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Make Some Noise

by Rebecca Toal

Scene: Royal Albert Hall, Prom concert, muggy Saturday afternoon in September, hungover, with a friend

Imagine it: you’ve scouted out some better seats for the second half so you can see the brass section, and the man two seats down from you, his arm around his small son’s shoulders, apologises “this is his first concert, so I’m really sorry if he gets a bit excited.” Of course I tell him not to worry and that it’s great if he does, but I wonder why he assumed that we would require silence? We are two young women dressed in jeans and tshirts, clearly having snuck into seats that weren’t ours. Was it the fact that we were playing ‘spot the friend in the orchestra’, or talking about our next musical engagements, and so it was obvious that we were Musicians, and therefore Protectors of Art?

It’s fairly common knowledge that in concert halls of the 18th-Century, much like the theatres, talking, applauding and general rapture was the norm, as is evident in Mozart’s 1778 letter after the premiere of his Symphony No. 31:

“Right in the middle of the First Allegro came a Passage that I knew would please, and the entire audience was sent into raptures—there was a big applaudißement;—and as I knew, when I wrote the passage, what good effect it would make […] I began the movement with just 2 violins playing softly for 8 bars—then suddenly comes a forte—but the audience had, because of the quiet beginning, shushed each other, as I expected they would, and then came the forte—well, hearing it and clapping was one and the same. I was so delighted, I went right after the Sinfonie to the Palais Royal—bought myself an ice cream, prayed a rosary as I had pledged—and went home.”

You can read more about the evolution of silence in concerts via Alex Ross’s online essay, but ultimately most agree that this resistance to show our natural response to the music, prescribed by the unwritten rules of concert-going, is a large factor in the perceived (and experienced) stuffiness of Classical Music. How many times have you been in a concert in which the audience has clapped in the ‘wrong’ place, and is met with a riotous handful of ‘shh’s and angry twisting-in-sits? Given that the age of social media encourages everyone and literally their dog to broadcast their opinion, is it really that shocking that the younger generations are apprehensive about spending their time and money going to a concert where they might be told to shut up and sit still? 

I felt dual excitement and pity for the small boy I was sitting next to. He verbally marvelled to his father as the lighting changed colour to illustrate each movement of The Planets, and while his father was clearly enjoying the music, he was also evidently embarrassed and/or worried that the training of his son wasn’t going quite to plan. What a bizarre message to teach a child: “Enjoy the music, but not visibly.” It reminded me of the many discussions I’ve had about eating disorders and body policing with friends, in the way that we are expected to be thin and beautiful, but also to be ‘Foodies’, and to go for Instagrammable brunches at the weekend: “Enjoy your food and enjoy socialising, but your appearance must, under no circumstances, let anybody know about it.” Somehow, this society of instant gratification and self-expression has left Classical Music behind on an inaccessible desert island, with only a couple of hundred years’ worth of staple repertoire leftover for firewood. 

Who are we curbing our enthusiasm for anyway? I can speak for myself and perhaps a few other performers when I say that I love it when an audience reacts naturally to the music, and I don’t find myself offended when my noise is met by more noise. Is it the other audience members that we are afraid of disturbing, and are we therefore suggesting that there is a hierarchy of audience members that should be observed? Or is it the often-dead composer who we are assuming would prefer silence to rapture? Although, I have rarely heard anything louder than an uncomfortable, unsure silence at the end of a symphonic movement. 

Coming from teaching a lot of whole class trumpet in schools, I can safely say that children’s appreciation of music can come in a lot of forms, but rarely is silence the go-to. Movement, clapping, laughing, and singing are what I would usually expect when faced with a group of dented-trumpet-wielding primary school students, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. As soon as somebody introduces rules for enjoying music to them, that’s when they lose interest. So please, small boy at the RAH, make some noise. 

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Stuck in-between

It’s not a new feeling being stuck in-between places, between old and new, in the unknown. It happened the summer before moving to sixth form in Manchester and then the summer two years later before starting my undergrad. It’s scarily hard trying to imagine what life will look like come September and so you conjure up visions of college life, envisioning new housemates and laughing at bars. There’s something of an endless limbo that comes with months of in-between, saying goodbye to friends you know you won’t see for a while, moving out of a flat you felt safe in. I suppose that’s what it is – the end of safety and comfort. 

Here I am on a rainy day in August. After so much talk about moving to a new city, moving to London suddenly seems incredibly daunting. I realised I’ve lived in Manchester for seven years and so any change now is a bit of a shock to the system. I feel excited by the prospect of moving don’t get me wrong. I knew I needed a change, a fresh start and fresh stimulation. And yet this transition feels the hardest yet. And it feels hard because I’ve built such a community in Manchester and it feels like I’m leaving it all behind. We are such creatures of habit and to fly the nest suddenly feels very isolating. As if you’re left hanging in the air neither moving forward or backward. It’s funny because life does go on and I still practise and go for walks and chat to friends and cook and enjoy it all. It feels right to change in this way but there’s no getting rid of a lurching feeling in the pit of my stomach. I usually like to cope by doing some form of calming yoga but I can’t seem to find the strength to declutter the yoga mat and sit for a while. Probably because I don’t want to face the thoughts I won’t want to hear. Anyway it’s much easier to scroll aimlessly through instagram and forget for a bit – healthy. 

