This week’s Five Things Friday post comes to us from Philadelphia-based French horn freelancer, teacher, and community connector, Kristina Mulholland. Kristina’s is the first post of what we hope will become many on Brass Chicks which provides information for and aims to help women balancing motherhood and brass playing careers. Thanks to Kristina for sharing her experience! See the bottom of this post for Kristina’s full bio.
I am so excited to be this week’s Five Things Friday guest contributor. Sharing my perspective, throwing my two cents into the pot, adding more online content to this topic is so important for women who are freelancers and brass players. You can balance family AND a brass playing career and it’s about time we celebrate! Below I will be sharing my ideas related to freelancing and brass playing from my own new mommy angle. My hope is that my article allows room for conversation among current brass mamas and provides avenues of support for future brass mamas out there.
Without further adieu, the five things I learned about freelancing after having my first child:
Before becoming pregnant, I worked… A LOT. When I wasn’t playing horn or practicing horn or reading about how to be a better horn player, I was teaching or preparing lesson plans for teaching or reading about how to be a better teacher. And if I had any extra time in my schedule, I would practice more or find more odds and ends jobs to keep busy. So naturally when I finished my last official full day of work before having my baby, it was a sad day in a way for me…until I had an epiphany–projects! Although my main job right now is taking care of my baby and reading about how to take better care of my baby. However, my workaholic brain has become 1000 times more sane after discovering key projects that compliment the motherhood lifestyle as well as push me closer to my professional goals. One of the first projects I found after life at home settled into a groove was “Crushing Classical.” The podcasts put out by Tracy and Eileen are an easy, hands-free way to continue to explore my career. And the challenges and courses that they offer through their Facebook group gave me the tools and motivation to continue to push ahead when it would have been so easy to sit on the couch and become a daytime tv zombie. Another project that has helped to keep me motivated and balanced in my career is involvement in the performance of Stockhausen’s KLANG in April. The horn movement, NEBADON, involves coordination with a narrator and electronics, is very open to musical interpretation of the notes on the page, and standard performance practice dictates it be performed from memory. Needless to say, this project requires daily attention and I am so thankful to be a part of it. The last project I have been working on is launching my own business called Concertino Kids. Combining all of the things I loved learning about music as a young child and sharing it with others has been a dream of mine for a long time and it has been wonderful seeing this idea come to life.
About nine years ago, I decided to participate in my first triathlon. It was an all-female series that is now defunct but I am happy to say that a new all-female triathlon is coming to Philadelphia this summer. Anyway, my goal of doing this triathlon was to just do it and make it to the finish line. It was an extremely empowering experience and I have since raced in nearly twenty triathlon events with the simple goals of no stopping and making it to the finish line. The longest race I finished took 7 or 8 hours to complete–1 mile swim, 40 mile bike, 6.2 mile run. I also coached a youth triathlon camp the week before my son was born. One thing I took away from these experiences with triathlon directly parallels something I learned about playing during and after pregnancy–pacing is key. Your body goes through different stages–3 sports in triathlon, 3 trimesters in pregnancy–and it is your job to listen to your body and react accordingly to maximize your output.
Nausea played a big part of my early pregnancy pacing. Breaks during practice sessions, scheduling shorter but more frequent practice sessions when possible, developing a hyper-focused practice plan with all upcoming gigs in mind, and always keeping a water bottle nearby are all ways I was able to stay in shape and prepared despite the nausea.
Midway through pregnancy I experienced days of extreme exhaustion. Working a full time day job that involved jumping around with hundreds of kids per week, freelancing or practicing many nights until 10pm or later, significantly cutting out my usual caffeine consumption, and adding in the ocaissonal middle-of-the-night wakings…it was bound to happen. During this time I forced myself to evaluate and compartmentalize my obligations. Lesson planning for my day job had to be completed during times that would not interfere with getting as close to 7 or 8 hours of sleep per night as possible. I held myself to a strict, no excuses practice routine focused on aspects of my playing that usually deteriorate more quickly than others (endurance and articulation) and the repertoire of upcoming freelancing gigs. I even took an audition as a means of keeping a definite playing project in mind during this time. I forced myself to nap, even if only for 30 minutes, on days when I had a little break between day job and freelancing. I also used strategically timed limited consumption of caffeinated soda when necessary.
Heading into and through my third trimester, I found my pacing efforts needed to be centered around breathing and posture. My body felt so different each time I approached the horn. I had to adjust the way I positioned my bell to accommodate my growing belly. And my breathing was best when I maintained a consistent practice routine.
After the arrival of the baby, I took my time reapproaching the horn. Pain management and scheduling were my pacing mechanism during the recovery period. I paid close attention to any pain or tightness I felt during my early playing stages and relied heavily on buzzing to rebuild. One of the most helpful playing routines that I used during this time and also use every day for general maintenance is Marian Hesse’s “Daily Routines for Horn.” It targets all of the cornerstones of playing in such an approachable way. For fitting in practice time, I buzzed and played quiet long tones while the baby napped nearby in his Rock ’n Play. As the baby’s awake time increased, I made sure to work with my husband and his work schedule so that I would have daily “off baby duty” time to practice.
