During this Mental Health Awerness week, I’ve decided to share something I wrote not so long ago at an extremely difficult time for me mentally. I share this in the hope that those fortunate enough to not have expierineced such difficultes can perhaps come to appreciate some of the effects mental health conditions can have on anyone, and, at this difficult time for us all due to the global pandemic, will be encouraged to support the arts in any way they can so that the power they bring to our lives as both performer and listener can continue to be felt.
“…I stopped playing and just held my flute in my hands. I’ve spent many hours with this beautiful instrument yet it felt like this was the first time I was really feeling it. It had always been there for me, like an old friend, and now I knew I needed it more than ever.
I pulled out my old copy of the Telemann sonatas – on old favourite which I’d explored many years ago. I’ve turned my back on this style of music as a performer, perhaps due to the feelings of not performing it correctly (whatever that means) but I knew it was this that I needed to play right now. The notes were fuzzy from the start, some barely audible, and there were many more incorrect than right, but that didn’t matter. It was still my voice and my heart which was carrying through them. Even though my out of practice lips were screaming at me to stop, I just kept right on going, not allowing anything to get in the way, least of all my failing fuzzy brain. I surrendered to the fact that it didn’t matter, this was for me, my therapy, like my music always really had been. And I vowed to hold on to this feeling – a feeling of enough, of contentment in knowing that allowing myself to share my musical self is ok, and that it doensn’t need to be anything more.
Thank goodness for music, for what it can do to us if we only let it, and for the ability to see it for what it is. I know that my playing will get me through this, now and probably again in the future, and I also know that this will help me honour it during the good times as well.”
This coming Tuesday (26th May) I’ll be playing the Telemann Sonata in F major in full live on my YouTube channel. To be able to perform it now, honouring the music as it was intended from a place of stability and quiet confidence is something that I feel so grateful for. And if you’d like to join me to hear it I’d be even more thankful.
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Why do you continue to play music? Is it because you found that you could earn a living through performing or teaching? Is it because you want to see how far you can improve your technique? Or is it because you want to share your talent with the world?
Even if it’s for any of those reasons it’s also because of this. It lights you up.
In light is the new black, Rebecca Campbell tells of her journey which led her from being a successful creative director in advertising to spiritual guide thanks to one enlightening moment. The moment she realised she was on the wrong path. Her real path is where she can express her light, her true calling, and this book is her way of inspiring the reader to do the same.
Even if you don’t see yourself as a spiritual person, light is the new black has plenty to offer anyone who needs the encouragement to follow their heart. It’s overall message of being true to yourself and following your calling is one that we can all do with being reminded of from time to time. For the moments when our minds begin to question ourselves, Rebecca offers some simple meditations to try which aim to deepen the connection with your inner calling and which are a good place to start if you’ve never tried meditation before. Overall, I think this is a book that everyone can connect with in some way, and whether you feel like you are shining your light or not, you’ll find something in here that inspires you to do so.
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In my experience, the vast majority of musicians and people who perform in some capacity or another are introverts. Whilst this may surprise many who themselves are not, it actually makes perfect sense that those who enjoy sharing their creative talents with the world and, in order to prepare for this, are more than comfortable with spending a large amount of time in their own company, allowing them the space to think, explore and grow their interests to the full.
In Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain not only provides a in dept insight into why those who identify with the concept of introversion do so, but she also explores how this can produce an array of valuable traits which can be applied to many different situations which are predominantly seen as only being successfully handled by so called extroverts.
As well as providing a feeling of relief for many, I feel there are many takeaways from this book which would resonate and provide food for thought for musicians and teachers alike. For example, Susan argues that it is vitally important for introverts to ‘find their passion’ in what they are doing so that they can see the purpose and gain from what they are trying to achieve. Perhaps this is something that everyone needs, but with introverts it always has to be continually present, which in musical terms could translate into the need to choose music or exercises which the musician can always find connection to, or the need to have regular goals and targets to aim towards. Alongside this, it is noted that there is a need for projects to be manageable, not overly stressful and supported by others. Again, this is vital information to be taken into account when dealing with musicians and pupils alike. Even seemingly less obvious differences are explored such as the belief that introverts function better than extroverts when sleep deprived – so there’s no reason not to get that extra practice session in of an evening!
Whilst the book does provide a number of long case studies which may not relate directly to the areas which interest musicians, it provides a valuable insight to a anyone who wishes to understand those around them more and improve their communication skills. And, after all, that’s what being a musician is all about!
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If you’re a teacher, you’ll understand that more often than not, the biggest hurdle to getting your students to perform is the fear that they will face. Fear of making a mistake, fear of standing up in front of their friends and family, and fear of being called out as ‘not being good enough’. What is takes to overcome this is the ability to be vulnerable.
