International opera singer Julia Kogan shares her experience of balancing motherhood and an operatic career in the 90s.
How many children do you have and how old are they?
I have two sons, both are adults.
Tell us about your work and how it was structured when your boys were younger.
When my boys were young, I did quite a bit of teaching. When they were 12 and 9 respectively, I began to travel much more, taking on long opera contracts, concert work abroad, etc. I continued to teach, though, because I absolutely love it! Paradoxically, teaching is a great way to learn more about singing.
In terms of scheduling, as any freelancer knows, if you want to keep working, you can’t be turning too many things down. As any parent knows, you need to be home as much as possible, especially if your kids are young. If I’m perfectly honest, I’ve seen musician couples with utterly neglected children, at least by my standards. Years later, I still feel anguished when I think of the times I was away from home singing for more than a few days at a time, not to mention a month at a time, which also happened. My husband was home with them, but that doesn’t alleviate my guilt.
Tell us about your work/parenthood balance during that time.
When my boys were little, it was very heavily skewed towards parenthood, though I worked on my singing constantly throughout. Then this changed, and not a moment too soon in terms of my career! I kept doing concert work locally, but in terms of the real thing, my career only took off when I was well into my 30s, after having had my sons in my early 20s.
Have you had to turn down opportunities because of being a parent? How did this make you feel?
I almost turned down my entire career, having taken so many years at home. I remember flying to Germany once for an audition when Sam, my younger son, was three. I made it a day trip to avoid missing a night at home, was exhausted as a result and had therefore sung badly – it was all a total waste of time and money. I got home just as he was falling asleep. He put his arms around me in his bed and said, “Promise me you’ll never do that again!” I’d been gone twelve manic hours. It was years before I went anywhere alone again. It’s a brutal choice…and a highly personal one.
Do you have a partner, and if so are they also freelance? What effect does this have?
I was lucky to have had a husband who was a research professor and was able to work mostly from home when he wasn’t teaching. It made a huge difference to us.
Did you have regular childcare, and if so, in what form?
We really made it a goal for at least one of us to be home with our sons. The price to pay was mostly in terms of my own professional life.
Have you performed anywhere that made the work/parenthood balance easier?
Sadly not! And I must say that I don’t think that opera houses, or indeed anyone else, should be responsible for that. It would be amazing if they were, but I’m afraid our families are indeed our problem.
What can promoters/venues/festival organisers do to help freelance artists who are parents?
I know of one festival where volunteers took on childcare duties for the festival director, but that’s exceptional!
Are there any organisations/venues/festivals etc that you have worked with that are particularly supportive of performers who are parents?
None. But if I am ever in a position to do something about it, I will. If I am ever a full producer on one of my projects, I will make sure there is childcare on the premises, if at all possible.
Julia Kogan is an international award-winning American-French opera singer, author and presenter. She has performed at top venues around the world (Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Center, etc.), released five solo albums and has had her work featured by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Opera News, BBC Radio 3 and 4, and many others.
Julia’s BBC Radio 4 documentary, The Lost Songs of Hollywood, was chosen ‘pick of the week’ by the BBC. She is the author of Hipstory, a book of Amit Shimoni’s art with text by Julia, as well as a series of children’s books, essays and screenplays. For now, she remains the uncredited co-author of feature film Florence Foster Jenkins.