Family-friendly? How can musicians reconcile career and family?

Working hours of professional musicians often clash with everyday routines, especially in families with children. Some German orchestras –  for example in Nuremberg, Stuttgart, Plauen-Zwickau – still manage to create family-friendly working conditions. Very often these rely on more or less informal arrangements, based on mutual trust and collegiality. From the parents’ perspective, family life often requires a high degree of flexibility – a combination of various models of flexi-time (if offered by the orchestra), day-care centres (if available), help from family members (often grandparents), and/or the employment of a nanny.

How to combine family and profession

Even more challenging is the situation for single parents. They are facing specific problems, such as spending only very limited time with their children, financial difficulties, and, perhaps most of all, psychological pressures. The State Theatre Stuttgart offers its employees (not just the musicians) a service unique among cultural organisations in Germany: a day-care centre open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and where parents can also drop off their children by the hour. Such a service is not simply an immense relief for parents, it also helps to keep talented staff and allows young mothers or fathers to return to work earlier. Another possibility is parental leave. It offers the opportunity for either or both parent(s) to stop working for a total of 14 months while receiving social benefits known as “parents money”.

This can be attractive for both employer and employee, even though certain financial drawbacks remain. Increasingly, this offer is also taken up by young fathers. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra is a case study for family-friendly organisation. As an ensemble of independent musicians, its members are required to play in 50% of the concerts in any season; also, without permanent residence, touring is a key part of the orchestra’s work. Yet the ensemble agreed for membership to continue during parental leave, and organisational and financial support is given to musicians travelling with their children.

An outstanding example is the “music kindergarten” in Berlin, founded in 2005 through the initiative of Daniel Barenboim. While its children come from families of all professions, music plays a central role in its activities. It aims to interest children in classical music from an early age, but also to offer a more holistic education, stimulating creativity and social skills.

Finally: there are many issues to be tackled for a more family-friendly environment for musicians and orchestras.