On Carers Rights day this year, PiPA Music Development & Relationship Manager, Kathryn Williams, spoke to musician Catherine Hopper about her role as a carer and how it has impacted her career.
Catherine graduated from the Royal Academy of Music Opera Course with distinction and the Vice Principal’s prize before completing her studies at the National Opera Studio. Active on the concert platform until the pandemic and her caring role took over, Catherine has performed with ensembles and orchestras including The King’s Consort, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, The Gabrieli Consort and La Nuova Musica. She has also given recitals at Cheltenham Music Festival, Wigmore Hall, and Oxford Lieder Festival.
"I’ve got three kids, boys who are 11, nine, and five, and I’m a double carer for my mother, who is 87 and has a very rare degenerative condition called PSP (progressive supranuclear palsy). She was diagnosed last October but prior to that had a whole series of unfortunate events which rendered her really sort of vulnerable and helpless.
The pandemic really coincided with my mother’s deterioration. I had taken on a maternity cover teaching position… and my mum suddenly got taken into hospital with an emergency appendectomy. She had been showing signs of something very odd… basically she got taken into hospital and I had to virtually that day give up my teaching (and performing) because I couldn’t get her out of the hospital without having a care plan in place. But I couldn’t get a care plan in place because it was an emergency situation and the carers had to have 3 weeks’ notice. Since then, I have been looking after her, putting carers in place, putting all the systems in place, and dealing with the paperwork.
I also have a learning-disabled sister who lives in a care home in Kent, but my husband and I are now her guardians. My dad is alive but is elderly and unable to cope with the situation and hasn’t been in any sort of caring capacity. My sister has a room in our house, and she comes to us every six weeks or so, we visit her whenever we can, and she comes on holidays with us… Simply, because of the responsibilities that I have, I’m just overwhelmed, and I just don’t have the mental capacity to look after my mum, my sister, my children, my husband and the house and everything – and look after myself or my career in any serious way.
Last weekend, I did my first concert in six months… the stress of getting everything ready for just one random concert because you don’t have anything in place, and you haven’t done any practice… you don’t have any mental space to practice… it becomes more of a challenge than a pleasure… I wasn’t able to see my mum for about 5 days so I could practice, and she was really discombobulated by it – the guilt was awful, that I had to put myself first rather than her. If I wanted to have a really stellar career, I would have to be on the road the majority of the year and I would have to make life changes like getting a nanny or whatever, but that would be just to manage a career with having children. I guess I just am not prepared to make that sacrifice at the moment.
The added responsibility of looking after my mother and my sister means the mental load cannot just be met by employing a nanny. Fundamentally my mother and my sister need me. I won’t always be a carer for my mother, but I will for my sister.
In the industry, we are in a critical moment… within classical and opera people are struggling anyway, barely able to make a living, so if they have caring responsibilities the thing that goes is the work. It's just complicated… it’s messy. I don’t think for anybody who’s in a caring position that it’s straightforward or comfortable and I don’t see any obvious solutions."
As told to PiPA Music Relationship & Development Manager Kathryn Williams.
Carers Rights Day 2023
On Carers Right Day 2023 PiPA co-founders and co-CEO’s Cassie Raine and Anna Ehnold-Danailov took part in a LIVE Talks webinar and shared insights from their research and discussed how we can better support carers within the live music industry. They talked about ‘hidden carers,’ an important (and likely growing) minority of people working in music who have caring responsibilities for people who are not children (and who sometimes have children to care for as well). Cassie also shared an exceprt from Catherine Hopper's acount above and Anna shared examples of what best practice can look like for carers, sharing tips and strategies for support. Here are our 5 Top Tips for supporting carers in your workforce. You can also watch the recorded webinar below: