Local musicians among thousands struggling without work during coronavirus crisis

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Musicians are among the thousands who have lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including those who play music at nearly every venue in the Chicago-area.

"I think we're all experiencing panic and fear of the unknown, especially as a musician," said Elise Dalleska, a violinist who had a bride cancel her June musical performance while conducting this interview. "It's happening way out."

Chicago - a city of music - is now silent. No live music at concerts, theaters, bars, restaurants, religious celebrations, or weddings. Since musicians generally have an audience, no crowds means no performances.

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The Center for Disease Control says you should avoid large groups of people and stay at least 6 feet away from the nearest person.

Dalleska is just one of about 2,000 musicians represented by the Chicago Federation of Musicians. Liza Micelli, a vocalist and pianist, is another union member.

"Gigs have completely cancelled. All of my gigs," said Micelli, who also teaches music on-line and has a salaried position at church. "I'm glad I've diversified my income."

On top of it all, when it comes to music, it was supposed to be a big year in Chicago. The city designated 2020 the "Year of Chicago Music," and included a $3.5 million budget.

"Wouldn't it be wonderful if Mayor Lightfoot would dedicate some of those funds as a relief to musicians?" Micelli asked. "Hopefully she would be willing to consider that?"

With music silenced, the Chicago Federation of Musicians has set up a GoFundMe page, calling it the "Chicago Musicians Emergency Relief Fund." More than $1,000 has been donated so far, but the union's goal is at least $50,000."

"It's going to be given directly to our musicians who are in need, through an application process - 100%," said Terryl Jares, president of the Chicago Federation of Musicians.

Jares said some of the musicians are getting creative to earn money. Micelli and Dalleska are both teaching lessons online now. Dalleska said the upside of these challenging times has been staying in contact with her students.

"Teaching online has been a huge help in the last week," Micelli said.

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However, it's not only the money that's a concern, but also the music - the symphony, the ensembles, the experience.

Oboe player Naomi Frisch, an employment attorney as well, said she gets about 15% of her income playing in performances.

"For me, it's the loss of being able to make music with my colleagues and my friends," she said.

After all, music plays a role for all of us in one way or another.

"Now that we can't go out and bring music to people in person, we don't have that natural, calming experience," Dalleska said.

It's an experience we all hope to hear again soon.
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