Here Comes Fall! A Week in the Life of Two ROPA Orchestra Musicians

Polyphonic thought it would be interesting to take a look at the lives of “typical” members of regional orchestras, where the orchestra doesn’t pay a living wage. Obviously there is no such thing as a “typical” regional orchestra musician – we all do different things to make ends meet and earn enough to pay the bills.

I asked Barb Wiggin, a fellow violist in the Hartford Symphony, to write because she has three little girls under the age of 10, and her husband is also a musician. Talk about a hectic schedule! I asked Tony D’Amico, a bass player in the Boston area, to write because he plays in Portland Maine (where they put him up for a couple days for a classical series) and Rhode Island, as well as doing many gigs in Boston and even a bit of managerial work. How many miles on your car, Tony?

So, even though everyone’s stories are so very different, here is a look at the life of two “typical” working musicians:

Barbara WigginsMy name is Barbara Wiggin and I’m a free-lance violist in Connecticut. Currently, I hold positions in three area symphony orchestras: Hartford, New Haven, and Eastern Connecticut [in New London]. I also work frequently as a chamber musician. It is very tricky juggling all of these schedules, so I have to be organized. Sometimes I have no work for a couple of weeks and other times I can go from gig to gig every single night for 3 or 4 weeks. I am married and have three wonderful girls ages 9, 7 and 7. My husband is also a free-lance electric bassist and a high school recording technologies teacher. Needless to say, working on the weekends can be quite interesting! Securing a babysitter for night care is extremely challenging.

A typical week when I’m working would go something like this: Monday through Friday I get the kids to school by 8 am (actually 7:45 so they are ready to start at 8). While they are at school I take care of errands, cleaning and make sure to get at least 2 hours of practice in before their return at 2:45 pm. Then it’s time for a snack and homework before I have to start dinner. We eat an organic diet so I cook everything from scratch. My husband usually gets home in time to help me with the end of dinner and then poof! I’m off to a 2 1/2 hour rehearsal. Depending on where I’m playing that week, my commute can be 15 minutes or 50 minutes. That means I don’t get home until 10 or 11 pm.

The weekends mean double services or sometimes triple! That usually means that I will be gone all day and night for a dress rehearsal and concert. And if I have a triple, then I could be gone before the kids even get up and not get back until after they are in bed. Weekends also mean juggling babysitters because my husband will also have gigs in the evenings. It can be really crazy at times but I wouldn’t change a thing. Music is my life and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else!!


Tony D'AmicoMy name is Tony D’Amico and I play the bass in several ROPA orchestras. Being a Boston-based free-lance musician means being within moderately easy driving distance of a fair share of excellent ensembles doing quality work. For me personally, my schedule is grounded by tenured membership in two local ROPA orchestras – The Rhode Island Philharmonic and Portland (ME) Symphony. With an average of 8 classical weeks for each orchestra and other pops and educational productions, these groups form the cornerstone of my work. A somewhat liberal absentee policy helps me to keep these jobs and do other interesting projects closer to home. In Boston proper, I have been principal bass with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project since its inception in 1996. The orchestra focuses on American music written since 1950, and has released dozens of recordings on its own label. I am also a member of the Boston Philharmonic – a unique orchestra made up of dedicated union players, students and enthusiastic amateurs. I began playing with this group back in my student days, and now am a union member and serve as principal bass.

Opera is alive and well in Boston, and I serve as principal bass of one of the two main companies in town – Odyssey Opera. Formed in 2013 from the ashes of Opera Boston, Odyssey Operas specializes in lesser-known operatic works by well known composers. Finally, holes in my schedule are filled in with a myriad of other in-town groups and productions, from touring Broadway shows in the Theatre District to performances and tours with the Boston Pops. To supplement my income, I serve as personnel manager of Odyssey Opera, and operations coordinator of Boston Philharmonic. It’s a hectic life, but I thrive on the diversity of work and variety of styles!

About the author

Ann Drinan
Ann Drinan

Ann Drinan, Senior Editor, has been a member of the Hartford Symphony viola section for over 30 years. She is a former Chair of the Orchestra Committee, former member of the HSO Board, and has served on many HSO committees. She is also the Executive Director of CONCORA (CT Choral Artists), a professional chorus based in Hartford and New Britain, founded by Artistic Director Richard Coffey. Ann was a member of the Advisory Board of the Symphony Orchestra Institute (SOI), and was the HSO ROPA delegate for 14 years, serving as both Vice President and President of ROPA. In addition to playing the viola and running CONCORA, Ann is a professional writer and editor, and has worked as a consultant and technical writer for software companies in a wide variety of industries for over 3 decades. (She worked for the Yale Computer Science Department in the late 70s, and thus has been on the Internet, then called the DARPAnet, since 1977!) She is married to Algis Kaupas, a sound recordist, and lives a block from Long Island Sound in Branford CT. Together they create websites for musicians:

Ann holds a BA in Music from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and an MA in International Relations from Yale University.

Read Ann Drinan's blog here.

Leave a Reply