Home on the Road: Erin Morley

Home on the Road is a series in which I interview opera professionals about how they survive their nomadic lives. You can find previous interviews here.

© Wesley Johnson
I'm delighted to bring back the Home on the Road series, which has provided me so much comfort whenever I'm tempted to shake my fist at the sky screaming, "Where are all the role models????" (which is fairly regularly).

I first met soprano Erin Morley way back (cough, cough) years ago at Wolf Trap, and she is having much-deserved huge successes all over the world. She just finished up a run of Konstanze in Abduction in Paris, and now she's in rehearsals for Gilda in a new Rigoletto here in Vienna (lucky us!).

I'm so happy Erin agreed to chat about how she's handling life on the road, traveling with a 3-year-old, and keeping her marriage strong. Enjoy!

LMB: Can you give me a few stats: how long you've been on the road, how much you've been at home in the last 12 months, how much time you've been able to spend with your husband John during that time?

EM: I've been singing professionally (i.e., out of a young artist program) for about 4 years now. New Haven, CT, is home for us; in the calendar year of 2014, I will have been there for 3 months total. This year is actually the most I've ever traveled, and I've been planning for this year for quite some time. I'm quite lucky in my family situation right now. My daughter Maria is 3, so she's able to be with me all the time. My husband John is a professor at Yale Law School, and was able to arrange his teaching schedule in various ways that allowed him to travel with me for much of this year. We've spent only two months without John this year. (THANK YOU, YALE.)

LMB: Do you have any stuff you always bring with you to make your temporary home feel more like a real one? Or any special routines to help you acclimate quickly in a new place?

EM: Family calendar, refrigerator photo magnets, Maria's blanket, and $5 Home Depot paper blackout blinds for Maria's room . . . What's far more important than these things, however, is maintaining schedule and family time. We read scriptures together as a family, we pray together as a family, we eat dinner together when possible. When we do these things, it feels like home.

LMB: What special things do you do to get Maria acclimated to a new place, before you leave home or once you've arrived?

EM: We try to focus on the positive aspects of an ever-changing environment, and we make absolutely sure that some things in her life are never-changing.

For instance, we talk to Maria about the city we're going to see, starting several weeks before leaving. We talk about special things she might like to see there (and show her pictures), and people she might get to meet there. We've tried to condition her to love all people and not be afraid to befriend them (although she seems to have come to this earth that way anyway!), and to like new experiences, new apartments, new places.

But we also emphasize the things that can and should be constant for her. Most important to me is that she always knows and feels that her parents love each other, and love her. This requires a certain amount of attention on the marriage. Date night every week, and regular emotional check-ins. Also very important to me is a consistent sleep schedule and general time organization within the family unit. I try to arrive in a drastically different time zone at least 3 days before my work starts, so that I can help Maria get over jet lag, help orient the family, have a chance to feel settled and secure before work sets in and my energy is required there. The faster we can adjust to a new time zone as a family, the easier it is on everyone.

LMB: Your family is such a beautiful example of really doing it all: 2 major careers, a child, a strong marriage. Do you think you've found that elusive work/life balance? What has helped you guys in making it all work?

EM: The work/life balance is a lifelong quest, to be sure. Our situation is constantly evolving, especially as our daughter gets older. Planning for these trips takes an enormous amount of time and organization. When I accept a job, I consider a million different factors. Besides voice and career considerations, John's needs, Maria's needs, childcare situation, time away from home, etc . . . all of these things come into play. John may need to talk to Yale about a leave of absence, or pushing the year's teaching into one semester rather than two. If he can't leave, we look at his schedule very carefully to make sure he can visit often enough. On rare occasions, I've decided to leave Maria home with John and nanny because it's better for everyone, but those periods must remain short. Relationships must be maintained, or the balance is upset.

In my opinion, the biggest factors to a successful balance in a situation like this are your choice of spouse and your choice of nanny. This is the "team." I must sing the praises of my husband for a moment, because he has supported my goals from the moment he met me. He has been an incredible partner. On those occasions when I have to travel without him, I feel his absence acutely. He bears a large part of the parenting load, he cooks dinner almost every night, and he also maintains his own high-pressure career.

However! Odd as it may seem, the nanny truly sits at the top of the food chain! We have a saying in our house: "If nanny's happy, everyone's happy." We make sure to provide our nanny with time off, social opportunities, and the tools to have a life outside of our family. We also require a lot of her within the job. She must bring a positive energy to the house, and we need to be able to trust her and rely on her with no doubts.

LMB: I am the absolute worst at packing, and I don't even have kid stuff to pack. How do you pack for several months away? Any helpful tips?

EM: My best tip for packing for long trips with kids: Start thinking about it at least two weeks before you leave. There is so much to prepare. My second best tip: Take a round of antibiotics with you.

LMB: In order to have the career that you have, you have to be willing to be away from home most of the time. How have you made peace with that? What makes it worthwhile for you?

EM: I've not yet had to confront the prospect of traveling for long periods of time without my family. I've thought about what we might do in the future, but I have to take things one step at a time. For now, I'm quite satisfied with the situation I have. It's of the utmost importance to me to have balance in my life. Being a mother and a singer. I need to be both. Both of those occupations are in my DNA; I feel like I'm meant to be both. This is where I find the peace.

It's absolutely true that both occupations are full-time, and so by definition, I spend less energy on my job than I'd like, and I spend less energy on my family than I'd like. However, the benefits to my family are greater when I'm singing: mom is happy and balanced, my family gets to see the world, Maria is having a very unique international education . . . Likewise, the benefits to my singing are greater since I became a mother: I don't have time to obsess over my job like I used to, I'm physically more active, I have a whole team to support me (and distract me when needed!) on the road, and I have a rich pool of experience to draw from. When Maria was born, it was such a beautiful change in our lives that I found myself saying, "Being a parent is the secret to life!" Now I never let myself believe that my career is more important than my family. And if I start to toe that line, Maria brings me back down to earth. :)

Traveling and not being able to be in your comfort zone, it makes you appreciate what you *really* need to be happy. For us, that's being together, nourishing the marriage, having a very reliable and full-time nanny, having a place of worship (we're Mormon, so this is pretty easy anywhere in the world), forming relationships with colleagues and friends from church, those are the things that keep the peace.

LMB: Any other advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out? Or advice that you did get that has been helpful to you?

EM: Organize your time. Don't try to be a mom and a singer during the same hours of the day. This is when guilt takes over, and everything suffers. Maria is out of the room when I'm practicing. Likewise, I don't answer my emails or look at my music when I'm "momming". ;)

John, Maria, and Erin

Maria and Erin in the Met dressing room during Rosenkavalier

Many thanks to Erin! It's so inspirational to hear how people in our business are making this crazy lifestyle work. You can find out more about Erin at www.erinmorley.com and follow her on Facebook for updates.


  1. Brilliant singer...She maintains such a positive attitude and peaceful nature to deal wonderfully with all the challenges of this life. She's an inspiration to us all!

  2. Inspirational interview, Erin! I resonate so deeply with everything you said! Keep making us proud!


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