Vulnerability is at the core of the years of research undertaken by American author Brené Brown. Daring greatly is just one of a number of bestselling books that she has written, each highlighting an aspect of her research into the essence of what it takes to be your best self and live a life which is full and true to yourself. In it, Brené focuses on her biggest finding – than in order to live wholeheartedly, vulnerability is not something we can shy away from. Rather than viewing it as a weakness, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable builds courage, engagement and connection which could not be more relevant to our work as musicians, whatever aspect or level we are engaged in.
As well as offering many insights into how we can help ourselves to embrace vulnerability through her research findings, Brené provides a number of honest, sometimes hilarious and sometimes cringe worthy, personal stories which although may not be entirely relatable, certainly offer a perspective on our own thinking in situations when we are called to be vulnerable. Her style throughout is one which never makes the reader feel inadequate, yet gently persuades even the most staunch advocate for a stiff upper lip to explore to benefits of wearing your heart on your sleeve. And I think that’s something that the world could always do with more of.
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As musicians, we are used to having to search for answers. How do we tackle a technical problem or best interpret the intentions of a composer are things that we happily spend time seeking answers about. But beyond this, there’s the bigger questions relating to what we do that are faced by everyone pursuing a creative interest. Am I good enough? Can I make a living from music? What should I do when I don’t feel inspired to keep going?
In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert explores these ideas and more in a frank and human way. Her own doubts are fears towards her writing are laid bare and through her own experience we gain a perspective which may not be one which we have encountered before. One such idea is the feeling that ideas are ‘out there’ just waiting to find the right person who is ready to work with them. If we’re not ready, they move onto the next available ‘host’. Whilst this may or may not be something that chimes with you, the sense that we are not entirely responsible or expected to create things completely on our own without any outside help is one that I certainly feel is important to understand.
I love the way in which many barriers seem to be broken through Elizabeth’s words. The complicated dance which we can mentally tire ourselves with seems to shatter through her words and as such, I felt a renewed sense of allowing myself to be myself as I took each of her points on board. Moreover, I gained a sense of trust in allowing projects to unfold as they need to, rather than forcing things to happen. Big Magic is so much more than this, but for those feelings alone, it’s worth a read.
Browsing through internet news pages earlier today, I came across this BBC news article in which it is claimed that Adele is unhappy with reports that her music is being used by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. This got me thinking about how music can easily become associated with a person, place or event but this can often be a difficult bond to break. Could this therefore cause a big impact on the composer or performer either negatively or positively and should this be something we should consider more carefully when putting our music ‘out there’?
Adele isn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last, to come face to face with a negative association with her music. Perhaps the most famous example is Adolf Hitler’s adoration of the music of Richard Wagner. This has caused such a strong link between the two that many people refuse to even listen to Wagner’s music, and indeed none of his operas have ever been staged in Israel for this reason (it is worth adding that there is evidence to show that Wagner himself held anti-Semitic views but maybe if it wasn’t for the Nazis this would have been somewhat overlooked?) On a lighter political note, who cannot fail to think of Tony Blair when hearing D:Reams ‘Things can only get better’ (and if you google the title, one of the most searched for phrases is ‘Things can only get better Labour’). Or on hearing the rousing anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from Carousel not be reminded or a certain football team who plays in red?
But all these associations on a global scale are perhaps not as important to us as individuals as the personal associations which we all find ourselves making from time to time. Those moments when a song or piece captures just how we feel or enables us to express something better than we ever could ourselves. Or maybe a time which stays with us in our memory has a certain piece connected with it, perhaps because it was being played at that very moment? Then there are of certain associations which are made by the composer or performer themselves – the time you performed in a certain building or with a certain group or even that dreaded audition piece all hold different memories and feelings. And maybe that’s just it. Musical associations are meant to happen and are part of the deal. We all make them. Music is an art, and art is perhaps the most evocative and powerful language known to man which paradoxically is also is wide open to individual interpretation.
Artists will always be quick to react to negative associations which are formed with their work in the public arena. But perhaps they would do better to remember why they do what they do in the first place and the musical associations that they themselves have made? For every public negative association, isn’t there bound to be an unobtainable number of positive associations by people on a personal level which can bring so much joy and comfort to us and yet go unnoticed in the wider world? In the case of Adele, the fact that her latest album ’25’ has now sold more than 15 million copies worldwide must surely be proof of this. And ultimately, as musicians and artists, if we are brave enough to share our musical ideas with the world in the first place, we must learn to be brave enough to accept that how they are perceived is ultimately out of our control.