I’m not seeking enlightenment, just a place of security, protection. It’s risky leaving behind everything you know are are used to and I find myself unable to stifle the sense of loss. Of people and places and good times. But I suppose with risk you allow yourself the opportunity to make new connections and new experiences, and it certainly doesn’t mean you lose the old ones. Not really.

So I sit and stare out the window at the rain and hope to trust that the limbo will come to an end. Life is transitory and I know that, but I can’t help but feel stuck in the in-between. Living with not knowing is tough. And yet I know that I will build a new community in London, that I have every possibility of feeling supported wherever I am. We all do. Life moves forward, we make new friends, we become closer to old ones and learn more about ourselves, I truly believe that.

To everyone out there in a place of transition I understand and I am here for you.

Jasmin Allpress is a pianist and chamber musician, recently graduated from the RNCM Joint Course programme. She is studying her masters at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London from September.

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7 Beyond-Physical Perks of Yoga

The assumptions about this thing called yoga spread far and wide. Most commonly, they will sound something like this:

  • ‘there is no point in doing it because I am not flexible enough’ 
  • ‘it is far too slow and boring for me – why not work up a sweat in a quicker way?’
  • ‘I will look ridiculous trying to do fancy poses like the ones in that magazine’

Firstly, yoga requires a calm yet hyper-focused mental state from start to finish which, once found, makes it anything but boring. Secondly, you do it to improve flexibility and no, you do not need to buy special yoga wear from Sweaty Betty bef…but these are besides my point.

If you feel discouraged to start, or have struggled to maintain a regular practice due to reasons resembling those written above, then it may be time to consider a new perspective. One that is, in my opinion, even more meaningful and rewarding, which will keep you going back to that yoga mat as if it is made of the most delicious and comforting chocolate you have ever tasted. There are endless benefits to the mind and soul which, once found on the mat, will magically seep into your daily life and music practice. Toned abs will become a mere side effect. Today, it could not be easier to get started due to the one gazillion yoga courses available for free on YouTube, for all levels, to enjoy in the comfort and embarrassment-free zone of your own home. Yehudi Menuhin said that his best violin teacher was in fact his yoga instructor. After discovering yoga, the violinist diligently practised it every day until his death. Without further ado, here are seven possible reasons as to why he did that, and why you should too.

Sensitisation. Over time, one develops a more acute awareness of how the body feels and how it is positioned. From the level of tension in the muscle at the base of your thumb, to exactly how weight is distributed across your feet, to how far up your shoulders have risen during the course of the day, to which unnecessary movements the right part of your jaw makes whenever you feel nervous…you are able to sense these things from within, quickly and in great detail, without having to take a single glance! Once you escape the thinking mind and enter the body, accessing this state of targeted attention, you will begin to notice things that you were previously unaware of. This creates two useful tools which can be used in the practice room: 

  1. To play with straight and parallel bow strokes, for example, it is irrational to rely on sight, a mirror or a teacher to tell you if that is happening. This is going to leave you feeling clueless and out of control in a performance scenario. Yoga enables you to sense it from within and just know if you are doing it right. It leads to a depth of understanding that is more than intellectual.
  2. In technically difficult passages, you are able to zone in on exactly what is causing physical discomfort, eliminating that sense of helplessness which comes with not knowing why. A peculiar thing happened to me a few weeks after I started doing yoga regularly. My brain suggested a new idea about a frustrating line of music that I had tried to play so many times in so many different ways, which still felt somewhat uncomfortable and unnatural. ‘Play it again, letting the same mistakes happen, and simply observe what is happening in the body while you do it, as a non-judgemental outsider’. My goodness, I thought: my wrist feels tense in this section which is affecting the shift, and just before that string crossing I am lifting the shoulder which is causing my hand to…and so on. Within a few minutes, a door to solutions had opened. It was no longer a mystery, but a clear list of practical and solvable issues.

Mindfulness. Not only do you become more conscious of the body, but everything you do is executed with more presence, awareness and care, leading to quicker and better quality outcomes. The practice of yoga encourages participants to set aside thoughts about what has happened or what will happen, in order to be one hundred percent present and ‘in the zone’. It is sort of like a moving meditation, noticing everything that happens in the moment. No room for wandering, no time to switch off. The benefits of doing this are extremely fruitful! Your ears, your eyes and your taste buds are stimulated and able to fully experience a more colourful and interesting world. Applying this skill to music could mean many things, such as becoming more sensitive to changes in harmony, more responsive to how your chamber partners play a phrase or being able to hear in great detail how you transition between notes. Everything is more noticeable because your mind is no longer clouded by judgemental thoughts. This will be especially helpful during performance scenarios as the mind begins to wander and worry, because you will have some control over where it goes. 

