“How do you do it?” was the chatter back stage with the featured soloist, Judith Ingolfsson. She had a baby of about 5 months old, and a nanny, with her as she rehearsed with the orchestra before the concerts. A highly unusual site in the violinist world. The other women violinists of the orchestra were highly impressed to see such a performer who had chosen to be a mother in the midst of such performance demands. I noted that she used her music, taped together and laid out in several tiers, when she performed. I knew Judith must have struggled to find the balance between practicing and bonding with a new baby. There are sleepless nights taking care of another’s needs, and a yearning to take care of your own in the few quiet spaces the days of motherhood afford. She certainly had made friends with a practice mute in order to let the baby sleep while she crafted her Tchaikovsky Concerto. With a heightened brain capacity for the needs of a baby, she must have felt more unsure of performing from memory. Bandwidth being used for other things, you see. “Mommy brain” is a very real thing.
As graduate student who also had children, and was struggling with memorizing my performance pieces, I took great comfort in this. Her playing was beautiful, felt sincere, and inspired. She was radiant, and also very tired. It gave me a glimmer of hope; my most important calling as a Mother could, and would, coincide with my devotion to my violin.
Motherhood is important. So important. It’s also a conversation killer when meeting other professionals. “What do you do?” they say. I have a couple choices in this circumstance. I can say I am a violinist. I can say I have a Master of Music degree. I can talk about performances and recitals, symphonies, chamber groups. I can talk about favorite composers and pieces, the long hours of practicing, the rewards of teaching. It is a unique passion and profession. But truly, that is secondary. As much as I LOVE the refinement of my craft and the work involved, it will always be second to the weight and value I feel in being a mother.
I choose to say that I am a mother, first. I am a violinist second. It may still kill the conversations, but I take mothering seriously. I have four human lives right now to shape and teach in order make the world a better place. It takes sincere devotion, study, and effort, and faith. I take violin seriously, too, but only my interests are at stake in playing the violin. I believe being a violinist makes me a better mother as I am able to teach by example discipline, love, failure and achievement, music, practice, consistency and never giving up to my children.
“If we stop to think about what we do, really do, we are building for the centuries. We are building character, and tradition, and values, which meander like a river into the distance and out of our sight, but on and on and on.” –Anna Quindlen, Loud and Clear, 57
I still look back with some amazement as I consider how differently my life may have played out had I pursued violin competitions and fame, or even the international business position with the Bank of Luxembourg that was offered to me. I had many chances to choose something other than family life. We each have our own path to choose. There is often not a right or wrong choice, but a good-better-best choice that we have to choose from. Somedays, when I am beyond exhausted and my children are being sassy or mean, I think about being able to practice whenever I want, or that city apartment I could have had, or the thrill of climbing the ladder. These moments of reflection always bring me back to gratitude for the path I did choose, no matter how difficult some of the days are, or what I did not choose instead.
I still play my violin. I study it. I research the masters. I devote myself to difficult practice daily. My purpose in it has changed to a personal desire to really have command of it, rather than just performing well at the next recital or having an edge over a peer. I don’t know where this will all take me, but I am so grateful for all the mother violinists out there who show me it’s possible and beautiful.