Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

As a tax preparer, violist hits the right notes

Furloughed from her job due to the pandemic, Metropolitan Opera's Zoë Martin-Doike began to study accounting and is helping people prepare their taxes.

Zoë Martin-Doike near her home in South Philadelphia. A professional violist and violinist, she is pursuing a degree in accounting while on furlough from her fulltime Metropolitan Opera Orchestra job.
Zoë Martin-Doike near her home in South Philadelphia. A professional violist and violinist, she is pursuing a degree in accounting while on furlough from her fulltime Metropolitan Opera Orchestra job.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

The violinist/violist Zoë Martin-Doike was not yet 30 when she landed a full-time job with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in 2018.

Back then, “you got an orchestra job and you’d made it. You didn’t have to hustle any more,” she said. “The pandemic has taught us we still have to hustle.”

Like everyone else, classical musicians around the world have been challenged by COVID-19′s devastating disruptions. But Martin-Doike, 31, is likely among only a few violists/violinists whose latest side hustle is to pursue an undergraduate degree in accounting. And probably not many, if any, of her peers also have become a certified tax preparer — and have helped other taxpayers file their IRS returns.

The same sort of determination, discipline, and focus that have enabled Martin-Doike to succeed in music also have helped her frame her unusual pandemic pivot as an investment in the future. She said a deeper understanding of accounting and taxation will help sustain her artistic life and financial independence, as well as provide the skills to assist other musicians and artists with their often-complex tax issues.

“I am still planning to go full-steam with my music career,” said Martin-Doike, who grew up in Honolulu and lives in Philadelphia. “But during the pandemic it became clear I need to build multiple income streams. I was looking for a way to branch out and take advantage of my love of personal finance.”

The Met furloughed its musicians last April; Martin-Doike’s final performance with the esteemed orchestra was a March 10, 2020, production of The Flying Dutchman. As shutdowns and quarantines circumscribed daily life, it seemed like “the perfect time to dive in and go all in for another degree,” she said.

So Martin-Doike enrolled last July in a bachelor of science in business administration-accounting program offered by Western Governors University, a private, nonprofit online institution based in Salt Lake City.

Martin-Doike is already about two-thirds of the way toward completing her degree. She had earlier completed her undergraduate studies at the Curtis Institute of Music and earned a master’s degree from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

“Some students move through more quickly than others, and Zoë really put in the work, talking to the instructor, working through pages and pages of material,” said Curtis Beverley, her program mentor at WGU. “Zoë has been extremely diligent. She’s a hard worker.”

“Part of the reason I’m doing accounting is to be able to do tax preparation,” said Martin-Doike, who acknowledged that prior to enrolling at WGU “I didn’t prepare even my own” tax returns. “I need the business degree in order to, down the line, obtain CPA certification,” she added.

Through the university, Martin-Doike also found an ideal internship opportunity: helping clients of the Campaign for Working Families with their tax returns. The Philadelphia-based nonprofit aims to provide low- and moderate-income individuals and families the tools they need to build financial security.

“Working Families offered free tax-preparation training and a [path] to get tax-preparation certification,” Martin-Doike said. “There was training in November and December — I learned how to use professional tax preparation software — and then, starting in January, they throw you into the deep end.

“I was working in a small office in Center City and it was wonderful,” she said. “The big issue for many [clients] was unemployment. They didn’t have withholding taxes taken on their benefits and they ended up owing a lot to the IRS.”

Jonathan Barnes, director of volunteer engagement at the Campaign for Working Families, said Martin-Doike “stepped up in a way that really helped support the team at our Center City tax site. She did intake and tax prep and moved into a quality reviewer role; every tax return requires two sets of eyes.”

Barnes also said Martin-Doike “was among the brave folks willing to [work at] our tax preparation sites” despite the pandemic restrictions and precautions — and during one of the most complicated and fast-changing tax seasons in memory.

“I was doing the taxes for people with five or six jobs, and people from all walks of life,” Martin-Doike said.

“You get a kind of intimate picture of someone’s life when you do their taxes. There is so much trust involved in that, and to me, it felt like a huge honor.”

Martin-Doike also put some of her newfound knowledge to work during the process of looking for, and buying, the home in Philadelphia that will become her primary residence.

“I have much more of a handle on financial analysis because of studying for the degree,” she said. “It has really helped.”

Meanwhile, the Met’s plans to resume live performances in the fall are in doubt due to a complicated labor dispute involving multiple unions, including the one that represents musicians, Martin-Doike among them.

She did perform before limited, live audiences twice last year, and on YouTube as a member of a housebound-in-quarantine string quartet that included her boyfriend, the violinist and Curtis faculty member Joel Link.

So the prospect of playing in the viola section of Opera Philadelphia’s special live performance of Tosca last week at the Mann was thrilling — as well as a reminder of how profoundly the pandemic has changed everything.

Martin-Doike was remembering her Met colleague Vincent Lionti, a violist who died last year due to COVID-19. “So many memories come flooding back,” she said. “I have played Tosca countless times, and am never going to play it with him again.”

The pandemic has also “enabled me to focus on the people in my life,” Martin-Doike said. “It has opened my mind to possibilities, and I’m grateful for that.”