I gave up regularly practicing and performing when my oldest son was born. This was not intentional. It was definitely not part of the plan. I was one of those naive parents-to-be who thought my new child’s world was going to revolve around ME, not the other way around. When I became pregnant with my son, I was newly uprooted from the west coast, back to my native Virginia. As a trailing spouse, I had settled, with my husband, in a suburb of Washington, D.C.
It was incredibly easy to gain new students in my new county of residence. The school band programs in that area were (and are) strong – legendarily strong, in fact. The students are very competitive, and everyone either takes private lessons or is on a waiting list to do so. I contacted a few band directors and music store owners, and soon found myself with a full roster of students.
I decided that when my son was born, I would continue playing and teaching. I scheduled lessons around my husband’s rehearsal schedule, and that part worked out quite well. My husband, visiting relatives, and parents of students were more than happy to keep an eye on my infant son while I taught.
It was the practicing part that didn’t work out so well. For years, my daily routine had been something like the following:
- Teach college courses in the morning
- Practice in late morning/early afternoon
- Teach private students
- Rehearsal or teach more private students
Looking at that schedule now, I find it laughable that I thought I’d be able to continue with anything resembling that life without a rather hefty staff and child care.
My son, who has grown into a wonderful young man who is quite easy to get along with, (for a teenage boy), was something of a nightmare infant. He was, and is, very sensitive to sound and other things (light, taste, scratchy tags on shirts). He was colicky for several weeks after he was born, and my husband and I had no family in our area to help. We were one worn out couple for those first few months.
One day, after my son had finally settled into something resembling a schedule, and my husband was at work, I decided to return to practicing. I settled my son into his little vibrating seat with the duck mobile on it, and placed it at the far end of the room, pulled out my flute, and played ONE, SINGLE, mezzo-forte, B natural long tone.
I have been told I have a huge sound. I have been told my sound fills the room. I have been told my playing touched an audience member’s soul. All of these were intended as compliments.
My son did not like my B natural. AT ALL. It touched his soul alright. He immediately SCREAMED one of those ear-drum rattling screams that makes you wonder if you’ll survive parenting. Wondering if it was due to the sound or to the visual of mom playing the flute, I calmed him down, set him in the NEXT room, ran back into my studio, and again, I played one note. He wailed as though he were being tortured. Sigh . . . . I considered taking up the recorder.
It quickly became apparent to me that I was raising a sensitive child who would not tolerate my practicing the flute during his waking hours. My practice time was diminished to during his nap times and after he went down for the night. As any parent will tell you, nap times are also used for:
- parental napping
- cleaning your house, which will look like a grenade went off in it
- doing laundry
- more parental napping
- staring at walls
For some reason, my students’ playing never bothered him. I suspect this is either because most of their sounds weren’t fully developed, or because we were behind closed doors and he was being entertained and indulged by happy relatives, student parents, and my husband.
In any case, I began practicing and playing less and less. We moved again. We had another child. My daughter was not bothered by the sounds of the flute, and we were now in a two-story house, and I could practice downstairs, or in the basement, while my son napped upstairs. But by then, I was going crazy with the TWO kids and their competing needs, as all parents of multiple young children do. One professional flutist said to me, “You will simply tread water during these years. You will practice in bits and pieces, when you can, and when you need to. You will not make progress. You will simply maintain your skills.”
That was such a helpful thing to hear. I’d also heard, from a well-known teacher of flute, “Meh! Just let him cry!” (Not going to happen with this kiddo.) And I’d also heard another flutist say she just stayed up late to practice. (I don’t do well on less than 6 hours of sleep.) I hope that flutist (the first one, not the latter two) knows what a gift she gave me in that statement. She let me know it was ok that I wasn’t getting hours of practice, and in fact, on many days I wasn’t getting any. And she gave me hope that a time would come when I would practice and perform regularly again. Because it was getting depressing not to play, and to think that I would never play regularly again. Most musicians will tell you that our practice time and our performances are integral to our souls. In fact, every now and then, when my kids were little, I would start to feel a bit “off”, and it would take me sometimes 24-48 hours to realize that I’d forgotten to practice. I always felt better after I did.
And so now I find myself at a place where practicing and performing regularly can re-enter my life, gradually, “organically”, if you will. My youngest is starting middle school. And while my children still need me (oh yes, teens need us more than ever), they need me in different ways. And I find myself with more time to practice. I’ll continue to teach passionately. Teaching not only sustained me during these years, but became my primary focus and mission. But in order to be a better teacher, my soul needs to be complete, and it won’t be complete if I don’t play some flute. My husband is preparing to retire from his position in a performing organization – and will no longer commute or travel as much, leaving me free to do some traveling and performing of my own.
It’s terrifying and exciting to wonder where this journey will take me. And I’m so grateful to the music industry itself for being such a creative and flexible bunch of folks. Musicians can work part-time, full-time, over-time, whatever they choose.
So, if you’re a musician going through these early childhood years, the Years of Little Fluting, I promise you, this too shall pass, and you too will soon be “Back in (Concert) Black”.
Now, to go practice some long tones . . . sans background screaming.