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New Report Sounds the Alarm Over ‘Talent Exodus’ in Classical Music as Parents Struggle

By Anya Wassenberg on October 31, 2022

When classical performers play on stage, it’s understood there are family members in the background, but we seldom consider the impact their home life has on the music. Unless, of course, you are also a working musician and parent.

report released in the UK in October 2022 is the first to document the impact that caring for children and others (including older and/or disabled relatives) has on working life, and careers overall.

Key takeaways

The key points brought to light in the report titled Bittersweet Symphony, put together by the Parents and Carers in Performing Arts (PiPA) in collaboration with the Department of Organisational Psychology at Birkbeck, University of London may be stark, but hardly surprising.

  • 40% of those juggling a career in classical music and parenting or caring for others are considering leaving the world of performing altogether;
  • 85% of self-employed women in classical music also care for children or the elderly;
  • Caring for kids is costing women about £8,000 a year ($12,605 CAD) in lost opportunities vis-à-vis their male counterparts;
  • Women who care for children and/or others are twice as likely to forego opportunities because of a lack of support in the classical music world.

The challenges

A career in classical music is tough to sustain to begin with. Add parenting or caregiving to the everyday routine, and it becomes exponentially more difficult.

The report considered data from 410 participants, along with three online focus groups (25 participants), and in-depth interviews (eight participants). After gathering information, the numbers were analyzed according to gender, and by whether or not the participant was a parent or caregiver.

The specific challenges outlined in the study include:

  • The rigours and demands of touring and staying away from home;
  • Schedules that are both unpredictable and inflexible;
  • A lack of affordable childcare that is also flexible;
  • Balancing the demands of keeping performing skills at top-notch level without outside support;
  • Juggling teaching and other duties necessitated by irregular income.

The effects were particularly acute for women, who tend to take on the lion’s share of parenting, and as a result, work less, and earn less for it. As the report points out, the world of classical music can’t be truly diverse and accessible to all if it effectively excludes many parents, and disproportionately affects women and other disadvantaged groups.

Mental and physical well-being are both impacted by the stresses of having to try and balance both worlds, particularly for single parents/caregivers.

What’s next?

The classical music world is still largely built on the old model, where it’s assumed that parenting duties, if applicable, are handled by someone else outside the frame of the music industry. What’s needed is a change of focus when it comes to those HR issues, and some adjustments are relatively simple. In Scandinavia, for example, rehearsals are scheduled for family-friendly hours in order to attract more women to work in orchestras.

In the UK, work is underway to act on the report’s findings. PiPA has created a working group to develop best practices that will address the many systemic challenges faced by parents working in classical music. The group includes prominent UK organizations such as Black Lives in Music, Help Musicians, Independent Society of Musicians, Liverpool Philharmonic, Musicians’ Union, Phonographic Performance Limited, Royal Opera House, Scottish Opera and SWAP’ra.

As the report’s authors point out, music is the original gig economy, and the current landscape sees fewer and fewer long-term contracts or stable employment opportunities except at the very top of the classical music stratosphere. It’s not only musicians who are impacted; promoters, technicians, and administrators, among others, share the same kind of unpredictable hours and workload.

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