The Metropolitan Opera Chorus works long hours, 6 days a week. Despite the often grueling schedule, many members of the chorus have the fulfilling, yet herculean task of being responsible for children and families that also require their time, energy, and love. It’s helpful when spouses have jobs outside of the Met, but imagine how complicated it gets if BOTH parents are members of the chorus! How would they manage?
Well, let us introduce you to mezzo-soprano Christina Thomson Anderson and tenor Brian Anderson, two beloved members of the Met Chorus. Christina has been a full-time chorister for 12 years, and Brian was a member of the extra chorus for 8 years, until he was hired full-time 2 seasons ago. Despite the obvious challenges, the two of them are a well-oiled machine, working in tandem to raise their beautiful children and provide a loving home while working one of the hardest jobs in the business! Lianne Coble-Dispensa sat down with Christina last summer to get a glimpse of what their experience is like.
When did you start your family? Was it before or after you were a full-time member of the Met Chorus?
I got the Met chorus job before I started a family. Brian and I actually got married one week before I started at the Met, and by October of that same year, our son Oliver was on his way. (He was a surprise!) Our daughter Annika came along during my fourth season. For seven years of our marriage, Brian was a freelance opera singer, taking gigs, working part-time in the Extra chorus, and also spending time at home with our children. Two years ago, he was hired full-time in the chorus for a one-year position as a sabbatical cover. This gave us a “trial run” of sorts, to see what it was like to have both of us working the chorus job full-time with kids. I was not sure how it would go, but I was so happy to see that we really were able to do it, with the kids thriving as well. The following year, Brian was back to part-time work in the Extra chorus, but this past season he was offered the full-time job, and he happily accepted, knowing we had a good blueprint on how to make it work.
Where do you live, and what is your commute like?
We live in Inwood, and have been in the same neighborhood for 12 years. Our commute is 50 minutes by train each way, and we make the round trip at least twice each day. During the day we usually take subway to Lincoln Center, but at night we will often drive in. We still allow 50 minutes, but it usually takes 30.
How many children do you have?
We have four children! Quinlan and Arthur are my wonderful college-aged step-sons, and Oliver and Annika are our two children together. They are 10 and 7, respectively.
What is an average day like for you and Brian?
Each morning, Brian gets up at 6:30am to make coffee and a hot breakfast for us all. At 7:00am, he brings me a cup of coffee in bed, so I can wake-up for a few minutes before the kids get up. At 7:10am, we wake the kids, and by 7:40am, he’s driving them both to school on the Upper West Side. He’ll then head back home for a quick shower, and we leave for work between 9-9:30am, depending on our call for rehearsal. If rehearsals end by 2:00pm, well have the time to head uptown on the subway to pick the kids up at school. We then take them to their activities, which might be music lessons, hockey, dance, or a play date. At least one of us can usually head home and make dinner. We all meet back at home for a quick dinner (which we try to do as often as possible during the week) and then by 6:00pm we are back out the door for the evening’s show. The babysitter will have already arrived at 5:30pm to help for the evening. They’ll help finish up homework or music lessons with the kids and then get them get ready for bed. Brian and I will get back from our show between 11:00-11:30pm, make lunches for the next day, check the kid’s back packs and hopefully we are in bed before midnight. The next morning, we start the whole thing over again!
With juggling such a packed schedule, what are your family priorities?
Togetherness, as much as possible. We try to be as involved as we can in the mornings and afternoons with the kids. Brian is a coach for Oliver’s hockey team. They are on the ice 3-4 times a week in the winter. On Sundays they practice at 7:00am, and Brian is on the ice with them, even if he has had two shows the day before. I am a class parent for my kids because It allows me to be a bigger presence in their classrooms. We feel we need to do these things to stay connected to our kids lives when are schedules are particularly busy. This is how we stay close.
But it means Brian and I have very little down time. We have to be really organized with our schedule, and use down time at work to do things like order groceries and schedule child care. When we are really busy at work, it can be exhausting. But for us, family is so important and being close and connected is a top priority, even when we are busy. We do whatever we can.
What are some of the struggles you face?
Our two main struggles are exhaustion and lack of personal time.
Brian and I have to really support one another as parents and co-workers. We have to be a team. Our kids miss us when we are gone in the evenings during those 7-show weeks, and sometimes there are tears. I struggle in these times with guilt as a working mom. We will FaceTime before bed while at work, and set up family calendars showing when we’ll be spending quality time together as a family. We have to be creative! And sometimes, we just have to cut ourselves some slack. It’s not perfect, but we do our best.
