Faces of the arts shutdown: Healy Henderson: ‘Not being able to happen…is unthinkable’

The numbers added up nicely for Healy Henderson. They don’t do it anymore.

Not counting her teaching duties as an adjunct professor of music at Southwestern College, Bonsall-based Healy has worked steadily for nearly 20 years as a first-call freelance violinist in San Diego and beyond, including at Disney Hall in Los Angeles. Orchestra and musical theater performances are its forte.

“Before the pandemic, I was doing 10 to 12 weeks a year playing productions at the Old Globe and 10 to 12 weeks at La Jolla Playhouse,” said Henderson, whose husband is a horse trainer. “I’ve also performed with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra, San Diego Opera, and touring productions of Broadway San Diego at the Civic Theater. I worked on average between 34 and 45 weeks per year with these organizations.

“On March 11, we were previewing ‘Fly’ at La Jolla Playhouse. We got an email the next day not to come back to work because production was cancelled. I haven’t worked since then in San Diego I went from what would have been a very good year of $60,000 freelance to nothing.

Like many other musicians, Henderson initially hoped things would pick up this summer or fall at the latest. She has resigned herself to waiting until next year and cites New York as a barometer of live performance nationwide.

“Broadway has canceled all of its productions through the end of June, as have the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera,” Henderson said.

“I think the rest of the country will have to follow suit, mainly because the cast and production crews have to start four to five months before the musicians arrive. So hopefully we can do one of those 2020 San Diego productions that have been canceled or postponed to fall 2021.”

An Orange County native who grew up in Dana Point, Henderson received his Bachelor of Music degree from DePaul University in Chicago. She studied at the Moscow Conservatory in Russia before obtaining her master’s degree at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore.

In 2000, she signed a one-year contract with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra and moved here in 2002. Although no longer a full-time member, Henderson is a frequent fill-in violinist in the orchestra. Or rather, she has been. His only two concerts this summer were with a fully masked string quartet at two outdoor weddings in Orange County, which less strictly enforces California’s ban on live performances during the pandemic.

“I’ve had friends, who aren’t in the music business, say to me, ‘You must be so grateful to have all this free time,'” she said. “I lost it with a friend and said to them, ‘It’s not a vacation. It’s who we are. Not being able to play for six months, or a year, is unthinkable.

“Even my family, who have known me for 43 years, don’t understand that this isn’t what musicians would choose. We don’t get “holidays”. Our performing careers have been taken away from us. We usually play eight shows a week.

Henderson has been a faculty member for nine years at Southwestern College, where she teaches music history and violin and viola courses. Due to the pandemic, she now only teaches her music history course and only virtually. To do this, she had to upgrade her computer system at home.

“We will stay online until at least the spring semester,” Henderson said. “I lost half of my classes because the number of registrations no longer justifies the number I was teaching. I make about an eighth of what I used to, although I was able to continue teaching my private students, which I feel very lucky about. I’m a new distance teacher training what I need to do to teach online at Southwestern. And I am looking for other positions for online teaching, outreach, adult education and various extension courses.

“Now that everything is online, it’s much more accessible for me to consider working in out-of-state locations from Bonsall. I’ve never done this before. I’m also considering getting my Ph.D. online music at Columbia or Boston College, both of which offer programs for working musicians.

With more free time, Henderson learned improvisation, bluegrass fiddle and improvisation. She also devotes more time to playing her viola.

“I just hope the audience doesn’t get too familiar with hearing us online and not live,” she said. “It would be such a shame if that happened. Because hearing music live, instantly, in concerts and theater productions is the essence of what we do. This is why we have studied for all these years. I hope society doesn’t change so much that we can’t come back as strong and creative as we were before the pandemic. »

Helen D. Jessen