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Stella Anning

Australian guitarist


Article #

28 July 2023

I am a guitarist.  I perform in many different groups like the Jazzlab Orchestra, John Flanagan Band, Lisa Baird’s Bitches Brew and ISEULA, but I also have my own trio – the Stella Anning Trio or STAT.  STAT is a guitar, bass and drums trio, so all instrumental (or at least my first EP was all instrumental…) compositions written by myself.

As a child I was always drawn to creative things – I loved fashion and I drew my designs in a sketch book.  I took acting classes and singing lessons as well as picking up the guitar.  I remember writing pop songs in primary school, before I had any musical training.  I always imagined myself being a performer in some way.

In high school, I realised the school I was at had a minimal music program, so I asked to move to a musical school and my guitar teacher suggested Blackburn High.  I embraced the music program – I was involved in all the ensembles, I joined a ska band (not my choice of genre but that’s what the boys wanted to do and I wanted to play in a band that wasn’t a school ensemble!), I practiced, I took every music subject possible.  I loved how social it was but at the same time you were creating and working on your artistic practice.

I went on to do my Bachelor of Music Performance in Jazz at Monash University.  I have never once questioned if I should do something else – music would and will always be in my life.  But I have questioned my place in the scene, most especially being a female musician.  And I have also questioned how I could make money!  My family taught me the importance of financial stability, which I struggled with when I was a young adult trying to navigate life as a musician.  I ended up taking a job on a cruise ship as a guitarist for a stint, and on returning to Melbourne, with little employment, I found myself looking for ‘jobs’, which as a jazz guitarist, is a small pool of jobs, most of which don’t include performing.  I stumbled across a gig I had not heard of and did an audition… I found myself in the Australian Army Band!

Intermittently, I did over a decade in the Army Band.  The job is basically like a full-time corporate band – we played top 40 covers at various events and occasionally we did marching band, which I would pick up the snare drum or cymbals for.  After university, I had limited myself into a jazz box, but in that scene, I struggled to find a strong sense of community - after a few negative situations with men at uni, I was struggling to engage with the scene.  Once I joined the Army Band, I met people from all across the country and like them or not, I had to work with them.  I grew as a woman and as a musician.   

"In the first year of my son’s life, it was really difficult to leave him – I felt so much mum guilt. But I knew that engaging in the music industry and even just catching up with friends, would ultimately make me a better mother. "

It wasn’t until 2020 that I finally decided I wanted to quit work and be a fulltime musician, as I was finding myself turning down great music opportunities because of work.  But of course, that quickly haltered.  By April 2020 we were working from home and I realised I was pregnant.  

We have one child; our son is 2 years old.  We decided before having kids that we would either have one or none, and we are sticking to that.  It just felt too overwhelming to have more than one.  Being a musician, with the nightlife and the constant hustle, it didn’t seem that appealing to have kids at all!  So, our little family is now complete!

You have to find new ways to approach life once you have kids – time is no longer your own.  You don’t just ‘go to work’, you have to manage your time to make sure you still allow time for your artistic practice.  It is so easy to feel guilty when I ask my partner to look after our son while I go practice – it can feel selfish, but if I don’t do it, then I’m never progressing as an artist.  Not only that, I’ll feel incomplete.  It’s not just my work, it’s the thing that ignites my soul.  

After the birth of my son, I had a part-time job, which I really didn’t enjoy, but we had just had a pandemic so it was not the right time to throw away work.  I have just quit that job and am currently working on music projects – grant writing, composing for different ensembles and recording.  I’m not sure how long I will be able to continue like this, but it’s been really fulfilling.  Seeing myself through the eyes of my son, I would not want him to see me working in a job that I don’t like, which made it that much easier to be authentic to myself.  Now I feel a bigger urgency to do what I love and do it to the best of my ability.

I have been lucky enough to have a music room in our house, however it’s become really difficult with a child – whenever he hears me practice, he wants to come in.  I’m sure it’ll improve the older he gets, but in hindsight, it would have been great to have an artistic space that is not in the home, because it’s hard to switch off ‘mum’ when you are practicing and you can hear your kid in the next room!  


