Raf Alero: I choose to celebrate time

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Raf Alero writes about what it means to be pursuing a creative practice alongside parenting responsibilities: the space for a new kind of creativity and the importance of inviting, not excluding, these parts of their identity into play. Part of a series of editorial exploring motherhood and composing.

Mother / Composer by Emily Hall  |  Imagine! Play! Learn! – by Evie Ward  | I choose to celebrate time, by Raf Alero

Poor mum
Poor mum
After a lifetime of dreaming
Poor mum
Poor mum
Whatever became of your scheming

Nothing worked out in the way that you planned
Nothing was quite as you thought
Try very hard not to misunderstand
Joy as it flies cannot be caught

Poor mum
Poor mum
Where did you take a wrong turning
Poor mum
Poor mum
Pack up that last little yearning
Pack it away with the books and the toys
Silent and dumb
Silent and mum

Go out and grab at you life and forget
You are poor, poor


(Molly Drake-Poor Mum 1950)

Go out and grab at your life, and forget. One of the closing lines from Molly Drake’s lyrics from her piece ’Poor Mum’’ — the connection to this as my own parenting experience is similar.
The Melancholic element remains unseen, or at least a willingness to not see this within my own experiences as a composer. Grabbing something, however, does lay relevant : how do I clutch onto both my lifelong passion and a new responsibility that relies on my attention and focus 24/7?

In fact, I have wanted to steer clear of the “poor mum”—the parent that requires sympathy because society believes I have lost something, that something that I had before parenthood: losing the prospect of ever continuing to create. Though I understand I may be contorting the meaning of Drake’s song to fit the context of my musings.

The process has changed of course. The process has become occasional sleepless nights to churn out the melodies and sounds taking up space in my brain.
It naturally merged into the both of us being incorporated into this process of creating, communicating that my child is indeed welcomed into this playing part of the process.

There is an element of releasing time, something that I have learned from my now 3-year old. They have no concept of time, just everything must happen in that particular moment always, no looking forward or back— the present play. When an idea comes to them, they must act immediately no matter the surrounding environments or circumstances. This was how I worked pre-parenthood, and something I choose to continue once my daughter is born. During those play and idea-forming moments, time became unnecessary and following her method it became easier to invite her into my compositional play environment. The pieces both her and I play with will then be further developed into completion when the moment comes to having the time and space alone to do so. This is a move from collaborative play with my daughter to a structure that I build for myself outside of parenting, something which wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t followed the play of my daughter.

Though my compositional work doesn’t necessarily have a recurrent theme of my parenting life,there is one piece in particular that references the rhetoric of what one is ‘’leaving behind’’ once one embarks on the lifelong journey of parenting.

Referring back to Molly Drake’s lyrics ‘’poor mum’’, the phrase ‘’all your leaving behind’’, in my piece is phrase sung for me to reiterate the things I would like to leave behind in terms of the societal expectations of what i am supposed to leave after parenthood begins. In fact, what I choose to leave behind are pushed onto parents that hold responsibilities and have caring roles for other things outside of parenting. I’m leaving behind the things that don’t support my practice and my need to create,my need to continue creating without feeling the shame pushed onto parents when desires and practices are pushed to the front of other important roles such as parenting.

That’s all I’m leaving behind.

All Your Leaving Behind by Ru Alero

’go out and grab at your life and forget you are poor, poor mum’’

To keep a hold of this grasp of the sonic world I am fully encapsulated in, as well as holding onto and welcoming my parenting role within this practice.

Silence and parenting at times go together in somewhat unhealthy ways: to silently pack away a life back into ourselves so as not to seem selfish, a life that very much existed before parenthood began. We are then pushed to reinvent ourselves around parenthood, as if the aspirations before that were not important. Being a parent, artist, composer or whoever one is as a creative, does not need to dissolve into silence. It can be cacophonous.

I understand this process is not an easy shift, or even a possible one for some parents, especially single parents But i do believe that packing away parts of ourselves to become a different person in the name of parenthood creates a storm—a storm that cannot be easily recognised, but a storm that can present itself in ways that can be frustrating and confusing.

I have often found space in the isolating parts of parenthood, an example is the lockdown, where community is almost instantly shrunk. There were ways to produce creative work in isolation that shone a light on not only the vulnerable side of single parenting but also the vulnerability of my work. Time became non existent, and although lockdown was one of the most difficult times for myself as a parent, there were moments dedicated to play with my work as well as with my daughter. This produced a new realm of discovery for my practice that still exists in myself as a freelance artist in the pandemic.

Of course, there are sacrifices to resume a musical practice.Perhaps going to sleep a few hours later than usual, amending my sound equipment to suit the late-night workflow, connecting to different ways of collaborating and being deeply honest about the ways I communicate how collaborating can suit me as an artist.

’Go out and grab at your life’’ — forget the poor mum narrative, we need to do what we have to do, at times its beautiful and at times it stretches beyond our capabilities, but I have become grateful for allowing myself to prioritise my sonic obsession and role of a composer alongside being a parent.

We as parents are all the things, I can say this for me as a single parent and perhaps for other single parents. There are ebbs and flows in terms of what becomes a priority at any given time, but all those needs will always be there and need not be forgotten or neglected.

As I continue to write music and connect deeper to the sonic world around me, the impact of the outer voices of expectations have slowly become a distant murmur. Instead I choose to connect to what works inside of myself and my family as a parent as a composer, and connect to those within my community that accept and welcome the inner voice of combining my practice and mothering. Giving myself total autonomy to separate and join them in a way that suits.

Seeing myself both as a parent and a composer, together, has been a powerful acceptance. Creating work alongside my child while also cherishing the moments I had to develop alone. It is a long process of adaptation and a regular shifting of processes and working environments, but I have never once wanted to sacrifice my work in the name of societal parental expectations.

I choose to celebrate time, to celebrate black single parents, black queer and nonbinary parents, pushing through marginalisation while also materialising work that stretches beyond our identities.

And celebrating the process of this work while still acknowledging the struggle of my place within society, without letting it shape or deeply influence the space I have worked hard to make safe and creatively habitable for both my compositional and parenting work.

Raf Alero is a Composer and Writer, their sound work is mainly around the use of the voice, analogue synthesis and influences from contemporary classical music. They are currently on an MA course in Musicology, where they will focus their research work on the presence, compositions and experiences of black classical composers.

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