Ella Jarman-Pinto: Composer

“I’ve had to stop and restart my business three times. Every single time I start from scratch. If I’d had access to shared parental leave, my husband and I could have managed to keep both businesses going… My husband pays his taxes, contributes to society, so why on earth doesn’t he get paid paternity leave?”

Ella Jarman-Pinto, composer, talks about work/parenthood balance, the inequalities of freelance maternity and paternity leave, and how she can work creatively with other musicians and film-makers as well as raising a family.

Composer Ella Jarman-Pinto

How many children do you have and how old are they?

I have three children, two of them living. Marvellous would have been 5, Otis is 3.5 (threenager, argh!) and Vita is 13 months.

Tell me a bit about your work and how it is structured.

I help media and film producers by creating unique and timeless musical compositions, ensuring that their creative vision remains at the forefront. I find it fascinating that music can completely change the emotion of a scene, and my job is to unpick exactly what a producer or director needs and channel it into music. This is the perfect career as it means that I can work from home. My husband is studying away on a music therapy masters for half of the week, so it means that if the children are ill I can just work in the evening to catch up. The children are in nursery three afternoons a week, and my mum helps me for one evening when I have to teach. In addition I help people of all ages and experiences in the community unleash their inner creativity, whether that’s through singing or composing. My new singing group ParentSing, (Fridays, 1.15-2.30pm, Penrith) is for parents who need to take time for themselves but struggle with childcare.

  Tell me about your work/parenthood balance. 

It’s hard and it’s still evolving. We’re only four weeks into my husband’s two year course, so we’re adjusting as we go along! I think I’ve changed nursery days three times over the last two months. But I spend a wonderful amount of time with my kids. They’ve only just started playing together and it’s just amazing.

Have you had to turn down opportunities because of being a parent?

I don’t think I have, but I’ve been on maternity leave so much in the last few years that I have really been able to pick and choose what I want to do. I’ve felt more empowered with less time, because it means I have to focus. The work that I do is exactly what I want, and that means I write better music and am a better teacher. I do have to big up Harriet Wybor at PRS at this point, because I was invited to take part in the Wild Plum Songbook/PRS/Cheltenham Music festival workshops for female composers. Vita was only six months and exclusively breastfed, so I said I needed to bring her with me. Harriet didn’t bat an eyelid, organised enough food for my sisters who looked after her and arranged a room that I could care for her in. It meant that I could go and have this fantastic experience and I’m so grateful to them. Vita loved it too!

Do you have a partner, and if so are they also freelance? What effect does this have?

My husband is freelance as well. He has been doing a lot of peri teaching all over the county as it is a relatively stable income and has helped us while we had our family. However, September has always been a very scary time. One year none of his schools had confirmed, we were two weeks into the new school year and he was the main wage earner. I ended up taking on a lot of teaching on an instrument I didn’t enjoy in order to make up the shortfall. It was fab to start with, but we struggled with winter illnesses and nursery and lost a lot of money between us. By the time I went on maternity leave we were clear that I should pursue composition more as it meant I could work from home and be more flexible.

Do you have regular childcare, and if so, in what form?

We send our kids to a fab nursery with a beautiful meadow out of the back! The children spend most of the time outside and are really happy there. The nursery is as flexible as it can be, but we have had to rely on parents and friends a lot. We can’t afford and don’t want full-time childcare, so until now have split the remaining days equally between us. We also have a rule that whomever was supposed to be with the children has to organise the childcare if they then get work.

Have you performed anywhere that made the work/parenthood balance easier?

When both kids were tiny I’d regularly sing with them in slings on my back or front. A number of times they’ve made a grab for the mic or joined in! 

What can promoters/venues/festival organisers do to help freelance artists who are parents?

Creche, quiet rooms, food(!), regular breaks, an understanding smile, etc.

Are there any organisations/venues/festivals etc that you have worked with that are particularly supportive of performers who are parents?

I mentioned PRS above. Love them. They were so so lovely!! Plus, Vita was the star of the show. Every break she would come out and everyone, mentors and composers alike, came to say hello. I joked I should do all of my networking with her with me.

Were you freelance before you had children? If not, what prompted the change?

I’ve been freelance for ten years. I worked in a couple of PAYE jobs straight out of uni, but I like the freedom and being my own boss. Having children has made me even more grateful to be self-employed. I can choose my hours, and spend time with my children. And I think my husband spends more time with them than he would as PAYE because he’s not stuck with the old patriarchal ideas that men shouldn’t be adjusting their hours at work.

How did being a freelance musician affect your parental leave?

This is a subject that I feel very strongly about. I’m a follower and supporter of Olga FitzRoy, who is campaigning for shared parental leave to be extended to self-employed parents. I’ve had to stop and restart my business three times. Every single time I start from scratch. If I’d had access to shared parental leave, my husband and I could have managed to keep both businesses going. I’m also so angry when it comes to KIT days. I work hourly. So telling me that teaching one lesson in a day (for example, if there are difficulties scheduling) counts as a KIT day is completely ridiculous when you compare it to someone else working a full day and getting paid three times the amount. It’s also ridiculous that PAYE parents can start a freelance job and not be under the same rules. Don’t get me started on paternity! My husband pays his taxes, contributes to society, so why on earth doesn’t he get paid paternity leave?

Ella Jarman-Pinto is a Cumbria-based composer and vocal leader. She studied composition with Julian Philips at Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Ella was one of six composers selected to take part in the Wild Plum Songbook workshops, a collaboration with PRS and Cheltenham Music Festival, with Everyday Magic, in March 2019. She was Composer in Residence with Streetwise Opera from 2016-17 and an RPS Young Musician from 2013-14.

Ella provided the original music score for award-winning short film, AstraZeneca’ The Attack’, with Maker Projects and Havas Lynx, that won a Bronze award at Cannes Lion for Cinematography in 2018. Other recent commissions include a short film with Maker Projects that won a Bronze award at Cannes Lion for Cinematography in 2018; Savage and Allan Jeffers for The Art of Change as part of their staged song cycle, The Reckoning, premiered July 2018; and Songs for my Children for Hull Urban Opera as part of Brain Jar Session #2, July 2018. Ella has been featured in BBC Radio 3’s International Women’s Day (2016) and BBC National Music Day (2015) celebrations with BBC Singers performances of Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep. She received a further performance and broadcast by the BBC Singers of Heigh Ho, The Holly!, in October 2016.

Ella writes for voice, TV and film; she teaches singing and composition in Cumbria; and works alongside BlueJam Arts to encourage children and adults to follow their creative impulses and to make music, whatever their experience.


Ella’s website: http://www.ellajarman-pinto.co.uk/

Ella’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ellajarmanpinto/

ParentSing: https://www.facebook.com/parentsingpenrith/

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