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Making it Work – Two Musicians, One Life Together

0 David Bebe
st louis symphony Editor's Abstract

For musician couples, the following article by David Bebe is a must read.David, a cellist and conductor, talks about the complex obstacles that musician couples face when trying to both pursue careers in a highly competitive national arena. He and his wife Jamecyn, a violinist, have encountered these challenges together, living long distance at times, trying to balance their relationship and career aspirations.Ultimately, David offers several compelling points to consider as musicians plan for their future with a fellow musician at their side.

Steve Danyew

Making it Work – Two Musicians, One Life Together

By David Bebe

It’s not uncommon to fall in love and get involved in a serious relationship during one’s college years. My wife and I met while both pursuing music performance degrees (myself, cello performance and my wife, violin performance) at Indiana University- now the Jacobs School of Music. Although we were both ambitious and dedicated students, we had no idea where our career paths would lead us and we certainly did not know how our careers would coexist with our relationship.

In addition to the inherent complexities of any relationship, when both people are musicians some unique challenges arise. Since our chosen field is extremely competitive, scoring a well-paid full-time job such as a performer or teacher is a huge challenge. Many of us change our location often in the beginning stages of our careers in pursuit of opportunities, networking, and career building. Basically, we need to go wherever we can get a gig! If one happens to be single, this lifestyle can be exciting and inspiring. However, when two musicians are in a serious relationship and both are pursuing their own auditions and job applications, difficult choices will need to be made. Anyone who has attended music school or been in an orchestral training program has seen this scenario dozens of times.

If the couple is extremely lucky, both find equally satisfying and sustainable work in the same place. As we all know, this is very rare and near impossible. When it comes down to making a decision regarding auditions and job applications, my wife and I found that we had basically three options:

1) You choose to stay in the same place, and both limit your career goals.

2) You both pursue your own individual career paths to the fullest and have a long distance relationship.


3) One person’s career gets priority over the other’s career and you both follow the path of the prioritized career.

Over the course of the last ten years, we considered all of these situations at one time or another. After meeting at Indiana University, I got a job at the String Academy of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. At that point we were living long distance for one year while my wife finished her undergraduate degree in Indiana, a distance of about six hours by car. My wife was then accepted to a number of music schools for her master’s degree, and her decision was highly influenced by our relationship. She chose to attend Roosevelt University in Chicago because it was the school located closest to my job in Milwaukee. This reduced our six-hour commute down to a two-hour commute (better, but still quite difficult to plan when to see each other). Two years later, my wife won a fellowship with the New World Symphony. Thus the long distance period of our relationship stretched out for another year (four years total), this time all the way from Milwaukee to Miami.

Needless to say, living long-distance for four years with no clear end in sight was NOT an ideal situation. If you have dated long-distance, you know exactly how unpleasant this can be! In order to put a stop to this long distance streak, I then followed her to Miami and chose to pursue my DMA at the University of Miami. Three years later, which brings us to the fall of 2009, she followed me up to Albany, NY where I was hired as a teacher and conductor at The College of Saint Rose. Although we feel fairly content where we are now, we have spent long hours discussing options for our future together and how we would deal with these various situations. After all of these long talks late into the night, we have found the following principals to be helpful for our decision-making process.

1. Be supportive of the other person’s career

Even if it seems like one may have to make huge sacrifices for the other person’s career, it may turn out that some financial stability, artistic freedom, or unknown opportunities will present themselves in this new situation. The job searching process is difficult enough with the support of your significant other – without that support it’s much more painful.

2. Take it one day at a time

Don’t spend hours agonizing over all the possible options under the sun. This is usually a waste of time and will not effect how things turn out in the end.

3. Cross that bridge when you get there

It’s not worth dwelling on the possible outcome of every job application or audition. Figuring out what neighborhood you would settle down in for each audition city before one even gets the job is a pointless exercise.

4. Make decisions together

If you have decided to be together for the long haul it is important to give the other person a say your selection of job applications. If they won’t be happy living in that city (or state) don’t apply for the job.

5. Invest in the present

Make an attempt to pursue what fulfills you no matter where you are currently living. Value what you have – no one likes being around the person who is bitter because they feel entitled to a ‘better’ career situation.

6. Be Flexible

It can be a rewarding experience to be open-minded and see yourself in a different light. That could mean living in an area you’ve never considered living in before or applying your talents in way that is new to you. These days we all have to make our selves marketable, which usually means having a variety of skill sets.

7. Don’t blame the other person

As much as possible, try to keep your career frustrations and struggles separate from your relationship. It is unhealthy to be in a situation where you resent your significant other for your current living situation or consider them responsible for your career direction.

I feel incredibly lucky to have met such an amazing woman who continues to encourage me to become a better person, teacher, and musician. Most of the above ideas developed out of challenging transitions we dealt with as a couple but I’m thankful that we have had these wonderful opportunities come our way. Of course it is impossible to have guidelines that apply to every couple’s career decisions. A lot depends on the specifics of each couple’s situation and the priorities in their lives. I don’t expect our guidelines to be any sort of definitive statement, but I do hope that my reflection on how my wife and I ‘made it work’ might serve as an interesting comparison for some or even a little helpful guidance to those working through these same scenarios.

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