Every freelancer is faced with the dilemma of priorities when it comes to the gig offers they choose to accept. It is a game of setting limits–rate of pay, distance to travel, type of music, ensemble, time of gig, the list goes on. There are two extremes to this game–people who set very specific criteria for whether or not they will accept a gig offer and people who have virtually no limits to the gigs they will play. There was a time when I would take each and every gig I was fortunate enough to be offered for the playing and networking experience. However, I knew people who would say no to certain opportunities in a black and white kind of way (ie–no ringer gigs). Although I still am so thankful every time the phone rings for a gig and believe in evaluating options on a case by case basis, the priorities have shifted and the fact that every gig is a choice has become even more clear to me. Factoring in the need for, availability and cost of a sitter is the obvious difference between pre and post baby but it is a bit more complicated a decision, a case by case situation. I am also aware now more than ever of the opportunity to not only play with but socialize with my fellow colleagues on the job which is an amazing perk to this ever-changing tundra of a profession.
Everyone always says it takes a village but what does that mean? For the longest time, I measured my village by the Hallmark Card standard–lots of family living close by always there eager to watch your child for free, or an impeccably rated and reasonably priced daycare, everyone watching your child automatically knowing exactly how to care for them just as you would, no unsolicited advice or judgement in sight. What ridiculous assumptions and expectations!!! I have found over time that my family’s village presents in a different way but it is most definitely there and it is amazing. It consists of the family and friends but also colleagues (present and past) and students and students’ families. It has been such a positive experience discovering this village and seeing the strengths and interest of each member of my village shine around my family and our son. Your village is defined by you.
One of the most important things I learned about freelancing after having a baby is that I am surrounded by some amazing, accomplished and encouraging moms. There are three people in particular who I would like to acknowledge and highlight for their openness in sharing their experiences in balancing motherhood with their professional careers. Their positivity and advice this past year helped me to better understand myself and the best decisions to make for my career and family throughout my pregnancy journey. Dr. Catherine Nelson, a friend from our horn playing and music teaching days at The College of New Jersey, works with children every day whether its her own two boys or the patients at the hospital where she is completing her residency. Katie’s tips and encouragement came from her knowledge as a doctor, as a new mom with her second child on the way, as someone who has a passion for running and races equal to my triathlon hobby, and as a horn player. Its nice to have all of those perspectives rolled up into one. Audrey Flores was another person who I reached out to during my pregnancy. Job security in freelancing is incredibly unpredictable depending on so many factors but Audrey helped put my fears of physical recovery, figuring out practicing with a new baby in the house, and overall perception of me as a player during and after pregnancy at bay. Another important mentor I had during my pregnancy was Heather Murphy-Monteith. Her words of wisdom came from a place of experience balancing her career as a dancer, entrepreneur, and education manager with motherhood. Our professional relationship, having existed years before I became pregnant, allowed me to feel comfortable in creating a space to discuss both pregnancy in the workplace and ways I could further my career while pregnant.
I would be lying if I said I did not encounter my fair share of unprofessionalism, insensitive commentary, and unsolicited tummy touching during pregnancy. However, the positivity shown to me far outweighed any unwanted attention I received. It is difficult enough to go through such dramatic physical and mental changes that focusing on the positives is most important anyway. Find your mentor, someone who does what you do or what you want to do and who has been in your shoes and who you feel comfortable speaking with. It really does make a world of difference!
It has been fun reflecting on freelancing, brass playing and having a child. This topic is so often set aside as too taboo to bring to open discussion. I will be honest that there was a voice in my head during my pregnancy reminding me of the inner dialogue many female freelancers and brass players have held or continue to hold onto as their truths–build your career THEN think about building your family, choosing music as a career means that you will be too poor to have kids, having kids means no time to practice, having kids means you are a mom first and then a musician. The real truth is that a Classical musician’s career is constantly evolving and never truly done “being built,” you make time for what matters, work-life balance is possible and being a great musician AND a great mom are two different things both achievable by one single individual.
Kristina Mulholland is an active French horn freelancer, teacher, and community connector in the greater Philadelphia area.
Her performances have included Symphony in C, Westminster Brass, Philos Brass, Harrisburg Symphony, Delaware Symphony Orchestra, Colorado College Summer Music Festival, Aspen Summer Music Festival and Curtis Symphony Orchestra. Her teaching engagements have spanned from private instruction to large ensemble rehearsal, from summer camp to general music, and from preschool through college-aged students. Kristina currently maintains a thriving private music instruction studio and conducts the Holy Innocents Church Vietnamese Children’s Choir.
In addition to education and performance, Kristina is passionate about music as a community agent. Her music community connector experiences have included working for the nonprofit music organization empowering disadvantaged youth called Play On Philly!, curating a music-art exhibit performance based on the sights and sounds of music intervals called Lines in Melody, creating a unified Philadelphia horn community through a project called Philadelphia Horn Orchestra, and volunteering on the fundraising committee for the nonprofit music organization called Rock to the Future.
She received her bachelor’s degree in Music Education from The College of New Jersey and her master’s degree and artist diploma in French Horn Performance from Temple University. Kristina’s primary horn mentors have included Ann Mendoker, Kathryn Mehrtens, Wilhelm Schwaiger and Jeffrey Lang.
In her free time, Kristina enjoys petting her two cats, annoying her horn player husband, making buzzing sounds with her son, and participating in triathlons.
Find out more about Kristina online at www.kristinamulholland.com