New Report Sounds Alarm on ‘Talent Drain’ in Classical Music as Parents Fight

When classical artists perform on stage, it is understood that there are family members in the background, but we rarely consider the impact of their family life on the music. Unless, of course, you’re also a musician and a parent.

A report published in the UK in October 2022 is the first to document the impact of caring for children and others (including elderly and/or disabled parents) on working life and careers in general .

Key points to remember

The key points highlighted in the Bittersweet Symphony report, compiled by Parents and Carers in Performing Arts (PiPA) in collaboration with the Department of Organizational Psychology at Birkbeck, University of London, may be striking, but not surprising.

  • 40% of those juggling a career in classical music with parenting or caring for others plan to leave the performing world altogether;
  • 85% of independent women in classical music also care for children or the elderly;
  • Caring for children costs women an estimated £8,000 a year (C$12,605) in lost opportunities compared to their male counterparts;
  • Women who care for children and/or other people are twice as likely to forgo opportunities due to a lack of support in the classical music world.

Challenges

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

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

Specific challenges outlined in the study include:

  • The rigors and demands of touring and staying away from home;
  • Schedules that are both unpredictable and inflexible;
  • A lack of affordable and flexible childcare services;
  • Balance the demands of maintaining execution skills at a top-notch level without outside support;
  • Juggle teaching and other tasks necessitated by irregular income.

The effects have been particularly acute for women, who tend to shoulder the lion’s share of parenthood and therefore work less and earn less for it. As the report points out, the world of classical music cannot be truly diverse and accessible to all if it effectively excludes many parents and disproportionately affects women and other disadvantaged groups.

Both mental and physical well-being are impacted by the stress of having to try to balance the two worlds, especially for single parents/guardians.

And after?

The classical music world is still largely built on the old model, where it is assumed that parental duties, if any, are handled by someone else outside the music industry framework. What is needed is a shift in focus when it comes to these HR issues, and some adjustments are relatively straightforward. In Scandinavia, for example, rehearsals are scheduled at family-friendly times to encourage more women to work in orchestras.

In the UK, work is underway to follow up on the findings of the report. PiPA has established a task force to develop best practices that will address the many systemic challenges faced by parents working in classical music. The group includes leading 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 today’s landscape sees fewer and fewer long-term contracts or stable employment opportunities except at the top of the stratosphere of classical music. It’s not just the musicians who are affected; promoters, technicians and administrators, among others, share the same kind of unpredictable hours and workload.

Latest posts by Anya Wassenberg (see everything)

Comments are closed.