Life and music: it’s all about balance

I’m writing this today whilst basking in glorious sunshine in my garden (well, I call it a garden, it’s more like a yard really). Whilst that might not seem like something to even give a thought to, to me it’s a Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/Free-Photos-242387/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1209837">Free-Photos</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1209837">Pixabay</a>breakthrough in choosing, no, allowing myself the time and space to just sit and enjoy life without feeling the need to be doing anything (ok, so writing this can indeed be classified as ‘doing something’ but I’m sure you get the point). For someone who for most of their life has felt guilty for even taking 5 minutes out of the working day to get some fresh air, how have I finally come to the point where embracing doing nothing is ok and even feels good? It’s all to do with my new found understanding of balance. For, in this instance, I’ve just spent the past hour and a half engaged in flute practice, toiling away at technical exercises and repertoire for forthcoming concerts in the sweltering heat. Which, whilst  I would be the first to say I enjoyed it, it can only be described at best as pretty uncomfortable when you have to keep stopping to prevent your instrument sliding out of your hands for the 20th time. So to achieve balance, I’m now enjoying the heat outside with my favourite mug full of coffee (something else which isn’t compatible during flute practice!)

We all know that balance in most aspects life is something which works on paper but is damn well near impossible to achieve. Despite this, it is something that I believe should always be at the forefront of our minds. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the busyness of the everyday without taking stock of where we are going and what we are trying to achieve. Ultimately then, it is only when we consider how to find a sense of balance that we begin to find that life flows better and we get the results we are looking for.

Not only do I think that our lives can benefit from this philosophy, but also our music making. I’m sure the musicians reading this would agree that everyone has aspects of their playing that they naturally find easier to achieve than others, be it dynamic contrasts, articulation or rhythmic precision (the latter is certainly not something I can boast about!) Therefore it’s probably not new advice to you that the remaining elements (finger work, scales, tone etc.) will require more focus to bring them up to standard. But beyond this, where else is balance important? Well, even choosing repertoire and exercises requires balance – does it provide the right level of challenge for me as a player at this moment in time? Then, how are we going to choose which pieces to select for an upcoming performance? Surely the balance between styles, moods and keys alongside audience expectation and setting should always be paramount here.

Beyond this then, how about the approach of a piece of music itself? Surely the biggest balancing act of all concerns technique and interpretation. In a recent episode of the brilliant talking flutes podcast, flutist Elisabet Franch, in conversation with Jean-Paul Wright, raises this point beautifully when she talks about the balance between technique and ‘passion for the music’ (you can listen to the episode here). Often I think this is overlooked, with the emphasis being too firmly placed on technique and ‘getting it right’ above what we as performers wish to express.

So the next time you’re practising, or even find yourself contemplating life itself (both equally important pastimes!), remember to consider how balance, in so many ways, can provide the key to getting the results you desire.

Book Review: Light is the New Black

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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.

Book Review: Big Magic

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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.

The joy of teaching… and of being taught

I’ll admit that when I first became a singing teacher, and for a good few years into my teaching career, I blinkerdly looked upon it as a sideline, a way to work in music and earn money whilst supporting my own singing and studying. Despite the admiration that I received from those who learnt of what I did for a living, I couldn’t see the joy that could be founif-you-become-a-teacher-by-your-pupils-youll-be-taught-quote-1d, and the knowledge that could be gained, in what I now come to regard as one of the most important and fulfilling ways in which to share your own passion for music making.

In the nine years that I have now been teaching, I can honestly say that I have learnt more about life and music making directly from it than from any other activity. I have had the privilege of working with a massive range of people of all ages who have come to lessons for a wide variety of reasons – to challenge themselves, to try something new, to resurrect an old skill, to pursue a musical career. All of these reasons may have given them a different starting point, yet they ultimately all end up experiencing the same negative and positive feelings during the inevitable challenging moments and the successful times which arise. Even though this roller coaster journey which every musician finds themselves one is one which inside I know all too well, it is only now when I get to experience it over and over again through the differing eyes of all my pupils that I can understand its merits and its importance.

And it’s not only in this way that I’ve seen what teaching can offer to the person delivering it. Over the years I’ve experienced moments of joy and laughter during teaching, especially when a pupil experiences a breakthrough in their development or when I can hear the beginning of a new vocal sound emerging.  I’ve been privileged to witness numerous performances where pupils have gone far beyond my expectations and have given me more enjoyment and perhaps more to think about than if I had been performing myself. I’ve had the chance to explore pieces that I thought I knew well from a new perspective which has deepened my own understanding and interpretation. And above all, I’ve formed relationships with people which have become so well bound that the teaching and leaning has become so comfortable and instinctive as brushing your teeth.

How many aspects of music making can boast all that? Teaching, I’m glad you found me.