photo: Nicole Elizabeth Photo
For Kate Stapleton and her husband, Casey, music is not just a hobby; it’s a huge part of their family. This harp and guitar duo travel the country in an RV, bringing their four kids with them. As a family, they’re able to visit all sorts of places, sharing their love for music with the world and homeschooling their kids on the road.
In this interview, Kate tells us how all of this touring works out logistically for her family, and how music has transformed their marriage.
Tell us a little bit about yourself! How did you and your husband meet?
I grew up on a small family farm in Western Wisconsin. My father was a Catholic journalist and organic farmer.
We raised free range chickens, pastured pigs, and vegetables, including kale before it was famous, back when no one wanted it.
I spent a lot of time hauling wood, composing dramatic monologues while hanging clothes on the line, and wandering the ridges in cloaks pretending I was in Ireland.
My husband was raised in LA, by a ship captain father. His parents met when his father sailed into Mazatlan. While he was in port, one of his sailors was thrown in jail.
He went to the Embassy to work on getting him out, and met his future wife who was the head secretary there. He was captivated by her beauty, intelligence and charm, courted her, and eventually married her.
When I met their son, my husband, I was living in the Blue Ridge Mountains, working with farmers in the Appalachian region. He had just graduated from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, which was where my brother went to college.
My brother called me and said “I met this guy. You’re both really tall, talk a lot, and play music. I think you should talk.”
We started talking and never stopped. We wrote each other letters, we talked on the phone for two and a half hours every single night, and within three months we were engaged. We married a year later and I joined him here in Pittsburgh, PA.
We have four children, ages 8, 6, 4, and 8 months. I am also the birth mother to a daughter who is 17 years old.
How did you learn to play the harp?
I first became a mother when I was 21 years old. Finding out I was pregnant felt like falling off a cliff. I thought my life was over. I was terrified, and I couldn’t imagine facing my family.
I am the oldest of nine children, and knowing that I would have to tell all 8 of my younger siblings was heartbreaking. I had no idea what I was doing with my life (I had been planning to travel to Peru to volunteer at an orphanage there) and I couldn’t begin to imagine my future.
During the long months of contemplating the best way to care for my child, and discerning adoption, I picked up the tiny three octave harp I had bought when I was 17 and began to play. It felt like one powerful, tangible thing that I could do for my child, and for myself. I played for at least an hour every day.
The summer after my daughter was born, I bought a bigger harp, and I began studying seriously with a teacher that fall. I began playing the harp as a gift for my child, but in the end it was such a gift to me. If I hadn’t gotten pregnant, I don’t think I would have ever learned to play the harp.
Now, you and your husband play music together, and you tour the country playing music WITH your kids in tow! What is that like?
Taking four children along on tours to play music is very rewarding and only occasionally disastrous. For example, I will never take a six week baby on the road again, if I can help it! I do love seeing the world with my children, and they are surprisingly great at long car trips. They read and draw and play games and only occasionally howl and fight. They are learning to be polite in many different situations and I’m happy that they see us working together.
We’ve gotten to meet incredible people, and have been hosted by so many amazing and generous families. Touring is kind of like reading a really interesting novel, except that the characters and situations are all actually real.
At the same time, stability is super important for the kids. This means that the more that we travel as a family, the more we need to have a very stable, rooted, harmonious life at home the vast majority of the time.
How would you describe the relationship between motherhood and creativity?
I am a much better artist, now that I am a mother. For me, having less time to work on art is freeing. There is no time for self doubt, or melodramatic wallowing, all of which I engaged in regularly when I was single and working in theatre, dance, or music.
When there are four children to care for, two baskets of laundry to sort, and a meal to be made, if we are going to rehearse, it will have to be very focused and productive!
As a woman and a mother, the cycles of pregnancy and fertility have a huge impact on creativity. I am learning to roll with this, and take advantage of the different seasons of life.
I’m less creative and need more sleep when I’m pregnant, but I’m not nursing then, so we were able to do a weekend performance trip without the kids, which was amazing. Currently, a newborn is has been attached to me nonstop for months, but I’ve actually done some of my best rehearsing and writing with a baby sleeping on me in a carrier. I tend to have a huge return to creativity as my cycle returns, so that’s a great time to work on new projects.
As mothers we are constantly creating. We bear new life, nourish our children with our own bodies. We shape the physical, intellectual, and spiritual future of our children. We create a physical home, and hold the space for our children’s imagination to take flight. We prepare food, we choose clothing, we read aloud, we work with color and texture and experience and we shape our children’s conception of truth and beauty.
I believe that being a mother has deeply informed, enriched, and improved the way that I approach my art.
What advice do you have for other mothers balancing an outside job, or a passion, or both, while being a mother too?
It is not possible to have it all, so it’s important to know what your priorities are. The state of your marriage, spiritual life, family life, how to raise your children, how to pay the bills- these are important things to ponder and return to again and again.
What kind of culture do you want to create for your family? How will a job or a project affect your core goals? Each year I write out a list of goals for the year ahead, and we do this as a band as well. I am a big believer in one, five, and ten year plans, and also in evaluating the way daily life is working for the family.
What feeds your soul? What feeds your family? How can you create a life that does both? Keep asking the questions! Finding the right balance takes time, patience, and careful attention to what is going on around you.
What are some of the values and qualities that you strive to cultivate in your marriage and family?
I believe that it is important for couples to respect each other, challenge each other, support each other, and work together.
For us, this was really challenging during the first five years of marriage. Our two strong personalities clashed regularly over everything. We couldn’t load the dishwasher without an epic battle. Then we began playing music together.
Believe it or not, learning to play and sing harmoniously eventually transformed our marriage. Making music and building a business together has drawn us closer together and given us an appreciation for each other’s talents and strengths.
We work together, and that changes everything. It’s so important for children to see their parents working together and see them cooperating, and to be given the chance to participate in meaningful work as a family.
I grew up in a farming culture, watching men and women run a business together, dividing up the work, creating areas of expertise. On the farm where I grew up, my mother’s realm was the flower garden, my father’s the vegetable field. They were each in control of their own projects, but now and then my father would request that my mother help him in the field, or she would ask him to walk outside at twilight, and see her flowers.
When we started playing music we had three kids under four, and almost never went on a date. I still remember the first time we got a babysitter to go out for coffee to meet to talk about our music project. If we hadn’t been working together, we would never have gone on that date.
The music project has brought us closer together, which has made us better parents as well as a better couple.
The kids see that we need time to be together without them (usually working in our attic studio) but they are also able to participate in the project by folding t shirts, helping us set up for a performance, selling merchandise. Having kids participate in a family business is a great way to teach them how to do meaningful work, from an early age.
You don’t have to be a musician or a farmer to create a powerful family culture and work together as a family, but working together as a family is so important. Creating a vibrant, faith-filled, meaningful home life will change your life, and change the world.
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