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Glimpses at A Cappella Parenthood

June 7, 2018

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Glimpses at A Cappella Parenthood

You don’t have to be a parent to know that having children changes lives profoundly. How do a cappella singers handle that transition into parenthood, and balance their responsibilities?

 

Four mothers -- Caroline Brown Albanese and Beth Eldridge of Treble in New York City, one who became a mother in November and one, a mother of three, respectively; Melissa Paul-Perez of Hartford-based all-female a cappella group, The Sweetest Key, who has a 2-year-old daughter and will welcome her second child in October; and Randi Stanley, mother of two children ages 7 and 10, and former member of Treble and the now-defunct Sirens -- opened up to us about their experiences juggling their desires to sing, their commitments to their respective groups, and their responsibilities and needs as parents. And their experiences show us that there’s no one way to be a group performer as a parent.

 

See how these Four women handled one of life’s biggest shifts while attempting to keep music in their lives. (And, our sincere thanks to them for sharing their journeys and perspectives with us!)

 

Before, and After

 

Brown Albanese...

She has been a member of Treble for 12 years, and prior to 2017, three of the 30 other members she performed with had been mothers. “Two auditioned as mothers (so no maternity leave needed), and one became a mom (times three!) while in the group.” Last year was a “maternity moment” for the group, however, with four of its current roster of 11 welcoming a baby in a 12-month span.

 

Paul-Perez...

She has been an active a cappella singer for nearly 2 decades. But while singing, she knew one thing -- that she wanted to be a mother, and “really no outside force that was going to steer me away from having children.” She had her first while singing with Restated in New York City. “I was only the second member to become a parent so the experience was pretty new to the group.” Between the group’s lax rehearsal schedule due to the professional commitments of many members and “the overwhelming newness of motherhood,” she ended up having a 6-month leave before coming back to rehearsal. When she moved to Conn. half a year after that, she left entirely and rejoined her former all-female group. “We have 12 members and 5 of us are moms.”

 

Stanley...

She had her first child in 2007 while singing with the Sirens. That group was seven strong, with one mother already on board and two more becoming moms within weeks of Stanley. “We collectively tried to make it work, but the importance of sleep training and being able to function at day jobs took place of rehearsals. The group disbanded within a few months, but I happily rejoined Treble, having been a member and music director previously.” She didn’t assume any leadership roles, but continued to sing with the group for 2 years before moving to Florida at the end of 2009.

 

How Groups Handled It

 

Brown Albanese...

The amount of women having children led to a lot of extended absences in 2017, and this year. “Once we had two members out on maternity at the same time -- I'm one of them -- there was a toll on the group.” No maternity leave policy was in place, but it was admittedly tough to navigate group activities as absences became extended. “I'm someone who needed more time -- I tried to come back when my baby was 15 weeks old, just as I was heading back to work and my baby hit a major sleeping issue, all at the same time.” However, “I made it to one rehearsal and had a total breakdown. It was too much for me to take on returning to my paying job and my non-paying ‘music job,’ all while getting a few broken hours of sleep each night.”

 

After taking another month to get her bearings, Brown Albanese returned to the group, participating in its annual retreat and signing on for a May performance. “I will say ... that that extra month caused some concern. I think people wondered if I was going to really come back” Thankfully, group members gave her the extra time all the same, for which she’s grateful. And “around the same time, Treble decided to implement a leave of absence policy which applies to both parental leave and leaves of absence for any other reason.”

 

Eldridge...

In addition to a new time-off policy, Eldridge also praised Treble’s use of polls and other online tools to “address concerns and logistics outside of rehearsal,” something she says “is really paramount to my personal satisfaction as a member of our group.” Fostering open lines of communication is sensible, she adds, considering the numerous familial and professional obligations of each singer. Eldridge feels other groups could benefit from instituting such policies and check-ins.

 

Paul-Perez…

Her group consistently rehearses weekly and performs monthly, despite several members being parents. And they find ways to work around respective mothers’ needs, Perez says. For example, “one of our members is a single mom, so we rehearse at her house with her daughter there so she can still be a part of the group. Other moms in the group have partners or extended family who are able to take charge of the childcare duties for rehearsals and gigs which allows us the freedom to dedicate our time and attention to singing.”

 

Perez, meanwhile, happily reports that her husband supports her passion for singing, as he has from the start of their relationship. “So we make time and effort to let each other pursue and explore our passions. It makes us better parents and better people when we do.” Thankfully, she adds, “I think the same can be said for all of the moms in my group.”

 

Stanley...

Treble had been “incredibly about accommodating my needs,” she says, meeting at her apartment for rehearsals so that she wouldn’t have to pay for a babysitter if her husband was unavailable. But “at the time, I was the only mother in the group, and it was a bit isolating for me.” She couldn’t socialize after practices, and had to miss rehearsals if her daughter was ill.

 

Now that the group has several mothers, “I feel some twinges of jealousy now that there are four amazing moms in the group, three of them being new mothers within 6 months of each other! What I wouldn’t give to move back to NYC and audition for a third time to join Treble.”

