Career boost: trombonist picks up new skills and new gig

Volume 113, No. 10November, 2013


Joe Stanko

Joe Stanko

Local 802 member Joe Stanko was a successful freelance musician in NYC when he realized his career needed a little boost. He learned about the Actors Fund Work Program, which – despite its name – is not just for actors. The program helps actors, musicians and other artists find meaningful work to complement their industry careers, or find new careers altogether. Any Local 802 member is eligible to use the program.

Joe earned a bachelor’s degree in performance from Juilliard and also studied at the Manhattan School of Music. After graduating, he continued his career as a freelancer, performing with local orchestras and backing up top-tier performers such as Johnny Mathis. He’s been a member of Local 802 since the late 1970s, when he started playing with local orchestras and big bands.

“I am very proud of my union membership,” Joe said, “because I believe the union helps give stability to the lives of professional musicians. I appreciate how well Local 802 represents the world-class musicians of New York City.”

Kathy Schrier, the national director of the Actors Fund Work Program, recently sat down with Joe to get his thoughts about staying on top of his music while finding an unexpected gig in the computer field.

Kathy Schrier: Tell me a little about your work experience as a professional musician.

Joe Stanko: I was already a regular sub at the Broadway production of “Les Misérables” when a job for the touring company opened up in 1999. I accepted the offer to go on the road. I loved the work – and the steady income. But after two years traveling all over the country, I was ready to move back to New York City. I left the tour, came back, and got married! I re-entered the freelance market and enjoyed performing with my colleagues here again.

KS: When and why did you come to the Actors’ Work Program?

JS: I felt the need for more stability and consistent income than freelancing provides. For example, my wife and I were maintaining individual health insurance policies that totaled more than $1,400 a month. As part of my research into work options, I attended a panel sponsored by the Actors Fund Work Program. That was in 2006.

KS: You ended up in the field of information technology (I.T.). How did the Actors Fund Work Program help you get there?

JS: The Actors Fund Work Program staff was terrific – it helped me identify myriad opportunities in the technology field. For instance, I learned that my interest in computers could take me in several directions. Once I’d narrowed my focus to desktop support, they assisted me in identifying training and funding options. They walked me through the process of determining which training programs suited me the best, and guided me in applying for financial support. I then got jobs in both profit and nonprofit organizations. I even worked for Local 802 from 2008 to 2010 as the union’s computer help desk technician. I now provide desktop and desk-side support for a major publishing company’s executive headquarters here in New York City.

KS: How do you balance the two careers of music and computers?

JS: In addition to my primary instrument of bass trombone, I double on the tuba. I maintain a daily practice schedule and continue to freelance. On the I.T. side, I continue to keep current with changing technologies and have acquired numerous advance certifications from Microsoft, Apple, Citrix, and other technology companies. Keeping in shape with two instruments is similar to being certified on all Microsoft operating systems through Windows 8 and well as Apple OS X.

KS: Are there any skills that you’ve acquired as a musician that relate to your I.T. work?

JS: As a freelance musician, I learned early on the importance of consistent practice, showing up on time, being a team player, and following directions. As an I.T. professional, the same attributes are needed. Technology evolves quickly, so essentially I’m studying all the time. This suits me well. Just as I enjoy keeping current with new bass trombone and tuba technology and trends, so too do I enjoy keeping current with I.T. advancements and trends.

KS: Do you have any words of advice for your Local 802 brothers and sisters?

JS: Having a dependable source of income outside of music, from a job you enjoy, frees up your mental energy. I urge you to take advantage of the Actors Fund Work Program’s no-cost professional and supportive programs.

For more information on the Actors Fund Work Program, see or call (212) 354-5480.