I found out I was pregnant in April 2020, the start of lockdowns in Melbourne.  It was a strange time for everyone and everyone was trying to maintain connection with people online.  Because of this, a musician friend of mine who as it turned out was also pregnant, started an online mothers’ group for any other musicians we knew that were also pregnant.  This group still exists today, although very intermittent now, but it was a huge support through Covid and the unknowns of pregnancy, birth and postnatal.  Once we had all become mothers, the conversations changed from preparing for child birth, to breast feeding issues, baby photos, stories and tips but also how to navigate gigs as a breastfeeding person, tips on what breast pump to use, I even at one stage got given some breast milk from one of the mothers in the group, as she knew I was struggling to make enough milk to store for when I’d have weekends away with gigs!  The group was and is a huge support that has helped me navigate being a musician mother, which my local mothers group could not provide.

My husband has been a huge support.  I generally do 1-3 gigs per week and also might have an evening or weekend rehearsal.  My husband has a fulltime job, so I look after our son a few weekdays, but I feel like he sees our son just as much because they have a lot of daddy-son time when I am away in the evenings.  I perform in a few groups with other new parents and I can see that not everyone’s partners are as tolerant as mine is.  I hate to use the word tolerance but also, it seems like there is some tolerance level required to date a musician!

I believe your artform is always changing, but it has definitely changed since becoming a mother.  I have had immense self-reflection since becoming a parent and have started song writing – writing lyrics and singing.  I’ve always dabbled in song writing but as a guitarist, it hasn’t been my preference, choosing to compose instrumental tunes.  I guess since becoming a mother and just being older and (hopefully!) wiser, I feel I have more to say and I’ve had a strong pull towards writing lyrics and singing my own tunes.  I occasionally sing for corporate gigs and I do a lot of backing vocals for other artists, but this is a big step for me.  I feel way more vulnerable now that I’m writing lyrics!

Mum guilt is unavoidable.  In the first year of my son’s life, it was really difficult to leave him – I felt so much mum guilt.  But I knew that engaging in the music industry and even just catching up with friends, would ultimately make me a better mother.  It really didn’t take me long to shake off mum guilt, I feel like it was quicker than others around me.  I just felt like making myself happy doing the things I love, prioritising my own well-being, would make me be the best version of myself as a parent.  

"I believe your artform is always changing, but it has definitely changed since becoming a mother. I have had immense self-reflection since becoming a parent."

As a young adult trying to navigate my place in the world, I questioned what kind of feminist I would be.  Being quite naïve, I didn’t respect the work a mother does and I had no desire to be a mother, mostly because I felt it would take away from my freedom and personal goals.  Once I was in my thirties, that started to change, but I still feel uncomfortable to label myself as a mother before anything else.  I’m not quite sure why that is, because it definitely takes more of my energy, time, my physical body and my on-going self-discovery as I navigate how to approach every step of my child’s development and learning!  I would say as a role model to my son, I want him to see that although he is the most important thing in my life in a lot of ways, being his mummy is one part of the human experience and people are much more complex than one title.  

Growing up, my family didn’t understand the life of a working musician and there was an expectation that if I was ‘successful’ as a musician, then I would have financial stability.  Success as a musician does not always translate directly to monetary wealth.  Their concerns influenced my decision to find more stable work at that time.  Since then, I have tried to balance passion with also meeting my practical needs.  I surround myself with lots of creatives that recognise the value of creative work and not solely measure it by financial metrics.  Most of the time (not all of the time!) the more artistic and freer the music is, the less pay.  For me, it’s about finding a balance of doing some improvised music that may be minimal pay, but also doing some corporate work or more mainstream gigs that might help balance it out.

My mother very rarely worked full time.  Most of our childhood she was the mother at home or she had a part-time job.  Although I know my mum loved being a stay-at-home mother and looking after us, she also didn’t have much of a choice, especially when we were young.  There weren’t many childcare options close to us.  Mum also said that there was a lot of judgement from the other mothers around her, that you weren’t a good mum if you were to get a full-time job.  We were privileged enough that my parents could live off one income, and so predominantly that was what they did.

I am currently writing my next EP for my trio ‘STAT’ and also working on a collaborative album of duets with other musicians.  The idea of this duet album is to give me the opportunity to reconnect with various people in the music scene – since having a baby, I have struggled to feel connected to the scene and I definitely don’t go see as many gigs as I would like, so this was a way for me to network and be creative at the same time!  These projects are still in the initial stages and will most likely come out next year.  For now, you can follow me on socials where I promote whatever gig is coming up at the time!


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