Martyn Roper: Blues Guitar

“The beauty of having Albert is that we see more of family and friends than before and I’d like a chance to start allowing those family and friends to support us as freelancers in real life.”

Welcome back to our blog series, talking to leading musicians who are also parents about their experiences of balancing their careers with family life. This week, we meet Martyn Roper, blues guitarist, who talks about how his busy gig schedule works alongside his wife’s freelance career, the challenge of working when breastfeeding, and the importance of friends and family.

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

I have one child, a sweet and lovely boy named Albert. He was born in August 2018.

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

I generally work ‘one nighters’ which can be 3 to 14 (a record in one week!) gigs a week. 3-6 gigs is normal for me in a week. They range from weddings, parties, festivals, pubs, bars, restaurants, care homes, etc. At various times over the year my duo do longer tours for weeks at a time in arts centres and venues all over the UK. All weeks are different but 80% of the time I’m booked up Thursday to Sunday every week.

Tell us about your work/parenthood balance. 

I make at least one full day a week where computers / phones aren’t really used unless in desperate circumstances and the aim is to get away from the house and out. During time at home I make sure we get out to do stuff even if just a walk and try and give my son complete attention for periods of time between work / rehearsal time. I usually structure this around meals and cooking.

Have you had to turn down opportunities because of being a parent? How did this make you feel?

Not sure I’ve turned things down but it does take good organisation to fit things in. I’ve been happy to let some gigs slide if a week was already well booked so we can have family time.

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

Chloé is a freelance graphic designer / web builder / photographer and I think home time with a baby can get messy at times. We’re 100% breast feeding so although I can do lots of shopping / cooking / washing etc baby needs to be with mum or near all the time which makes it hard for her to get a good run at work. On the other side the fact that we’re both in the house nearly all daytimes and free especially on Mondays to Wednesdays means that Albert probably gets more face to face time than working a 9-5 as his bedtime would mean only a few hours a day instead of the 10 – 16 hours he probably gets now.

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

None, due to the reasons above. I have family nearby but visits tend to be social due to his feeding needs. I would like to be able to start passing Albert on a little bit more soon as the support of family could make it possible for us both to get more done and hopefully have more family time afterwards. Even if we’re in the house but they just baby sit him while we get a couple of hours to sort some admin.

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

Some venues and festivals especially in the daytime have been great to us and welcomed our boy and gone out of their way to make it as pleasant as possible for us.

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

The same thing they do to anyone to make their life easier. I think we’re all equal with or without children and its down to us to manage our lives and children as well as work.

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

My work is varied so I wouldn’t take the baby to say a private wedding. The nice blues / jazz festivals are so lovely. Some of the dementia wards are very inquisitive once I mention I have a child, and we’ve all been invited in when I perform. We did this once and had a lovely afternoon at a home in Harrogate.

How did being a freelance musician affect your parental leave?

No such thing. I cleared a two week period (apart from one gig) around the birth but he was born over a week late so I had to find cover for a gig the day he was born. I had an afternoon wedding gig near Leeds the day after the birth so left the hospital for about five hours and came straight back ASAP.

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

For about seven years before.

Are you part of any online social groups for freelancers/freelance parents? 

I’m not. To be honest, I don’t have time to do all the work I need to and am trying to find ways to minimise wasted time so more social media interaction that kind of ‘sucks you in’ isn’t good. The beauty of having Albert is that we see more of family and friends than before and I’d like even more of that and a chance to start allowing those family and friends to support us as freelancers in real life.

A professional musician since 2011, Martyn Roper specialises in 1920s, 30s & 40s blues, jazz and swing music on guitar, banjo, ukulele and double bass. He plays over 200 gigs a year largely between three acts; Leeds City Stompers (trio); The Washboard Resonators (duo) and solo sets, and lives near central Leeds. He likes collecting vintage guitars, cooking, reading and his two beautiful cats.

Máire Flavin: Soprano

Welcome to our new blog series, talking to leading musicians who are also parents about their experiences of balancing their careers with family life. This week, meet international operatic soprano Máire Flavin, who talks about the issues surrounding operatic contracts and pregnancy, and the childcare challenges for opera singers.

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

I am a new Mom to a gorgeous 5 month old girl.

