When a group of mums get together, there is always support. When a group of freelance musician mums get together, there's not just support, there's a special camaraderie that comes with not only juggling the trials of family life, but also sharing a common vocation and passion which has often been worked at since childhood, it is a job like no other.
A few weeks ago, we were sharing a chat about the Christmas performances that had been cancelled, and the concerns that these gigs often bring in a large portion of our income after an already interminable year of cancellations. But we were also laughing about the fact that many of us would really miss the concerts that seem repetitive year after year, but are always actually full of joy and love. We agreed that we are lucky (in normal years) to have a job that sets the scene for so many during the festive season. During that conversation, Suzanne Aspden suggested the original idea of a live musical advent calendar.
We spoke to Suzanne to find out more about her excellent idea...
How did the idea of the live musical advent calendar come to you?
I think I was just looking at other online stuff (particularly Portable North Pole - an app that creates interactive experiences with Father Christmas) and worrying about all my friends who are professional musicians.
I also wear another hat, as head of department for the Music Faculty at Oxford, so I was also thinking about my students (many of whom are suffering in terms of mental health), and about their futures, and about kids in general and how they're missing out on communal music-making, which is so important to their well-being. And I thought "Why not create a musical Advent calendar online?"
We're trying to do this for the Faculty of Music as well (though our students are not nearly as well organised as the musician mums), and I'm so looking forward to being able to share both calendars with friends and family!
What's your favourite piece of Christmas music?
I'm a singer and a Handel scholar, so I guess you'd expect me to say Messiah. Though strictly speaking it was created for Passiontide (Easter) not Christmas. But my tastes are eclectic... If I'm allowed to add Advent as well as Christmas: I particularly love the Medieval "Lully lullay thou little tiny child". But also Peter Maxwell Davies' "O Magnum Mysterium" cycle, which is pseudo-Medieval, and is very difficult to sing well but is just amazing when it is. I don't know why it's not known and sung everywhere.
How do you celebrate Christmas?
It varies hugely. I prefer to celebrate it on the beach in New Zealand with my family. But we hardly ever get out to NZ in time for Christmas any more (doesn't fit with school hols), so we sometimes spend it with my partner's family (also a lot of fun -- he has 3 siblings, plus their kids ranging in age from 30 to 6), but sometimes just with the 3 of us. Depends so much on what others have on. I have once spent it doing Christmas dinner in a homeless drop-in centre. Would love to do that again.
Can you tell us the best and worst Christmas gifts you've received?
I don't know that I can recall... One to make you laugh: when I was 10/11, I vividly remember my parents (that is, my mother) giving me perfume for Christmas while my younger sisters got Barbies. I was well annoyed! Best Christmas presents: usually a possum-merino scarf/sweater from NZ. Though I now have too many scarves, and too much of everything, so tend to ask either for really simple things, like gardening gloves, or for donations to Shelter or Refugee Action or similar.
Thanks Suzanne, we really hope we've done your idea proud!