Playing in the band: Not so easy when babies arrive

Last modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Brian Marchese of Florence has been in demand as a drummer for a long time. The list of Valley bands he’s played with is substantial — it includes The Aloha Steamtrain, Gentle Hen, Mystics Anonymous, Lo Fine, The Fawns, and his own group, Sitting Next to Brian. Marchese likes it that way.

“Mentally, I need it,” he said.

So, when he and his wife, Beth Savage Marchese, learned their family was about to increase by one, Marchese, 43, who works at Northampton’s Forbes Library, worried about trading late-night gigs for late-night diaper changes. He was also concerned by what he’d seen in friends who became parents. “I always bristled at my one-time rock ’n’ roll friends suddenly using words like ‘poopy.’ ”

The timing of rehearsals and late-night, faraway gigs doesn’t fit easily with day jobs, childcare and a spouse or partner’s needs, musicians find.

“I mean this lovingly, but when the baby bomb happens, things change,” said Sunderland drummer Travis LaMothe, 36.

Marchese warned his band mates that he’d be out of commission for six months or so. For two months after his daughter Audrey arrived a year ago, he didn’t play at all. “I was starting to go nuts,” he said.

When one of his bands pulled in another drummer for a show he was jealous. “I was texting them a lot, asking , ‘How was it? Do people wish he was your regular drummer?’ ”

But the transition was easier than he expected. It helped that he and Beth were on the same page.

His wife, also a veteran of several bands and business manager for Spanish Studies Abroad in Amherst, already had experience meshing parenthood and music. She came to the marriage with a son, Elliott, 11.

“He needs to be out there playing the drums,” said Beth, 39, whose own musical ambitions have slowed down with motherhood. “I’m happy to do what I can (to help him) — I wouldn’t want him to have to miss out on that. If he couldn’t do it, he’d be unhappy.”

They worked out time for each of them to do the things they found important. For Beth, it was working in her running.

“Now it’s just a matter of me knowing what the schedule is,” she said.

Adjusted aspirations

In a lot of ways, Brian says, the timing of Audrey’s birth was perfect. For one thing, he says, he’s been in music long enough to have adjusted his expectations. A decade or two ago, there were always “back-of-the-mind thoughts” that local playing might lead to bigger success. Those aspirations have dimmed.

“Now I don’t have to compromise. I don’t have to worry about being hip,” he said. “At this point, it’s completely for fun and satisfaction, but still with artistic integrity. I’m not going to do anything that I don’t like doing.”

For LaMothe, though, his music career is still center stage. Though by day he’s a Field Services Coordinator for Keurig Coffee in Waterbury, Vermont, he’s played with bands that have made it to the national stage, including Rane and Girls Guns and Glory. He’s frequently been a featured player with Grateful Dead tribute Dead Set. He’s also often on-call as a session player for many bands in several genres.

But incorporating the needs of four-month-old Cassidy with his wife, Amy, 36, who is an assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Worcester’s Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, can make things chaotic when he’s recording in his home studio. “I have to be able to change colors like a chameleon,” he said.

If Amy needs help, he has to stop in the middle of things. “If I was on a session and somebody else did that, I would maybe look at it as being unprofessional.”

It also causes an unequal split of domestic duties. “Ultimately, your partner is bearing the brunt of the responsibilities you miss with music commitments,” he said.

That calls for trade-offs like LaMothe taking care of the baby in the wee hours on nights when he’s just finished rehearsing. “The tradeoff is gonna hurt a little bit. Maybe there are gigs you can’t take — I’ve had to sit out of gigs I never would have before.”

It has also meant more separation. “I used to love to have my wife come to my shows,” LaMothe said. “Now she can’t.”

Pulling back

When husband and wife are in a band together, a lack of childcare means fewer gigs and recording sessions.

Matthew, 46, and Julia Shippee, 35, of Plainfield play guitar and bass, respectively, in the band Swing Caravan. Matthew is head of Greenfield Community College’s Music Department, and Julia teaches music part-time at Anne T. Dunphy School in Williamsburg.

“I didn’t really think about that before we had kids,” Matthew said. “I was looking at some of the guys with kids who were teaching music at GCC, thinking, ‘Well, they’re still playing gigs at the same rate.’ After our son (Amasa, 4) arrived, we made a CD, and toured even, but when the second one (daughter, Maple, 3) came we were suddenly like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re BOTH in the band.’ ”

They took Amasa’s arrival in stride, Julia agreed. “The momentum of being a musician was still fully rolling and parenthood maybe hadn’t completely settled in yet,” she said. “We actually recorded an album from when (Amasa) was three months to six months old. We did it in the basement studio while the babysitter was playing with our son two floors above us.”

But that was harder to do when Maple arrived. “It was more of a slowdown.” Still, Julia was up to the challenge. “I remember playing an overnight show, and I got a bucket of ice to put in our room — I was pumping milk before and after the concert. You just keep doing it. You find a way.”

Beth Savage Marchese was singing regularly in a band with her son Elliott’s father when Elliott was an infant.

“It was really hard to coordinate babysitters. I was always calling around and finding people to watch him, and with shows, it was sometimes at really odd hours.”

Things have gotten easier with her second child, she says, largely because her music-making has slowed down. In part that’s because, she says, it’s stressful to coordinate childcare, and she doesn’t want to be away from her kids. She still occasionally gets to sing with her husband and says she’s not jealous of Brian’s continued involvement in the music scene.

For the Shippees, arrangements have been difficult. “It’s 10 or 12 hours of babysitting for us to play a gig in Great Barrington or somewhere like that,” said Matthew. “So if it’s $12 or $14 an hour, that gets expensive fast.”

If taking a gig means a financial loss, the Shippees can’t do it. “We did the Yellow Sofa (in Northampton) for tips every Friday night for a few years,” Matthew said. “Now that can’t happen. We play at Kripalu (in Lenox) now four times a year, but they put us up for the whole weekend, and it becomes an opportunity for my mother to come (from Maine to) spend the weekend with the kids.”

Intangible effects

Becoming a parent can also affect the music-making process. Brian Marchese says his old songwriting inspiration has mostly gone away. “Writing songs — that used to come from a more self-centered, dark place,” he said. “That 17-year-old depressed kid in his bedroom — that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s like I can’t be self-centered any more. All those things that used to be depressing? That was all about me, being me. What’s truly depressing is my daughter crying because she has an earache.” Which isn’t great pop song material.

For some performers, the musical urge takes off in a kid-friendly direction, as in the case of former Valley resident Aric Bieganik, who took up that torch with the Royal Order of Chords and Keys (R.O.C.K.) which plays music aimed at children.

That won’t fly for Brian Marchese.

“I can be as goofy and embarrassing as I want in front of my own family, but I don’t want to be that way in front of the public,” he said. “I’ll make up endless songs for the baby’s sake. I’m just not gonna push record and start submitting it to kids’ labels.”

One benefit, though, is the kids can’t help but absorb a music-drenched atmosphere when parents are rehearsing at home or just playing for the joy of it.

“One of the most beautiful things about being a parent,” Julia Shippee said, “is to see our children singing as they play. Maple has this minor-third, almost church chant. She did a two-note, rise-and-fall melody for this long story. Then Amasa — he wanted to do it. He picked it up — right on pitch.”

The Marcheses see it, too — Brian says that Audrey’s already imitating the way he moves when he plays the drums.

For Julia Shippee, stories like these make the difficulties of juggling parenthood and playing music worth the effort. “There’s a musical infusion they’re getting, because we’re keeping music alive.”

James Heflin can be reached at


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