Becoming an Artist, Part 1: Pursuing a Life of Music

During my time as an undergrad my days were full of music-making: accompanying operas and musical theater productions and choirs and voice students, working on my piano performance degree, preparing for recitals, and imagining life after graduation filled to the brim with music, specifically in the field of opera accompanying. 

After graduation my career path twisted and turned through years of piano teaching, choral accompanying, musical theater directing, administrative work at a church, public school teaching (classes of first graders, not music), and mothering. At times my life was musically full with gigs, solo piano work, and piano teaching; at other times, work and daily life threatened to all but smother my music-making. There is something about becoming an adult and having responsibilities, and especially adding children to the mix, that threatens to take away the time and freedom to make music and develop musical colleagues. Achieving work-life-music balance becomes incredibly difficult, a challenge that is brought up repeatedly in the musical Facebook groups I am a part of. 

Of course, there are the musicians who go all out for their art and end up sacrificing family in big ways as a result. And the other extreme – those who had musical potential and a musical life at one time but who are swallowed up by the need to provide financially for family, and in other ways as well, and whose music goes by the wayside. Both extremes often end up in some kind of regret. 

I am fortunate to be in a season of stay-at-home Mom-ness, where I have the best of both worlds – the financial support of a husband and the fulfillment of raising a family, and the ability to pursue music on the side. Still, as any parent knows, time to pursue personal interests must be planned for, squeezed in here and there, between family responsibilities. 

What it looks like practically these days varies, especially as we’re in the middle of summer and my kids are all home with me. I try to get in some practice every day, usually between 30 and 90 minutes (in the morning after breakfast and/or in the evening when my husband finishes up the dinner dishes). I am trying to complete memory on a couple of pieces for my CD and finesse a few others that are fully memorized. My focus is not where I want it to be, and listening to music for the purpose of reflection and analysis happens rarely. (Other listening, to Disney soundtracks and summer-y popular and folk music happens quite often in the kitchen, surrounded by dancing kids!) However, I have started thinking that practicing the piano in the summer at home with kids is similar to tracking a toddler’s diet: You have to look at what happens over the course of a week to determine whether the intake/output is healthy and conducive to growth. So I am trying to look at my bit-by-bit, inch by inch practice more holistically, over the course of a week, in order to see that I am making progress. 

I would love to hear how you make time for music, or any other artistic endeavor, with or without the distraction of kids. Are your days of practice a roller-coaster like mine, imitating a toddler’s daily diet?

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