24 August 2023
When I was young, I thought I’d be a civil engineer and even started a double degree of music and engineering at university. But 2.5 years in (and in spite of all the advice to ‘get a real job’) I decided to pursue music full time and have not looked back since. These days I wear many hats as a freelance portfolio musician, but can generally boil it down to being a percussionist, composer, educator and mum to 2.5 year old Felix. Though I work across a range of genres and disciplines now, I was originally classically trained with a BMus in orchestral percussion from UWA in boorloo/Perth and then a further three years with a scholarship at the Australian National Academy of Music in naarm/Melbourne. In the early days of my study I was working towards getting a job in an orchestra as a percussionist. It is such an exhilarating rush to play a huge cymbal crash or timpani roll at the climax of a Mahler Symphony, and in the music world a job in an orchestra is seen as the pinnacle of achievement. With the goal of that much precision in mind, we worked really hard at ANAM with hours of orchestral, solo and chamber rehearsals, as well as lots of back to back high stress performances. I loved every minute and am so grateful for my time at ANAM. While I was there, I also had my eyes opened to the world of animateuring which literally means to bring music alive for audiences. I presented my first eduction show with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in 2017 and have been writing scripts and delivering performances with orchestras around Australia ever since. It is such a privilege to work with some of the country’s most incredible musicians and conductors to connect their work with audiences of thousands of kids and families. Also while I was studying at ANAM, I discovered more about the contemporary ‘art music’ world of percussion and fell in love with the sounds that we find around us every day. As well as all of the more conventional percussion instruments including vibraphone, marimba, drums and gongs, I played music that featured water, paper, flowerpots and scrap metal. I also got really interested in music that involved theatre and gesture with pieces that can require the performer to speak, sing or perform a series of movements while playing. One of my favourite parts of being a musician is curating a performance for audiences and really thinking about all the stages of the experience from the staging to the lights, the concert program and the audience seating. This is how my ensemble Ad Lib Collective was born. At our core, we create transformative performance experiences for audiences that integrate all elements into an immersive event. Our first major show was at the Metropolis Festival at the Melbourne Recital Centre after a residency at the Banff Centre for Arts in Canada. We presented Music for Our Changing Climate which featured an installation of pieces of ice hanging in among the audience, melting and dripping throughout the show. Since then, we have built works in the US and throughout metro and regional Australia with collaborators from electronic music artists, climate scientists, dancers, media artists and more. I am passionate about collaboration and really excited to see where our latest project Conditions of Growth will take us as we work with media artist Sohan Ariel Hayes
"I have found going through the process of birthing in a hospital and being a working /creative mum has really opened my eyes to the deep seated patriarchal norms in our world that are so easy to ignore if they don’t directly affect you and the root of mum guilt is one of those."
After 7 years in naarm and during the first year of the pandemic my husband I and decided to move back home to boorloo. I was 7months pregnant by the time we made it across the hard WA border. While I miss so much about naarm and being more connected to the eastern states, I love being back home by the beach and with both sides of our family near by. It has also been a huge help to have so much support with Felix from grandparents on both sides, as I have continued to work since he was about 4 months old. Before the pandemic, a large chunk of my freelance life had been travelling both nationally and internationally, I was sometimes away for more than 6 weeks at a time. In hindsight this led to some pretty serious burn out at the end of 2019 and I knew something had to give after that. After Felix was born, I did initially bring him along on some tours with the support of my amazing mother in law. It was a pretty massive juggle managing breast feeding, regular wakes during the night and needing to drive and perform during the day. Now that Felix is a routine-loving toddler, I have found it makes much more sense to leave him at home when I go away for up to 5 days at a time. This is only possible because I have the privilege of an incredibly supportive husband and family around me who not only look after Felix, but also give me the support to acknowledge my work is important and that I am allowed to want to do this. Having said that I am certainly away from home much less than I used to be. Overall I am loving being home much more, but acknowledge that travel is always going to be a part of my work because I am passionate about connection and collaboration nationally and internationally. I am also very aware of the environmental impact of travel and I credit Felix for showing me how to slow down and notice the beauty of the world around. These days I am much more careful about the work I accept and am focussing on setting more boundaries around family and rest time, though it’s an ongoing process
When I am not away, I generally have 3 days of childcare support per week from family which fill up with meetings, admin, rehearsals and projects. This leaves little time for dreaming and creating and so that is something I am working towards carving out more time for. I am also really passionate about being present with Felix before he goes to school, so am careful to spend those other two days a week mucking around in the garden or at the zoo with him. The juggle is sometimes quite jarring, and during busy times I am not great at stepping away from my laptop. But I am also grateful that my work life can be so flexible and really look forward to my Felix days after I’ve completed some solid work days.
"I credit Felix for showing me how to slow down and notice the beauty of the world around. These days I am much more careful about the work I accept and am focusing on setting more boundaries around family
and rest time, though it’s an ongoing process!"