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

I am a freelance opera singer with concert work as well of course. I am not tied to any one house although most of my work is in the UK and Ireland. I do large scale tours with the big companies but no longer do the smaller, but longer, tours with smaller companies. In terms of control over my schedule, I can of course say yes or no to projects, but this is the arts so usually you are saying yes to as much as possible! Once on contract I have no control over my schedule. Most UK companies work on a weekly schedule sent out on the previous Thursday or Friday. I have spent only 30 days at home this last year, but that is also due to my husband’s schedule (he is also an opera singer).

Tell me about your work/parenthood balance. 

We are very new to the work/parenthood balance and will only really see how it works this coming year.  Already, over the summer, we have both had roles to learn so have needed to find ways to give each other time! We are also in different countries for all of our contracts this coming year so it will be a challenge as a family.

Have you had to turn down opportunities because of being a parent? How did this make you feel?

Of course I had to turn work down towards the end of my pregnancy/nearing my due date. I have not yet had to turn any work down due to being a parent but I suppose there is more financial pressure – if the contract doesn’t pay well enough to cover childcare and unless it is hugely artistically fulfilling i.e. a role I have always wanted to do and never had the chance to, then it just won’t be feasible. At the end of the day it is my choice how I balance being a parent and my work, this is just a very complicated industry within which to do that.

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

At the moment we do not have regular childcare. I am looking for childcare on location in each of my upcoming contracts and getting family help where I can for tech week when she is little as I’d rather family were doing her bedtime routine where possible.

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

I think the work that Swap’ra is doing is invaluable. They have already made progress with companies in the UK giving advanced schedules to facilitate booking childcare etc. During my pregnancy, and for one of my first contracts back, Opera North have been fantastic. They really looked after me when pregnant but also trusted me to get on with my job and also trusted, by rehiring me post-pregnancy, that I would make sure I was back on form after giving birth. This, unfortunately, is certainly not always the case. 

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

One of the biggest differences opera companies can make is to be willing to give advanced scheduling where possible.  There are still companies in Ireland, and it is the norm throughout continental Europe, who give out the next days schedule at 6pm the previous evening. This makes organising childcare extremely complicated, not to mention unnecessarily expensive. Expecting your childcare provider to agree to either be needed or not, or for how many hours, the evening before is ridiculous and most would not agree to be hired on that basis, so why it is acceptable to expect that scheduling to be ok for artists is beyond me.

How did being a freelance musician affect your parental leave?

Parental leave is not really a thing when you are freelance. Depending on where you pay your tax and what is available from the state you may receive some basic maternity pay but essentially time away from work is time not being paid and not being seen and potentially not getting future work. Certainly my husband only got 2 days off, including the day of labour, when our daughter was born as he was mid-production and mid-tech week. Of course the flip side of our job is once the show was up he was around to help more than a 9-5 Dad.

Are you part of any online social groups for freelancers/freelance parents? 

There are several great online support networks on the like of facebook for parents, especially Moms, in the classical music/opera business and it has already been a great resource to me. We really do support each other in the opera world!

Dublin-born soprano Máire Flavin represented Ireland in BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, where she was a finalist in the Song Prize.

Her album Baby Mine is a collection of animated childhood film classics with the RTE National Symphony Orchestra. Any artist profits will go to Autism charities in the UK, Ireland and USA.

Last season saw Ms. Flavin make her Austrian debut as Contessa d’Almaviva Le nozze di Figaro (Salzburger Landestheater); her company debut as Contessa d’Almaviva Le nozze di Figaro, and perform the role of Hannah in the World Premiere of The Second Violinist (Irish National Opera); two role debuts with Opera North as Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow and Anna Sørensen in the UK premiere of Silent Night; Mimi La bohème (Cork International Opera Series); and Mozart Requiem & Once upon a Dream: Celebrating Disney (RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra).

Previous highlights include roles with Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Atelier Lyrique de Tourcoing, Glyndebourne Festival Opera and Glyndebourne on Tour, Opera North, Welsh National Opera, Scottish Opera, Northern Ireland Opera, and with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; RTÉ Concert Orchestra, Orchestra of Welsh National Opera, and the Deutsche Philharmonie.

In the forthcoming season she will make her debut at Wexford Festival Opera in the world premiere of Andrew Synnott’s La Cucina and return to Opera North for Countess in The Marriage of Figaro

Check out Máire’s website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.