 

Struggles and Adjustments

 

Brown Albanese...

Sleep deprivation put Brown Albanese in “survival mode,” which she says makes it tempting to eliminate every technically unnecessary commitment from life. “But for me, singing is the only thing right now that makes me feels like ‘old me.’ When I first returned to rehearsal, I finally felt like myself again for two lovely hours. It was the first time in 4 months that I just let my brain go to a familiar place.”

 

However, “those two hours each week don't exist in a vacuum. It threw off my delicate balance on the tightrope walk that is new parenthood. But with a little more time, I felt able to return to rehearsal.” And the struggle doesn’t last forever. “If you can limp through those first six months or year with the help of your group, there's a good chance you'll find your new balance between parental responsibilities and your musical commitments. I'm already feeling something that resembles equilibrium again. On my good days.”

 

Eldridge...

Eldridge similarly felt more connected with herself after returning to rehearsals. "I needed the normalcy of this outside activity in my life,” she recalls. However, she adds, “it was definitely easier to come back when I had only one kid.” Indeed, she found herself re-evaluating whether or not to stay active in Treble with each new child. But once each of her sons turned 1, “it was a lot easier to balance things.” Of course, striking that balance can still be difficult, especially when it comes to honoring non-musical commitments to the group.

 

Paul-Perez...

“I think it was a learning curve on how to keep moving forward as a group as members' priorities shift and group dynamics change,” she says. Indeed, Perez can’t keep up with those embarking upon late-night karaoke trips or post-rehearsal drinks, nor can the other mothers joining her in the park with their children for socialization. Admittedly, “it's sometimes difficult to meet in the middle when it comes to social outings, but we have a mutual understanding that not everything will work for everyone.”

 

Stanley...

She continued with her a cappella arranging business when she moved to Florida, though “in the first few years as a new parent, I didn’t have a lot of time to arrange.” In fact, “only when my daughter was asleep could I create, and that took a back seat to things like taking a shower.” Life became easier when her daughter started preschool. When she gave birth to her son in 2010, though, things once again ground to a halt for 6 months.

 

To fill the void, she tried starting a group with fellow a cappella singers Rachel Chalhoub and Andrea Asuaje. The three of them would meet at her house so that she could be near her children, but there were other struggles that proved difficult to navigate. “I was never up for late-night rehearsals, for the social aspect, and when it was time to rehearse, I wanted to rehearse.”  Plus, once again, she found herself as the sole parent of a group. While she wanted to get something larger going, “simply being in a smaller city was working against me.”

 

Getting Through, and Life Today

 

Brown Albanese...

“Here's the thing that struck me most: when I was pregnant, I didn't hesitate at all when someone said ‘Will you stay in Treble?’” she says. “That was almost insulting to me --  of course I would stay in Treble!” Once her child arrived, however, her resolution was shaken some. Maternity leave left her feeling disconnected from her group, and the demands of parenting made her feel less invested in her responsibilities to Treble. “But when the fog of the first few months lifted, I was able to refocus on the fact that singing makes me who I am.”

 

It’s a priority for Brown Albanese to stay involved, as “I want my daughter to see that I'm a fully formed human with my own interests and talents outside of being a mom, wife and professional.” Plus, “I think ultimately it will make me a better and happier person and mother.”

 

She also craved time with group members as “new parenthood can be a lonely time. I've missed my friends and singing so much.” The key is “supporting fellow singers with patience and compassion as they become parents.” She called it a “make-or-break factor in whether I was be able to return with commitment. But now that I’m back, it feels really good to be here”

 

Eldridge...

Eldridge has learned that finding balance and peace of mind in life means, at times, giving less attention to some facets of her life -- “buckets,” as she referred to them -- in service of more completely honoring others. For example, “I will be crushing it in one area -- career -- and then find the others have less of my attention. Or, the kids will have school events and activities and I'll be less present at work, or will not be able to commit to a particular gig,” she says. But, she knows that she and her fellow Treble members are dedicated to “navigating the situation] as a group.”

 

Paul-Perez...

Perez’s longtime love for singing -- and her support network -- has helped her maintain her connection to it through motherhood. “When you become a parent, there can be very little time to prioritize things for yourself. We work hard to do that and we have wonderfully supportive families that give us the space to make it happen.” And that network includes the group itself. “We have a real sisterhood and have become part of the village in helping to raise each other's children.”

 

Stanley...

Her kids are older -- ages 10 and 7 -- so her time with them is limited to afternoons, evenings and bedtimes. “They need homework help, and they’re used to having me around. I’ve made the conscious choice to put my kids first.” That said, “I would definitely be open to a weekly rehearsal to join another group again.”

 

But finding one continues to be a challenge, as the schedules of local choirs often conflict with her children’s school vacation calendar and performances. She continues to put out feelers in her community, to either start a new group or join an existing one, but most groups are too far.  “Needless to say, being a parent has changed my availability to be in a group, but the desire is still there!”

 

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