I must confess from the outset that I don’t have a magic answer to solve what can be the tricky task of balancing work and family life. Each person’s situation is different but I thought nevertheless I’d share a few things that I’ve learned as I attempt to balance being a choir leader with a busy family life.
Being a choir leader is a great job; one that can be extremely fulfilling but also very demanding on your time. The hours vary but tend to be outside a nine-to-five framework. Much of your work will probably take place in the evening or at weekends. This can immediately have an effect on your family life whether you have children, a husband, wife or partner or if you live alone, but want to make sure you have time to catch up with friends and family. So how do you keep everyone happy and still enjoy a fulfilling career?
It goes without saying that the well-prepared choir leader is a happier one. Try to think ahead about your weekly schedule and how much time you will have to focus on preparation (which is usually much more time-consuming than running a rehearsal). Don’t try to plan your rehearsal five minutes before you leave the house. Ideally, plan it immediately after the last rehearsal, when issues that arose and what you need to focus on next time are fresh in your mind. Or if you’re feeling super-organised mega-batch your rehearsal plans a few weeks at a time. Then all that is required on a weekly basis are a few tweaks and you won’t feel under such pressure weekly.
Once you’ve got this groundwork done, you can spend time with your family and friends in the comforting knowledge that your next rehearsal is all sorted.
Communication is key
Don’t expect your partner or family to guess your schedule. Make sure there is a calendar which everyone can see and access, whether that is physical or online. Make a note of all work commitments. Not only does this stop tempers fraying when unexpected clashes occur, it also means you can plan any childcare required well in advance.
If you have a particularly busy week perhaps because a performance is coming up, let your family know, tell them how excited you are and how important it is and apologise that you’ll be a bit busier than usual. Also think of some time and a fun activity you can share at another point in that week, so that everyone feels valued and not neglected. Try not to feel guilty about the work you have to do – it’s part of who you are. On the other hand, be careful not to over-book yourself week after week. Family and free time is precious and no one will hand it to you, particularly when you’re self-employed. You’ve got to be strong and manage your time well.
Pick and choose
When your choir is established and well-known, you may find opportunities increase and you are asked to take part in more and more engagements. It’s very easy in the beginning to say ‘yes’ to everything but be wary of this. If you run your choir as a business, think about cost implications. It’s a sad fact of the music industry that people will often expect you to work for nothing. No matter how much you love your job, it’s a very rare person who can afford to do that. Even if your role is unpaid (for example if you run a church or school choir) or the choir is solely a fundraising venture, it’s still important to be choosy about the projects you accept.
Don’t forget balance works both ways. Your partner may also have heavy or varying work commitments. If so, try to be understanding if they don’t fit in with your plans. Having shared goals can really help. If you’re both working really hard, keep the reasons in mind, whether they are career advancement, financial security or something else. Finding a family/work balance is always going to involve compromise. With a bit of give and take, you can enjoy every area of your life.