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Balancing a Professional and Personal Life by Dana Hansen

The following post is by Dana Hansen.

Dana with her youngest daughter Madeline.

Dana with her youngest daughter Madeline.

When I got an email asking if I would consider writing this blog entry about balancing my professional life as a musician with my personal life, I had to laugh, because I hardly feel like I am maintaining either most of the time! I am married and have three daughters: Phoebe is 4 years old, Susanna is 18 months old, and Madeline is 5 months old. I also play in the viola section of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I went back to work two weeks ago following a four month maternity leave, and it has been quite hectic trying to get back to my old schedule balancing with being home with my kids. However, while I certainly love my daughters, having young children can be exhausting and (dare I say) tedious at times. It is extremely fulfilling to step outside my role as a mother and practice my instrument, and play in the orchestra. Today, for example, the orchestra was rehearsing La Valse and the second suite from Daphnes and Chloe (both Ravel), as well as Messiaen’s Les Offrandes Oubliees, and Saint-Saen’s 5th piano concerto. While I have played Daphnes many many times, I honestly can’t think of a more beautiful way to pass the time than to play Ravel’s music.

When I first started playing professionally as an orchestra musician, I had no children and could practice pretty much whenever I wanted. Now that I have three little girls constantly vying for my attention, I have to work very hard to find time to practice. Two things help me make the time to practice. The first is knowing that I always feel better when I have practiced at some point in the day, and if it’s only for thirty minutes, that is okay because thirty minutes is exponentially better than zero minutes! The second thing that really helps me get my practicing done is a basic trick recommended to me by my colleague Chris Woehr from the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, where I played before joining the LA Phil. When I first came to Saint Louis, I was straight out of school and used to practicing a lot on my own. It was very challenging for me to suddenly have to learn large quantities of new orchestra repertoire each week in addition to my usual routine. Chris recommended practicing my orchestra parts as if I were studying etudes. I think of him telling me this all the time, even now. For example, while practicing my Daphnes part this week, I worked on multiple bow strokes, and did some serious intonation work. While this is an extremely basic idea, with the insanity of my life with three small children, the most basic things are the things I fall back on, and that keep my life running (more or less) smoothly. All told, I sometimes miss the days of waking up after 6 a.m., and the freedom to practice whenever I want, but I wouldn’t trade my family life for anything. I also love playing the viola more than ever.


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