When classical performers play on stage, it’s understood there are family members in the background, but we seldom consider the impact their home life has on the music. Unless you are a working musician or parent.
The UK released a report in October 2022 that documented the impact of caring for children and other relatives (including those with disabilities) on work life and overall careers.
These are the key points highlighted in the report entitled Bittersweet SymphonyThe following is a compilation of information, created by the Parents and Carers in Performing Arts, in collaboration with Birkbeck University’s Department of Organisational Psychology. It may seem stark, but it is not surprising.
- 40% of those who manage a career in classical and caring for others while also taking care of their families are contemplating quitting performing.
- The elderly and children are taken care of by 85%, or self-employed classical music women.
- Caring for kids is costing women about £8,000 a year ($12,605 CAD) in lost opportunities vis-à-vis their male counterparts;
- The classical music world is twice as likely to neglect opportunities for women who are caring for children or others.
To sustain a career as a classical musician is hard. You can make it even harder by adding caregiving and parenting to your day.
This report included data from 410 participants as well as three online focus groups (25 participants) and eight in-depth interviews (8 participants). After gathering data, the numbers were analysed according to gender and whether or not the participant was a parent/caregiver.
These are the specific challenges identified in the study:
- The demands and rigours of traveling and being away from home.
- Unpredictable and unflexible schedules
- There is a lack of affordable, flexible childcare.
- It is difficult to balance the demands of maintaining top-notch skills without external support.
- Unstable income can make it difficult to balance teaching and other duties.
The effects were particularly acute for women, who tend to take on the lion’s share of parenting, and as a result, work less, and earn less for it. As the report points out, the world of classical music can’t be truly diverse and accessible to all if it effectively excludes many parents, and disproportionately affects women and other disadvantaged groups.
Both mental and physical well-being are affected by the stress of trying to balance both worlds, especially for single parents/caregivers.
The classical music world is still largely built on the old model, where it’s assumed that parenting duties, if applicable, are handled by someone else outside the frame of the music industry. What’s needed is a change of focus when it comes to those HR issues, and some adjustments are relatively simple. To attract more women into orchestras, rehearsals in Scandinavia are set up for family-friendly hours.
In the UK, work is underway to act on the report’s findings. PiPA created a working committee to discuss best practices and address the many systemic issues faced by parents in classical music. The group includes prominent UK organizations such as Black Lives in Music, Help Musicians, Independent Society of Musicians, Liverpool Philharmonic, Musicians’ Union, Phonographic Performance Limited, Royal Opera House, Scottish Opera and SWAP’ra.
As the report’s authors point out, music is the original gig economy, and the current landscape sees fewer and fewer long term contracts or stable employment opportunities except at the very top of the classical music stratosphere. It’s not only musicians who are impacted; promoters, technicians, and administrators, among others, share the same kind of unpredictable hours and workload.
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