Am I Still a Mother?

Last week, I read a fantastic article by Jessica Rudman, a fellow composer and new friend I met at the International Festival of Music by Women last March. In her article It’s Time to Drop the Word “Emerging” from Composer Opportunities, Jessica describes the pitfalls of using the word “emerging” as a way for ensembles and organizations to support developing and unknown composers whose careers are not yet on solid ground, many of whom come from backgrounds and circumstances that have limited their access to compositional opportunities. In summary, Jessica explains how opportunities need more descriptions of eligibility in order to narrow down the entries to those types of composers the organization wishes to support.

Rather than rehashing the whole of Jessica’s article (which you can read here), I want to highlight one point that specifically pertains to an experience I recently had.

Jessica encourages ensembles and organizations to write their eligibility requirements in such a way that potential composers know for certain they are eligible.

Anyone who has been reading this blog knows that I got started in composing later in life. In fact, before I even took my first composition lesson, I had already aged out of most “emerging composer” competitions. (It’s interesting how, as time goes on, that age limit keeps increasing. When I started composing ten years ago, that number was up to 35. Now, it is 40 – and occasionally I see 45. But at age 47, I am still too old.)

There are many reasons I got started late in composition, but I’m not going to go into all of them now. Today’s post will focus on motherhood.

I have a few composer friends who are mothers. Jessica is one of them. In fact, being both a mother and a composer is one of the things we talked about over lunch at the conference.

Being creative and being a mother is very difficult.


I’m not talking about being crafty. I am not against crafts. In fact, as a young mom I made a lot of crafts. But most of the time, crafts involve following a pattern.

When I mean creative, I mean making something from your own imagination.

This is very hard to do when the constant demands of taking care of another’s needs are of primary importance. When does the mother of an infant, toddler or young child who needs constant attention get the mental space to imagine, let alone time to do the work of bringing a creative work into existence? Any break is a grasp for rest and rejuvenation.

Of course, it’s not just mothers of young children who face this – all caregivers do, whether they are caring for a family member who is elderly, has special needs, or has a serious illness.

Given the cost of childcare, it’s likely to be the “emerging” composer who is going to become the primary caregiver. They certainly can’t afford to pay for childcare on an “emerging” composer’s income! Another option is pursuing different work, paying for childcare, and pursuing composition later on.

Any of these things could stop a composition career in its tracks before it starts, even if the desire and passion are there buried under exhaustion.

I had my kids at a relatively early age and homeschooled them, so the delay to getting into composition was even longer than if I had sent them to school at age six. But, when my youngest was thirteen, I felt it was OK to turn my focus more to composition.

I was still a mother.

But instead of trying to compose between diaper changes, spoon-feedings, reading picture books several times in a row, and keeping toddlers from escaping the house, my compositional efforts were squeezed between driving teens to music lessons, rehearsals, and concerts and other activities – some of which were two hours away! (When your kids are gifted and you want to help them achieve all they can, you do what needs to be done.)

Several years ago, I came across a competition open to women composers, but it had an age limit! Of course, I was too old. I was angry and sent an email telling the organizers I felt sidelined because the age limit communicated that I was not the right type of woman composer. My choices as a mom ultimately disqualified me.

Recently, I came across a unique call for scores from Boston New Music Initiative. Many kudos to this group for making a call for scores that specifically included a category for mothers/caregivers. It was the first time I had seen such a call, and I found it very thoughtful and empathetic.

But I had a question: Did I count? Was I eligible?

I am still a mother. I always will be. But at this point in my life, I don’t consider myself a caregiver. My children are grown, but not out of college. I’m still on call when they need help, even from a distance. I’m still traveling hours to attend their concerts and recitals. A significant portion of my income is still going to their tuition, living expenses and car repairs – money that could go toward recordings, equipment, travel and conference fees, all of which would make my work easier or help me with networking.

In all transparency, I’ve put my musical pursuits above retirement savings or work that needs to be done on the house, in hopes that by the time I am of “retirement age” my music career will sustain us. (I don’t plan to retire.) Is that wise? Time will tell. How ever the money is spent, the reality is this: an unestablished composer with children has a very thin budget, especially if their spouse (assuming they have one) is not in a high-paying career. Something has to give. And, in my opinion, it shouldn’t be the kids.

The BNMI call was not clear. Once a mother, always a mother. That’s true. However, the same is not true for caregiver status. Did BNMI only want submissions from composers who were currently in a caregiver role? Either way, there is a period of time – often several years – when a caregiving composer’s emotional, physical, and intellectual energy and monetary resources are diverted away from composition in order to properly care for someone else. As valuable as this work is, it puts the caregiving composer at a disadvantage even after that period ends, as they must make up for that time.

Time, energy, and money are precious resources. I will never regret spending them on my children.

But I do wish I had submitted a score in that category.

I’d love to hear from you! Please comment or send me a message telling me about yourself!

2 thoughts on “Am I Still a Mother?”

  1. Hi Heather, I am starting to feel like you are a (slightly) older version of me, and I’m just so glad that you exist, and that you wrote this post. I am still in the thick of homeschooling our three kids, and only started composing in earnest 4ish years ago at age 34. I imagine there are probably many women in similar situations yet to come out of the woodwork, and I love that at least one institution has been paying attention.

    1. Thank you, Avril! I am glad we have connected! I am happy to share the tidbits of helpful information I have picked up along the way, much which has been shared with me by an older woman composer and friend!

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