief Fund is $15,000-$20,000, and the campaign will continue, as long as there’s a need. People can participate at

James Barry: Requests and dedications

James Barry is the Western Massachusetts-based actor, director, and musician, who may be best known nationally for either starring in, or acting as musical director for the Broadway hit, Million Dollar Quartet. He’s had a busy couple of years, starring in productions at Berkshire Theatre Group and Chester Theatre Company, directing the acclaimed BTG production of Working, and prepping to star opposite his wife, actor Tara Franklin, at Chester. He also played in numerous clubs in the Berkshires, and waited tables at a couple of places in between gigs.

As the pandemic hit, he had a full calendar: directing his first non-musical at Chester, remounting a production of Million Dollar Quartet for the Cape Playhouse, and more. He was booked until the end of the summer, when he planned to begin a MFA graduate program in playwriting at Smith College. And within days, all of it, the acting, directing, and even the fall-back waitering, was gone.

So, Barry came up with a novel project. He’d perform “requests” from people and post them to YouTube. People could reach out to him choose the song and the dedication, and pay a fee per song. Barry would, in turn, donate 50% of the fee to a non-profit, and keep 50%. His wife and son Sam often perform with him. Those who order a song get something special, and Barry’s YouTube song posts bring more business and more exposure.

When we spoke in late April, he had completed 59 requests, and had 75 waiting to be recorded. Barry markets his business on Instagram and Twitter as @jamesbarrylovesyou. His YouTube channel is under James Barry, and he has a Facebook page and a website,

Two examples of his work:

The Fox, performed by Barry, Franklin and Sam Barry.

Somebody to Lean On, performed by the Barrys.

James Barry talked about his experiences on “How We’re Doing,” an ArtsBeat special. Segment begins at: 13:12.


Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn. Mark also produces ArtsBeat in print in The Westfield News, on radio for Pioneer Valley Radio and 89.5fm/WSKB, and on TV at WCPC15.

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