North London Food & Culture

Help freelance musicians: the Musical Mums’ Advent Calendar

Soprano Suzy Robinson on a uniquely creative idea that will long outlast the festive season

This year has been a shocker for the freelance worker. In particular for freelancers in the arts, brutally hit by the lockdowns and restrictions that have all but put paid to our livelihoods. Those who are also mothers have had it harder still.

As a freelance soprano and a mother, I have the same struggle as all of us: whether to take every gig that comes along for fear I won’t be asked next time. This is complicated with childcare and worries that your never-nine-to-five job takes you too much away from your growing offspring.

So you call in favours of family, neighbours, colleagues in green rooms and studios, becoming adept at nappy changing on tube platforms, breastfeeding, and sightreading Sweelinck in dusty choir lofts. And you do it not just because you have no practical alternative, but because you are a musician and being a musician is intrinsic to your very being.

Then one day the music stops. Literally. Lots of other things cease too in a pandemic but the self-employed have a much greater risk of being worse off than those in steady employment. In recent years some of us may have had babies and worked less, while others have simply suffered from lack of work generally – and our average earnings mean we’re lucky if a few quid is chucked our way courtesy of the Self Employed Income Support Scheme.


Amid all the awfulness, though, there are heartening things. I’ve lived in this area for more than ten years. My stamping ground is Kentish Town Road, and its local shops and people: I can’t walk down to Earth or pick up provisions from Phoenicia without bumping into at least two or three friends. Everyone chats.

These days we walk up to the Heath with a takeaway coffee rather than sit in cafes. There is a sense of common endeavour reignited; a genuine community of people turning with empathy towards each other. I absolutely love the place, although – full disclosure – I am a nouveau North Londoner having made the Great Leap from somewhere unmentionable (I know, I know).

Musical mums: stars of the Advent Calendar. Photo: own

I’ve recently found a hugely supportive group among a community of musician mums on Facebook, many of whom I might once have performed with in local churches and venues. I have many hilarious spit-out-your-tea kinds of online interactions with these women discussing children, music, universal credit, bras. And, of course, gin.

One bright spark came up with an idea for a musical advent calendar. From living rooms, bedrooms and garden sheds we have been remotely putting together a feast of seasonal music. There’s the swing musician in NW5, the soprano elsewhere in Kentish Town (that’s me), a mezzo from Crouch End, a wind player in Muswell Hill, a sax player who has gigged at the Bull and Gate, and musicians from all across the UK.

The trickiness of draping oneself in baubles in a Christmas grotto in the bathroom, or wrestling the microphone from the sticky mitts of your child before a perfect take of 900 verses of Quem Pastores is not to be underestimated. But it is what we do: we make music. And we have created our musical calendar with professionalism, with joy and with fairy lights.

So here’s the plea: if you take out a subscription, it literally is the gift of music: an Advent Calendar which will not rot your teeth, and which helps freelance musicians. Each ‘window’ offers a unique performance from the musician mums who are helping make Christmas a little bit more sparkly.

Sure, it’s not the same as sitting and listening in a concert hall, and it’s not the same as performing on the concert platform, but it will bring a tingle of Christmas anticipation through the beauty and warmth of music. Best of all, you can press play over and over again.

You can find out more, buy a Musical Advent Calendar, or simply watch December 1st’s entry – Silent Night by Caroline Tyler (who appears in the main picture, above) for free – here

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The award-winning print and online title Kentishtowner was founded in 2010 and is part of London Belongs To Me, a citywide network of travel guides for locals. For more info on what we write about and why, see our About section.