While there have been many notable performances over the past year, there are nearly as many that have gone virtually unnoticed.

There are wind ensembles and orchestras, brass groups, string quartets, trios, duos and soloists of all sorts. They are made up of mostly professional musicians who nevertheless donate a substantial amount of their time performing classical music for free at various events during the year, often at local churches that donate their space for such performances. During almost any given week over the course of this past year, you could have walked into one of these concerts and been treated to an afternoon or evening of music for a few dollars or even for free.

"It does appear to be an ever-increasing phenomenon that we musicians are asked to play a musical engagement for free or at a reduced charge," said trumpeter Michael Raney, who performs as a soloist and as part of several brass and wind ensembles.

Raney speculates the state of the economy is a contributing factor, but also notes the type of music these musicians play isn't always for the masses.

"While we love these types of music that we have studied and practiced for years, unfortunately it simply doesn't sell as well as other forms of popular music," Raney said.

First Presbyterian Church organist Meg Wise has been coordinating an annual Advent Recital concert series for nearly 20 years. The concerts, offered Wednesdays during lunch throughout the Advent season, feature organists and other soloists.

For the last few years, Wise said she expanded the church's concerts to a monthly series.

"When we got the new organ about three years ago, I thought it was important to share that," said Wise, though she noted the monthly concerts had began to dwindle to only the most die-hard followers.

"I wish they had been better attended," she said. "I guess we were preaching to the choir."

Perhaps because of their size, some of the big ensembles do have more support. The all-volunteer Tehachapi Symphony Orchestra raises enough money through donations and fundraisers to pay for its conductor, David Newby, plus the expenses necessary for running an orchestra. But if you look at the donor rosters for many of these ensembles, you will find names of at least some of the performers on the lists.

Despite the lack of financial reward, these musicians continue to put in the time rehearsing and performing, as well as organizing and promoting their concerts.

"For me, it's to keep playing at a certain level," pianist Elizabeth Cervantes said. "The chamber music repertoire is enormous -- there's so much to choose from that you haven't done, or you can re-visit old friends."

Cervantes, who just started her own group, Ensemble Melodica, said chamber music not only challenges the performers, it offers a chance to get much closer to the audience than when performing in a large ensemble.

"It's fun to have the intimacy of a small group interacting directly with the audience," Cervantes said.

"Just because there's no money in it doesn't mean the art form should be abandoned."

Raney cites a recent performance when the seven-member Yuletide Brass, played Christmas carols at Rosewood retirement community.

"Knowing we wouldn't receive any money, we gladly played," Raney said. "Just seeing the smiles on the people was payment enough."

"While it would be nice if our society could find a way to financially reward the work that went into the program, we know that would be difficult at this time," Raney said.