Resilience. There is a hidden wisdom within the physical motions of yoga. An example of this can be seen through the more weight-bearing, strenuous parts of a flow. Challenging and sweat-inducing positions are often to be held for a large number of breaths, in silence and stillness. Within these poses, you are further encouraged to find more length in the neck, to rest the shoulders down, to unclench the jaw, finding ease and elegance wherever possible. The core should be engaged for better control, stability and support, and unnecessary areas of tension should be spotted and softened. There is something about that which tells me that this is a lesson which goes far beyond the physical. It teaches us about resilience, mental strength and the ability to remain calm and level headed amidst conflict. It teaches us to find peace within something difficult and breathe through it, not suffering more than we need to, and taking time to consider the wisest response rather than mindlessly pushing through. 

Process. Yoga is an ongoing process, without any particular end goal that one must work to achieve. It is about continuously learning and growing. The thing that you get excited about; the thing that feels rewarding; is the practice itself. This will come in extremely handy to the typically unbalanced and determined classical musician, who places all of their happiness and pleasure into the hands of a future dream, of the big stuff, whilst feeling somewhat drained and dissatisfied by the day to day grind of getting there. After all, investing in a curious and pleasurable process will make consistency feel effortless and is more likely to lead to that goal anyway. So, try something that is the opposite: no looming deadlines, practice for the sake of practice, deriving pleasure from the day to day process, because I think, paradoxically, that may be the key to the big stuff!

Kindness. It is without question that yoga helps you to cultivate a supportive and respectful relationship with yourself. There are all sorts of ways in which this is developed. These include showing up on the mat in all states of yourself, accepting that every day will feel different; learning to observe yourself without judgement; respecting your limits; nurturing yourself in order to show love and kindness to others; learning to balance effort with rest through the ritualistic movements of expansion and contraction, inhale and exhale, tension and release; developing a routine of self care and approaching it with diligence and commitment. After a tough day, the yoga mat can provide an enjoyable alternative to unhealthy forms of escapism. Furthermore, if you commit to giving only kind and respectful feedback to yourself within the yoga practice, you may find that your music practice becomes a more supportive and encouraging environment to be in too. 

Confidence. It will be apparent by now that there is a direct connection between the physical movements of yoga and one’s mental state. Perhaps the most self-explanatory one is this: with enough repetitions of open postures, standing tall and poses which make you stretch and take up space, you will begin to feel more confident and positive throughout your day! Humans like to make themselves as small as possible when they feel insecure and shy, by hunching the shoulders and looking down. Science tells us that by simply acting physically confident and doing the opposite of this, we can trick our brains into actually feeling that way too. With enough practice of this in yoga, you may find yourself standing taller, walking with more conviction and generally feeling more optimistic and able to go for it throughout the day.

Focus. Balancing poses in yoga require unwavering concentration. If the attention is diverted for one second, then you will topple! These poses are a physical representation of your internal mental state: the calmer you are, the longer you are able to maintain a still and balanced position. There are various levels of the tree pose worth exploring while keeping your eyes fixated on the ‘drishti’ (a point in front of you to focus your gaze on), and a slightly more challenging position to try is the eagle pose. With both, it is worth experimenting with increasing the length of time in which they are held, introducing some synchronised movement in the arms, and (if you are really concentrating) closing the eyes. 

Namaste.

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Practice as play

By Hattie Butterworth

Since graduating I have not struggled with having days away from playing the cello. Of course, the residual guilt from years of practice control and obsession linger, but within a year of the largely absent musical world, I happily found other outlets for my time. As events resurface, I am returning to playing again now but I am struggling with my relationship to it. I want the cello to be a space of creativity, joy and exploration, but I have it so tightly wrapped around the concept of ‘work’ that I struggle to motivate myself.

This mindset becomes clear to me as I see myself planning days off frequently. Despite loving the time lost to cello play, the thoughts around picking it up are exhausting. I find myself watching the time pass, intent on achieving a minimum goal. I try and ‘get it done’ early so that I can ‘relax’. I feel guilty if I skip my warm up and find myself returning to a mindless play-through of Haydn D major 1st movement because I still can’t play it in tune, and couldn’t two years ago either. That’s degrading, exhausting and writing it down makes it abundantly clear why practice is some serious dull work for me.

