Kristina Mulholland is an active freelance French horn player and educator in the greater Philadelphia area. Some of her recent performances have included Symphony in C, Riverside Sinfonia, Patriot Brass, and Opera Delaware. In 2018, Kristina gave the Philadelphia premiere of Karl Stockhausen’s Nebadon. Her teaching engagements have spanned from private instruction to large ensemble rehearsal, from summer camp to general music, and from preschool through college-aged students. Ms. Mulholland received her Bachelors in Music Education from The College of New Jersey and her Masters and Artist Diploma in French Horn Performance from Temple University. Find out more about Kristina online at www.kristinamulholland.com.
Photo credit Ben Tran Photography
It all started when…
August 17th, 2017. 11:45am. After the initial intake process, including over an hour of trying to find a vein for an IV (one of the attempts literally bent the needle), it was time for the C-section of my breech baby.
Doctor jokes to keep the mood light:
“So if your child marries and his wife has a breech baby it will be a son of a breech.”
“We don’t do the Cleopatra treatment to the operating room.”
“This will be the happiest day of your life.”
And just like that, at 12:10pm, 9 pounds and 7 ounces changed my life forever. It was the most terrifying, painful and longest day of my life. But it turned out the doctor was right, it was also my happiest.
Then comes everyday real life…
New parents from all different career backgrounds know this feeling. A major shift in identity happens when you suddenly have a new, vulnerable, beautiful being to care for. A balance, compromise, redefinition of how things in life work happens in such a unique way for each person. Its virtually indescribable.
I found this balance to be especially difficult to navigate as a musician, educator, and wife of a musician/educator. Some of my personal internal struggles–How do I prioritize my family over teaching hundreds of other people’s children? How do I balance practicing and caring for my child? How do I deal with the guilt and anxiety of leaving my child with a babysitter? How do I balance income opportunities with childcare costs? How can I be the best version of myself for my family and my career? What matters most?
Just promise me you’ll keep playing…
This past year has not been easy but it has been worth it. I often find myself reflecting on a moment that happened playing a gig a few months before having my baby. An older gentleman came up to me after he found out I was pregnant and said, “just promise me you’ll keep playing.” At first I was offended. Playing horn is such a large part of my identity. Who is this person to assume that I have chosen to completely abandon my career once the baby arrives? Then I reminded myself that I am so incredibly fortunate to live during a time when, as a female, balancing a performance career and a family is even an option.
Five reasons why having a baby has made me a better musician… 1. Body awareness
More often than I would like to admit, I have found myself singularly focused on my embouchure or sound or inner voice during practice or performance. Forgetting to give attention to the core muscles is an easy thing to do in most cases. However, when you are recovering from a nine month long process that changed the way organs were arranged within your body and concluded in layers of stitches, you kind of have to think about that stuff. Not only is it about drawing attention to your core in the moment but also creating and constantly reassessing the big picture plan for your body–pacing, patience, and slowly reintroducing elements of playing. Learning how to allow my body to recover while re-establishing my practice routine has helped me better understand my body within the ebb and flow of practice and performance giglife.
2. Mental health
In addition to all of the physical changes, having a baby can do some pretty crazy things to your brain too–who knew? The mental focus needed to persevere as a freelance musician is intense. Constantly maintaining the positive attitude and creative drive to play better, network more, and keep your standards high can be exhausting. Adding a baby to the mix doesn’t make it easier but it does force a serious amount of self reflection. For me, this self reflection process has meant creating more space and finding approaches that work for me in my mental health journey. The cool thing about finding things that help me deal with the mental strain and isolation that come with new parenthood–they also help alleviate performance anxiety.
3. Setting priorities
Before having my baby, my priorities were all about my jobs and making money. Often times, I would work twelve hour days with my head buried in the sand of my jobs. I was completely convinced that the harder I worked, the more success I would eventually have. After having my baby, I was forced to rewire my thinking. Thank goodness! I would have surely worked myself into the ground and probably given up my freelance career had I kept going through life the way I had been. A year later, I am still getting the hang of working smarter, not harder. But changing my thinking has allowed me to shape my freelance and teaching jobs into a more cohesive, rewarding, and sustainable career than ever before.
4. Defining “why?”
Deciding what career path to follow in order to make money and create the life you dream of is your choice. However, when you’re in the thick of the hustle, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that you have options. Sometimes spending hours practicing boring technique, missing a note in a rehearsal, or playing a gig with a long commute time can make you feel a little bit discouraged in your career. In the back of your mind, you may wonder if you should explore other career opportunities but then never act on this fleeting thought. Having a baby allowed me the time to consider a career change and the opportunity to again choose music as my career. Since having the time to again realize all of the reasons why I made the choice to become a professional musician years ago, I have an additional sense of confidence and belonging in each post-baby gig.
5. Community connections
If you ask a new parent to tell you about the downside of having a baby, chances are high that they will mention the extreme sense of isolation. Babies have weaker immune systems and demanding care schedules so staying close to home and limiting contact with large groups of people are par for the course. The first nine months of my baby’s life, my husband and I shared a car, he worked an hour away, and we had just moved to a place away from any main public transit lines and not exactly nearby friends. Total isolation. The thing that was awesome about this is that I regained a huge appreciation for social interactions on gigs and for finding communities beyond the ones I had previously known. I am a very genuine person and am not exactly one to go out of my way to market myself for gigs. Through having a baby, I discovered new ways to reach out to people, not only as a way to find performance opportunities but also to build meaningful community connections.
To be continued…
Conversations about our experiences as musician moms help to remove the stigma. We can learn from each others’ struggles and create a supportive community around our transparent experiences balancing musician and mom life. This story of motherhood and performing is only just beginning to be told and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.