Monday, April 18, 2011

Music and parenthood

I've just gotten some very good news from great musician and blogger Jon McCaslin that he's going to be a Dad. That reminded me of a couple of truisms I've discovered about musicianship and parenting. The first thing is that every musician who is a parent to be is always worried that they're are going to becoming a worse musician after they have their child. The second thing is that all of them become better musicians after they have kids. I have seen both these things occur time and time again, as well as experiencing it firsthand.
I think everyone thinks that after the baby is born they won't have time to practice, their attention will be divided, etc. etc. but as I mentioned time and time again, from Renee Rosnes to Jim Vivian, to David Occhipinti and countless others, I have seen a new maturity, fire, and completeness to their playing than before they had children. Yet when you ask any of them if they practiced more during the first 5 years or so of their child's life than before that, they'd ask you if someone dropped you on your head in your first 5 years of life. So, how did they all get better? Well, I have a few theories.

1. It is impossible to obsess about yourself when you're a young parent.
At least to the same degree that people without kids do. When I was younger and didn't have my daughter, I spent an unhealthy amount of time thinking about me. My career, my chops, my gear, etc. After I became a father (and with a lot of help from my wife) I started being mainly concerned with the well-being of my family. I literally didn't have time to "sweat the small stuff". What that translated to on the bandstand was less focus on myself musically and a lot less fear. If you're responsible for the life or death of a young human, how hard can it be to play music by comparison?

2. People with very little time to spare learn how to make very good use of it.
After my daughter was born, I was amazed when I realized how much time I wasted before I was a father. Not just watching T.V. and goofing off in general either. Even when I practiced, I rushed through things, let my mind wander and wasn't engaged etc. When a new parent only gets to see their instrument for 1/2 an hour once a week, you better believe they'll use the time effectively, and enjoy it too!

3. Being exhausted makes it very hard to be tense and over think things
The first 18 months I was a parent I lived (like all new parents) in a fatigue induced fog. It was like I was on some really powerful hallucinogen that I knew how to come down from (by getting some sleep) but never got a chance to. They do this to people in cults too. Why? So they don't spend any time reasoning through things. What that translates to in playing is a directness and stripping away of artifice. I was also literally too tired to keep my body and mind tense and judgmental the way I used to. Finally, I found that suddenly I could nap whenever I had a chance and also could manage a certain professional level of playing no matter how little sleep I'd had. (Both are very helpful when on the road.)

4. The little human at your house doesn't care how well or bad you play.
You played well tonight, your kid needs you to feed him/her, change him/her, hold him/her, and love him/her.
You played poorly tonight, same deal. Kids teach us there are a lot more important things in life than our own egos.

In closing I'd like to say that there are a lot of great wonderful, and caring musicians that don't have children. There are a lot of ways to develop a more worldly view besides having kids. I just think that when you become a parent, a more profound view of the world just can't be avoided. So if you or your partner is expecting, dive into it with all your heart and soul.

...It's the longest gig you'll ever'll do it for the rest of your life, in fact.

....It's also the best gig you'll ever do. Enjoy it!


  1. Thanks for that article, same here: After having my kids my playing got so much better.
    I don't need to prove anything with my playing anymore; I don't need to try so hard.
    Even my time got better, because I'm much more relaxed.
    At a recent discussion about this topic I came up with this:
    Music is still the most important thing in my life; it's just that my life isn't the most important thing anymore.

    best from Berlin, Michael

  2. Well said Michael! Thanks so much for stopping by.

  3. The biggest truth is the "People with very little time to spare learn how to make very good use of it." which leads to ... I've got an hour..let's get it done right and as efficiently as possible so I can get back to my family and be a dad.

    Punctuality is an interesting thing too....I find groups that I play in it's the members who have families that show up on time and ready to go... it's the single guys with all the time in the world that forget about rehearsal/sound check times and show up an hour late.

  4. I am so glad that I stumbled on this.

    I am a part time trumpet player... picked up the horn when I was 30 years old. At 43 I am a first time father. My first concern?? Will I have time for music??

    I am still working it out but I do know two things - 1) I can't stop playing trumpet because I love this music so much and 2) I absolutely adore my son and will do anything for him.

    Eric (