Welcome to week 2 of our blog series on freelance musicians who are also parents. This week, meet Nina Danon, composer. She talks about managing the work/parent balance, and how it can feel like we have two sides to ourselves – something I think a lot of us can relate to!
When my partner and I decided to try for a child, I had only recently reached a point in my career where I was financially stable doing only music related work. I was balancing running my own private teaching studio with developing my career as a composer and sound artist. I was working full time, mostly long hours, and the idea of adding a baby to that was, frankly, terrifying. Throughout my life, various teachers, mentors and colleagues, both men and women, had warned me against starting a family if I was serious about becoming a composer, and I was afraid that becoming a mother would mean having to sacrifice my career. Luckily, I have always enjoyed proving people who make assumptions about me wrong, and I had always known I wanted to be a mother, so my husband and I decided to go for it!
A few months before I got pregnant, I got accepted as a composer into BOOK Music and Lyrics, a series of professional development workshops for musical theatre lyricists, composers and librettists. The course lasts two years, over which participants attend weekly meetings and are asked to present a new song every three weeks on average. I was over the moon about this opportunity, as I had always dreamt of working in musical theatre but had only very limited experience in that field. The first term put my resolutions of finding a good work/life balance to the test, as I went through a miscarriage, a wedding, and the first trimester of a new pregnancy. At the peak of my morning sickness (which was definitely NOT limited to the morning!), I had to write and present 4 songs in 5 weeks, working with 4 different lyricists, and moving house in the process. I suppose that’s when I realised that I was going to be ok…
The rest of the pregnancy went smoothly, and I continued working until a few days before Maël, my son, was born. The second year of BML started three weeks after the birth, and for my first six months of motherhood, keeping up with the workshop’s deadlines to develop my first musical was all I was able to do. My husband is a freelancer too, so he was able to take a lot of time off and was a tremendous help. We were also fortunate to have my family close by to look after the little one in situations where both of us had to work at the same time. I made a point of not missing any single deadline at BML, no matter how hard finding the time to write and rehearse with a newborn son was! It was extremely difficult, but also allowed me to feel like myself again while navigating through the life changing process of becoming a new parent.
I still find it tricky to reconcile the desire to be my child’s primary caregiver with the need to develop my career. I often feel like I am two different people, the stay at home mother who wishes to spend more time with her son, and the composer who wishes to create all the time. Switching from one to the next is hard, and I am still experimenting with different ways to balance the two. When Maël was seven months old I began applying for opportunities again and developing new projects, gradually increasing my workload. The unpredictability of my schedule makes it difficult to stick to rigid timetables, so I tend to avoid jobs that have strict working hours over several days or that would require too many meetings in locations where I wouldn’t be able to bring my son or at times where I wouldn’t be able to find a suitable childcare option. Becoming a mother has forced me to revaluate my priorities, be more strict with the type of projects I would accept, and as a result I have found the work I have done since having a child much more rewarding. I have been lucky enough to work with several collaborators and organisations which were very understanding of the needs of a new mother, and made me feel completely at ease, such as Psappha Ensemble, and my colleagues at BML, but this is not an industry that was built with parents in mind, and too often having a child is seen as a disadvantage, rather than the huge source of inspiration and strength it actually is!
If anyone reading this would like to encourage freelancers with young children to apply to their opportunities, please hold meetings/rehearsals/performances in child friendly venues!
This includes having a comfortable private area for breastfeeding and pumping and holding breaks long enough to allow a mother the time to do those things. Also, let parents know that their children (and a nanny or family member to look after the kids) are welcome, and offer a bit of flexibility to allow parents to fit their work around their children’s schedules (which are always very rigid). Too often, parents will feel uncomfortable talking about their obligations and special needs (imagine being a young woman and having to discuss your breastfeeding requirements with your middle-aged male employer) or fear appearing unprofessional if discussing any child-related issue. So, if you want to help, be the one to initiate the conversation. Offer all artists you work with a more flexible schedule, ask them what their requirements are. You will make them feel heard and comfortable, and they will be able to give you their best work.
Nina Danon is a Franco-Italian composer, pianist and audio-visual artist. She regards music as something that can be experienced through all senses, and collaborates with artists from all disciplines to establish new connections between their creative processes and redefine the relationship between music and other forms of art.
Her work encompasses sound and audiovisual art, film music, musical theatre and multi-sensorial experiences for galleries and museums. Over the years, she has collaborated with artists and ensembles including David Friedman and the Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg. Her music has been commissioned by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Zeni Winery and Wine Museum amongst others, and performed in venues such as the Museum of Oriental Art of Turin, the Criterion Theatre and The Place in London. In 2018, Nina was selected to take part in Psappha Ensemble’s Composing For scheme, writing a new piece for clarinetist Dov Goldberg.
Nina is a member of the Advanced Group of BOOK Music and Lyrics, a programme of ongoing workshops for the creation, crafting and development of musical theatre writing and related specialist skills.
Twitter: @ncdanon (https://twitter.com/ncdanon)