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Pandemic Stories: State College Musician Kyle Haust

courtesy of Kyle Haust

People from many walks of life have lost employment due to COVID-19. This is particularly true of performers and artists who piece together a living from events that have now been cancelled due to the pandemic. WPSU’s Kristine Allen recently spoke with a central Pennsylvania musician who has seen most of his income dry up.


KYLE HAUST: My name is Kyle Haust, I’m from State College, and I’m 33 years old. And for a living, I play percussion. 




KRISTINE ALLEN:  What genres of music do you play?


HAUST: All genres, really.  I’m classically trained, so I do play with a symphony orchestra.  I play tympani. I’m a section percussionist for a couple of other orchestras in town.  I play some punk rock, with a touring band.




Credit courtesy of Kyle Haust
Kyle Haust playing with Chesty Malone and the Slice 'em Ups.

HAUST: I play in a 50’s cover band. We do some honky-tonk, we do rockabilly and Western swing.  I play with a contemporary percussion ensemble. I also do musical theatre. 


ALLEN: The photos you sent me were incredible.  There’s this one where you’re in a tux with your hair pulled back and you’re gracefully waiting to hit the marimba in an orchestra, and there’s another one where your hair’s hanging down, your tongue’s hanging out and you have a sleeveless T-shirt on. Is one of those more you a than the other?


HAUST: Yeah, I always get that question. I can’t say.  You know, I really just love to play.


ALLEN: Now is being a musician – whether it’s playing or giving lessons – is that your sole source of income?


HAUST: Right. That is my source of income. I teach, and I perform.


ALLEN: What has happened to your work since the pandemic started?


HAUST: I got a call in March. I teach lessons in State College. And I got a call saying that we’re going to have to cancel, and we’re not going to be able to have you in the store for a while. And I kind of started to understand the implications of this. When I’m on that call, I’m getting calls coming in. And I go and check my voicemail, and it’s like oh, our next three gigs have been cancelled this month. And I play in a couple of bands, so I’m just getting cancellations after cancellations. I called my brother up, who lives in Florida, and I cried when I was talking to him, because I kind of started to see the writing on the wall. And I realized that I had gotten myself into a really tough situation. I also have a one-year-old daughter.  And the reason why I got that private lesson gig was so that I could provide a more stable income.


ALLEN: For her?


HAUST: Yeah.  For her. I would say that where lessons got me to was about 50 percent of my income. Gig money kind of fluctuates, you know.  But I would say50 percent came from lessons and 50% came from gigs.

 I haven’t played a single gig since March, and my lessons have been cut in half. And so that leaves me at 25 percent of my income.  And unemployment hasn’t been panning out for me, either.


Credit courtesy of Kyle Haust
Kyle Haust at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center.

ALLEN: Can musicians get unemployment?


HAUST:  I didn’t qualify for regular unemployment. There’s a 1099 type unemployment that you can file for, which is new. So I’ve been working on doing that. And then there’s the pandemic unemployment assistance, which really worked out for the situation I was in. But that application went in – tomorrow will be 6 weeks I’ve been waiting.


ALLEN: What’s the next step for you? 


ALLEN: I’ve been making calls, and I don’t hear anything back from them, and they say this is just all part of the process, here.


ALLEN: K How are you getting by?


HAUST: I have a couple friends in Florida who were, before the pandemic, kind of shopping around in the job market. And I was like, why don’t you come up here? Because I’ve got the baby and you can help out around the house and apply for some jobs up here. This was back in like February. I mean I think we knew about the virus in China at that point, but we didn’t know how it was going to affect us here in the states. So he applied for jobs and he got a job working for the Census.  And then the pandemic happened and we started to realize that we can’t pay our bills, you know.  I had to ask him and his wife if they would move in here and help us out financially.


ALLEN: So you have a friend and his wife living with you? 


HAUST: Yep.  They just moved in maybe like four days ago.  And it’s expressly due to the fact that we just can’t pay our bills anymore.


ALLEN: Kind of a lucky thing in a strange way, though.


HAUST: Really serendipitous. Just the way it worked out was kind of bonkers. And I’m happy that it did work out this way. We didn’t have to stretch too hard. But I would say that is probably the biggest way that we’ve had to cut back. I mean, it’s the pandemic, right. So I’m not going out anyway. We’re just getting our groceries and that’s about it.


ALLEN: Are there any gigs at all that you have scheduled?  Or is it a blank slate now?


HAUST: You know, I’ve heard from the orchestra that has said tentatively that we probably won’t be getting back together until there’s a vaccine. It’s dire.  It’s not even just tough.  It’s dire. And thank God I’ve got my daughter, right? Because it’s kind of easy to put all my eggs in the being-a-father basket, you know.  And I feel fulfilled and I feel happy doing that. Because my identity has changed.  I was a performing musician.  I haven’t gone this long without playing a gig since I was 10 years old. Seriously, this is the longest I’ve every gone in my entire life without playing a gig. :


WPSU’s Kristine Allen spoke with Kyle Haust, a professional musician from State College, who is coping with a 75 percentreduction in income due to the pandemic.

Tell us YOUR pandemic story. You can email us at radio news at psu dot edu.


Kristine Allen is Program Director of WPSU-FM. She also files feature stories for WPSU on the arts, culture, science, and more. When she's not at WPSU, Kris enjoys playing folk fiddle, acting, singing and portrait-sketching. She is also a self-confessed "science geek." Kris started working in public radio in college, at age 17, and says she "just couldn't stop."
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