In the early days with Felix, so many of the women around me were on maternity leave from their jobs and I found that quite challenging at times because I wasn’t able to turn off from work like they could. But other musician and freelance mums reached out to me when I had Felix and I found a circle of women who were incredibly supportive. It didn’t take much more than a message or a cup of tea (I once had one delivered from a friend in naarm!), but just knowing that there were other people trying to make it work like me, was a huge help. Composer/mum Alice Humphries and I started working together when I was quite early in my postpartum days and it was incredible meeting up with her to improvise on found sounds, percussion and prepared piano. Through the fog of early parenthood it is easy to lose your sense of self, especially as a creative person. So having this connection with a likeminded creative mum was an incredible anchor point for me at a time when I was considering if I even wanted to do music again. We ended up presenting a program of works at the Ellington Jazz club that year and later recorded an album together which we are releasing through Tone List in a few months time.
Becoming a mum influenced every part of my life and changed the way I make decisions, divide my time, connect with family and so much more. It redefined my tolerance for time wasting and really honed my drive to create. I am yet to find clear influences in my work connected to parenthood, but I’m not ruling it out for the future!
"? a) when it comes to your art and b) general life. Do you feel differently about mum guilt depending on what you are doing? eg art or normal life? Yes/No/Why? Discuss - this is one of my favourite topics What triggers your mum guilt? (if you feel it) Mum guilt is a big one for me! I get it if I take time away from Felix that isn’t work related, even just for a few hours. Though I know I am a better mum and partner having had time away to recharge, I still feel terrible. I also get it when I am away on tour and he’s at home with family, even though I know he is safe and loved. It has certainly become more manageable as he’s grown older. I am curious to understand my own patterns within this narrative as well as the burden that society places on mums as the primary caregiver here. Why is it that fathers (however wonderful/ supportive and progressive) don’t feel the same level of crushing guilt the they go to work for the day, or out to exercise in the evenings? I have found going through the process of birthing in a hospital and being a working /creative mum has really opened my eyes to the deep seated patriarchal norms in our world that are so easy to ignore if they don’t directly affect you and the root of mum guilt is one of those.
I find the concept of matrescence fascinating and one that I don’t understand deeply. But I know enough to understand that my transition through pregnancy, labour and into motherhood has changed parts of me forever including the the neural pathways in my brain, my micro biome and my sense of self. This is a pretty wild concept, but one that helps me to fully acknowledge that I am a different person since having a kid. I have no regrets about that and only wish I knew all of this earlier in life!
Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to stop everything else and just be a mum 100% of the time. From the outside it looks like a beautiful time watching blades of grass grow and visiting the library every day. I see friends who do this and am in awe of their strength and eternal patience. For me I realised early that I need to be creating and connecting with other artists and audiences through performance creation as well as being present with my son and family to feel whole. There was guilt around this for me but I’m coming to terms with it and know that it makes me a better mum. Is it important to you that your children see that you do more than just the mothering role? I want Felix to see me dreaming big and creating incredible things, so that he can do the same for himself one day. And, importantly to see how supportive his dad is towards me and one day support a female partner, colleague or friend to do the same for herself.
My mum was a single parent and did an incredible job, though I am sure there were all sorts of societal pressures on her. She is also a freelance artist and a big inspiration for me in the work that I do. I am so grateful for to her and my mother in law who have both been such an incredible support for us as I have got back into more work.
Something else that has had a huge impact for me coming out of the early post partum days and since finishing breastfeeding was to start tracking my cycle and understanding the huge impact that the monthly fluctuation in hormones has on the mind and body. There is a point in the cycle just before ovulation when it has been proven that women can be up to 6 times more productive than at other times, and then of course times when it is important to rest in order to store energy for the next round of the cycle. This concept was completely new to me only 7 months ago and has has a big impact on the way I approach my creativity, overcome imposter syndrome and parent my son. I’m also excited for Felix to grow up with this knowledge of the female cycle as well, so that he can more deeply understand the people around him in his life. If you want to find out more about cycle tracking, the wonderful Lucy Peach has a podcast and a book, Period Queen that I cannot recommend highly enough.
I experienced some trauma during my labour and birth and about a year later ended up working with a psychologist to process and understand its effect on me. I had never taken the time to understand and connect with my mental health before, but have since discovered how incredibly important it is to do. Since having Felix I have learnt so much about myself and how I understand and experience emotions and experiences, set boundaries and generally operate in the world. This has had a huge impact on every aspect of my life, but particularly on how I parent Felix and how I approach my creative practice.
I also have a mailing list that you can join to find out about orchestral education concerts, Ad Lib Collective shows and more. www.thearossen.com/contact
I have an exciting large collaborative work being premiered in September at the Holmes à Court gallery in West Perth. Presented by my ensemble Ad Lib Collective, Conditions of Growth is a collaborative work that brings together exquisite chamber music for piano and percussion by Maurice Ravel with a new word for massed flower pots and bells written by me, Ochre. For this show I am working with media artist Sohan Ariel Hayes and electronic designer Nick Stark who have developed a custom designed system of sensors that pick up sound generated near by and connect to generative animations that are triggered on the screens in the performance space. It is going to be a truly immersive experience for the audience and I cannot wait to go live in just over a month.
Tickets are available here