There is also the struggle to just find time for Brian & I to be together as a couple. When we are home, we are with the kids. When we are working, we are with our Met family. So we try to grab those precious “stolen moments”. I remember one particular afternoon from last season. We finished our work day earlier than expected and the kids were already with our sitter. We took that time and went to our favorite wine bar for an hour or so, and just enjoyed some time together. It is important to try to stay connected to each other, outside the minutiae of kids, work, and laundry.
How do you deal with the Met Chorus schedule and raising a family at the same time?
Brian & I are a team. We both cook, do laundry, bathe kids, scoop cat litter, wash dishes, shop for groceries, and help with homework. He keeps the car gassed up. I schedule the child care. He makes coffee. I make lunches. We work together. For seven years, Brian was a mostly at-home parent and this was such a gift to our young children. When the kids were babies, he would bring them to the Met on my breaks so I could nurse them. He made sure I saw them as much as possible, which was good for me and for them. I am so grateful. And now I am grateful he is with us full-time at the Met and we have been provided the resources and people to help us continue to thrive as a family.
We have also tried to make choices in our lives that allow for the most time together during the season. When our kids were babies, we allowed them to co-sleep with us, so we could get extra cuddles at night. We still live in Manhattan so we can be closer to their schools and activities. We try to have dinners together 4-5 times a week, either at home or in a restaurant. When we have meals together, screens are not allowed at the table. So, we make time and space to talk. But as I said, we don’t get a lot of time for ourselves. We live with less sleep. We are extremely busy most of the week. On Sundays, we finally slow down. We like to go to church, or sometimes we just spend a restful day at home involving a movie and a meal together. We try to have one family day that is slower paced.
We also could never do it alone. These past three years we have had an amazing “Manny”, Scott Tomlinson (editor’s note: a valued colleague and long-time member of the Extra Chorus), who has really become a part of our family. He helps us with after-school and evening times when we are working. If one of our kids is home sick, he will come and be with them. He is very parental and the kids love him and trust him. And as a fellow singer, he really understands what we do. Without his care and assistance, our journey as a family would be so much more difficult. It really does take a village to raise a family, and Scott is a big part of ours.
What does the Met Chorus job mean to you both?
I will never forget the moment when Maestro Palumbo called me and offered me the full-time chorus job. It was a dream come true. It really was. And I will never forget when he called Brian and offered the same job to him. Another dream, hoped and prayed for for many years, delivered.
The Met can be a challenging place to work. It’s a complicated work environment, and we work so hard with such crazy hours.
But I have never known this job with out children. I am not sure how that would feel. But I can tell you that after 12 years, I am still so proud of being a member of this world class group. Some days I might wake up and wonder if I have the energy to start my day, but I never wake up dreading going into work. I still love my job. It still feels like a dream come true. I am glad to work hard in my life doing this thing that I believe in and that I am good at, and I feel blessed to make a good living for my family while singing in this amazing house with so many talented people. It is not easy, but it still feels right and it still seems worth all the effort. I am grateful.
Is there any advice you’d like to give a young singer who is concerned about the work-family balance of being an opera singer? This is a difficult question. It took me a long time to settle into motherhood, as well as into my career, and I was doing both at the same time when I had my first child. I would say, though, that raising my family has made my career at the Met more full, and I am blessed to come home to my kids at the end of a long day. They have taught me to have a more measured perspective on the highs and lows that have come with my singing career.
As far as practical advice on how to do it, I’ll say that everyone’s journey is different, and I am still continually learning and growing from the process. But I’ll say this: first, think about your support system and make it as strong as possible. It really does take a village to raise a child, and cultivating that village for your family will help ease anxiety, offer much needed support, and bring joy and encouragement to you and to your kids.
My second bit of advice is to learn to compartmentalize. When you are at work, try to be all there. Invest in the music, enjoy the break from motherhood, talk with adults, and make the best music you can. And when you finish with your work for the day, leave it behind. Go home, be with your family, and be there 100%. And the next day, do it again. Being fully where you are builds deeper, stronger relationships and allows you to wear more hats, and wear them well. But you won’t be perfect, and in those difficult moments, find a fellow working mom friend and lean in. We are each other’s village. And we don’t need to do it alone.