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My Economy

This musician’s violin is the best partner she’s ever had

Liz Sanchez and Sean McHenry Jun 18, 2019
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For violinist Keiko Tokunaga, her instrument is more than just a tool for work. "It is a part of me," she says.
Arthur Moeller

My Economy tells the story of the new economic normal through the eyes of people trying to make it, because we know the only numbers that really matter are the ones in your economy.


For some career musicians, it’s all about the gig and their instrument. Keiko Tokunaga is a New York-based violinist, and while she’s been playing her instrument for 20 years, much of her work life still revolves around booking gigs. Tokunaga describes what it’s like to make it as a violinist:

My name is Keiko Tokunaga, and I am a violinist.

So I have a few jobs as a violinist. Until recently I was in a New York-based string quartet called the Attacca Quartet. And in addition to that, I teach a class at the Juilliard School, pre-college division. And when I’m not doing either of those things, I am a freelance musician in New York City.

I play on a relatively modern Italian instrument called Scarampella. When my parents bought it for me back in, I guess 20 years ago or so, I believe it was roughly around $125,000. It has gone through so many difficult memories and so many happy memories with me. It is a part of me, and it has this beautiful, bright sound and dark sound at the same time. It’s very difficult to describe her sound, but she is the best partner that I have — aside from my husband.

Most of the time, freelance gigs come from word of mouth. So in order for you to get into the gig scene, you have to make sure that, first of all, you’re a nice person who can play well and you’re responsible.

If I could put aside a few thousand dollars just to be sure to get through June, I’m in really good shape, and I can just not worry about those impromptu gigs. You just don’t know when those things pop up. Sometimes you get lucky and you get a lot of gigs. And sometimes you don’t. So there is absolutely no guarantee that you would make enough money during that month. So if I can take care of rent and, you know, these living expenses and then, I mean … then I’ll be in good shape.

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