The Family Bond

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Alison Reese is editor of Harp Column. She is a freelance performer and teacher in West Michigan. Email her at areese@harpcolumn.com.

Our balancing acts are as unique as our music

I have to admit, I was hooked the minute I read the first sentence of Megan Metheney’s feature story “Balancing Act,” in this issue. Go ahead, flip to page 32 and read it for yourself. But promise you’ll come back here—it’s easy to get lured into her article.

Metheney writes about balancing family life with harp life from the perspective of a mother of three children. While motherhood is just one of the family roles harpists balance, it is certainly a unique one. Since many harpists are women, and many women are mothers, this seemed like a good spot to start the discucssion of the balance between home and harp. But the demands of every family—whether it be caring for aging parents, ailing spouses, or active children—present similar struggles when trying to juggle them with your music.

What is refreshing about Metheney’s article is the realistic outlook she presents on the balancing act (spoiler alert: there are no easy answers) and the practical advice she shares from other harpists who have been in the trenches of motherhood. Whether it’s motherhood or another family role competing with the harp for your time, energy, and head space right now, you will likely be able to find at least one or two strategies in Metheney’s article that can apply with your situation.

Ten years into this motherhood thing, I can now look back at my younger self and chuckle at the idealist view of what the family-harp balancing act would look like—kids quietly playing in the next room while I teach, babies napping all afternoon so I can practice, enjoying a family dinner before I head off to a rehearsal while my husband takes the evening shift. Instead it’s been a baby sitting on my lap during lessons when I can’t find a sitter, cramming in late-night practice sessions after the kids finally go to bed, and flat-out nuclear level meltdowns from a toddler when I race in for a quick dinner wearing concert black because kids learn very quickly that when I’m wearing black, that means I’m leaving for the night.

It’s been a decade of high-fiving my husband as he walks in the door from work and I rush out to a gig. It’s been turning down a lot of jobs because it’s just too much time away from my family to make it worthwhile. It’s been taking some jobs not because they pay well, but because they are close to home and allow me to keep up my chops. As I am sitting at my desk writing this article, my 5-year-old son has climbed up into my lap and announced he will sit here and “help me”  until I’m finished and can play a game with him. Neither my family life nor my harp life have unfolded as I thought they would, but I’ve done what works for me and my family.

The balance that works for me will not work for the next person, and maybe that’s why there are no easy answers when it comes to the family-harp balance. Everyone is different. You can’t just apply a prefabricated template to your life and expect it to work like it did for someone else. We can, however, learn from others. Yolanda Kondonassis figured out how to compartmentalize aspects of her life. Bethany Evans started a support group for mothers like her. Elisabeth Fontan-Binoche flat out stopped playing for 10 years while she raised her children. Perhaps even more valuable than the practical advice we gain from reading about the path other harpists have taken, is simply knowing that we are not alone—there are others struggling with the same problems, there are others who feel like they aren’t doing it “right,” there are others just trying to make it through this stage of life.

So whatever balancing act you are trying to pull off in your life right now, take heart knowing you’re not the only one on the tightrope.

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