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Musician Brigid Kaelin

Making a living as a musician is notoriously difficult, but multi-instrumentalist Brigid Kaelin has made it work. She grew up in Louisville as an only child of two non-musical parents. But there was a piano in their home, and that started Kaelin down the path she’s on today.

“The piano was my first instrument, I think just because we had one in the house,” she says. “But it made sense to me. Having taught piano now I know that’s not as common as I thought. It’s just I was good at it. It was fun because it was easy for me. So I played a lot.”

She picked up the guitar after that, and now plays a variety of instruments including the cello, accordion, and even the musical saw. Making this diverse range of musical skills into a career took some problem-solving.

“My business sense kind of kicked in,” Kaelin says. “I said, okay, because I have these different abilities, it’s not just original singer/songwriter stuff that is my income. I could still do the accompaniment thing. I could play keys in another band; make them do all the work for advertising. I could do session work, which is playing on other people’s records. I had just enough kind of scattered abilities that suddenly there was a business. And here I am still.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m just clawing at things, trying to make it work,” she adds. “And then my husband reminds me that I’ve successfully run a business for 18 years now.”

Kaelin and her husband, David Callwell, have two sons. For Kaelin, it was important to keep her music career going even with her growing young family.

“I think the biggest thing in a music career is not any different than any other women in business,” Kaelin says. “People get ‘mommy tracked.’ So when I got pregnant with Angus [her second child], I didn’t tell anyone I was pregnant because I didn’t want them to stop asking me to play.”

Kaelin was able to make it work. She finished an album just a day before Angus was born, and played a gig just a few days after. Her kids are growing up in a music-rich environment, although she doesn’t have any plans to push them to follow in her footsteps.

“David and I joke that they should just go to business school,” Kaelin says. “At this point, Graham doesn’t seem to love music, which is okay with me. He, as a baby, hated it when I played the accordion. He would scream and scream and scream. Angus loves the accordion. He loves it when I play but to a point where he likes to jump up on my lap and interfere, so practicing has become difficult.”

Even with the challenges that come with self-employment and raising young kids, Kaelin has been able to successfully follow her dreams.

“I remember asking myself, way early in my career, ‘what do you want to do?’” Kaelin remembers. “And the things I like to do are tell stories, and travel, meet interesting people. I like to be able to sing songs I wrote and have people in the audience there because they want to hear them. The old kind of magical romantic vision of a troubadour just traveling town to town and telling stories and listening to stories and being some sort of connection between people—that’s what I love doing. That’s been my passion. So I can actually say I’m doing that now.”

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2410, which originally aired on February 23, 2019. Watch the full episode.