Freeway Philharmonic

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Watch this entire Truly CA episode Freeway Philharmonic by Tal Skloot and Steven Baigel. (Running Time: 58:15)

"Music is my spirituality, my personality, my ecstasy. When it's good, there's nothing better, and if you can do this for a living, [a] good gig."
-- Robin Bonell, cello

Freeway Philharmonic follows seven San Francisco Bay Area freelance classical musicians as they perform with regional orchestras across Northern California. Unlike musicians who have a permanent position with a major symphony, these musicians live from one season to the next. The film depicts their efforts to balance a love of music with a road-warrior lifestyle that often requires traveling hundreds of miles a day to rehearse, teach and perform. These individuals have an unrelenting desire to perform for a living, sometimes at the expense of their families and well-being. The film shows the dedication, perseverance and rigorous life of the musicians, while they grapple with their desire to succeed on a difficult career path and come to terms with their limitations in their quest for artistic accomplishment.

"It's really hard for small to medium sized orchestras to stay afloat. It's a tough industry."
Kale Cumings, trumpet

In addition to profiling the individual and often interconnected stories of the seven musicians, the documentary illustrates the state of music and the arts in local communities across the country. In common with many small arts organizations, regional orchestras struggle with funding. They rarely have enough to hire permanent artists; instead they fill their chairs with freelance musicians contracted to perform from season to season. Each year thousands of conservatory-trained musicians end up in these arrangements, serving the cultural needs of small communities across America. Without these individuals, regional orchestras in cities like Marin, Santa Rosa, Napa, Berkeley, and Stockton, simply would not exist.


Many of the freelance Freeway Philharmonic musicians came up through public school music programs. Now they are ambassadors for music back to those same schools. With music programs disappearing from schools everywhere due to insufficient funding and a shift in educational priorities, players often contribute by teaching and performing for students. They are trying to fill the gap left by limited public music programs and to be role models for the next generation of musicians.