I am asking why it can’t feel playful. Why does the idea of sifting through piles of music, working on pieces I can’t guarantee I’ll ever perform feel so awful? Because I have been taught that there is a ‘right’ way to practise. A correct length of time, a focussed mindset required, an analytical postmortem and the need for a list of highly ambitious outcomes. My musical eduction was incredibly rewarding, but the balance of work and play, especially within musical practice, was absent.

We need to remember that dance, music and art is actually an outlet for many. They form the foundation of the contemporary forms of play, to benefit people’s wellbeing. A hobby perhaps, or a way to relieve the stresses of work, money and illness. The common adage ‘we play an instrument, we don’t work an instrument’ is frequently heard, but not widely practised. I have watched many masterclasses in which musicians have been encouraged to relax, to adopt a playful, expressive manner and to ‘let go’. Such demands within the highly structured, controlled music education system is laughable, at best.

So how can we begin a drip feed of playful practice? I am hardly the expert, the opening paragraph detailing a current account of my practice life- but I am here to think about how it can change and better serve me as a musician. In order to improve, we have to spend time with our instrument. In order to learn repertoire, teach adequately and perform with confidence, a dedicated relationship to our instrument is essential. I see this- this is reality, so I want to ask how I can feel more drawn to the cello, more in touch with it and how to spend more time with it, whilst cultivating an excitement and playfulness around it.

I have recently read a book by the German theologian Hugo Rahner entitled ‘Man at Play‘. It’s actually a really accessible book if anyone is interested in reading it, but to summarise, it is essentially a study of the work-life balance. This is not balance apart from our work, but also the balance within our work. It is easy to maintain a hatred of practice, desperate for the time to end in order for relaxation to start, but Rahner suggests we should ‘play in order that you may work’. This means making our play our work, rather than forcing our work to be playful. He understands the realities of our simultaneously joyful and tragic existence, but suggests to us that playfulness of creating should be our first priority.

How can we make our play our work? Maybe we should begin with asking what drew you in, how can you identify what you love, what makes you feel alive in practice and performance and make that into your work? For me, I love studies/etudes and working on ensemble music. I struggle with sitting down to learning solo repertoire, so am deciding to look for paid work that encompasses my love of teaching technical challenges and my desire to play with my piano trio.

If the core of my practice focusses on the joy that has become my work, then the other repertoire I want to learn will develop more organically and with less resentment for the scarcity within my playing at present. Making our play into our work is radical, but important if we are to find solace and enjoyment within our practice spaces.

Hattie xx

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Disordered practice is a mental health issue

Rebecca’s edited practice meme, alongside the original post, demonstrating toxic practice culture which pervades the classical music online presence

By Hattie Butterworth

Working with Rebecca recently has seen me dig deeper into my past as a musician. Her diligence in helping musicians recognise their worth purely as people is so important and inspiring. Still, there is a younger version of me I remember, so wrapped up in disordered practice culture that wouldn’t want to see the point in being kind to myself.

The most dangerous factor of a young musician’s existence is the extent to which ‘disordered’ practice has been normalised. This ‘disorder’ witnessed in a practice regime which engenders guilt, fear, comparison and pain in the young person. We are given an (often unrealistic) number to aim towards, encouraged by professors and industry leaders. A sacred hours-per-day, the failure of completing which promising future career disaster and unworthiness as a musician.

In recent times, thinking about practice obsession and disorder links eerily neatly for me to my knowledge and experience of eating disorders. If I list mental symptoms associated with disordered eating, I think it may become more apparent the ways in which they may be linked:

Symptoms of eating disorders include:

-Spending a lot of time worrying about your weight and body shape

-Avoiding socialising when you think food will be involved

-Eating very little food

-Deliberately making yourself sick or taking laxatives after you eat

-Exercising too much

-Having very strict habits or routines around food

-Changes in your mood

If we change this to focus around our practice culture in music schools/colleges:

Symptoms of disordered practice include:

-Spending a lot of time worrying about your playing and worth as a musician

-Avoiding socialising when you think you haven’t practiced enough

-Taking very little time off

-Deliberately making yourself practice at strange hours to relieve the discomfort of not feeling good enough

-Practicing too much

-Having very strict habits or routines around practice

-Changes in your mood

The extent to which these behaviours have been normalised feels baffling when we see these ‘diagnoses’ side by side. Of course it is almost inevitable, and not inherently wrong, that creative people go through a level of structure, focus and comparison in order to improve and reach a high standard, but this structure has been abused.

We are at a potentially dangerous place within our profession. By controlling the way that young people think about practice and technical ability, we are leading them to believe that disordered practice methods are entirely synonymous with being a worthy musician.

My wish is that talented musician emerging from institutions be shown that their worth and musicianship lies as much within the freedom to experience a full life as it does within the practice room.

Hattie xx

Disordered eating symptoms source:

https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/feelings-symptoms-behaviours/behaviours/eating-disorders/overview/#symptoms

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The Tipping Point of Perfectionism

By Emma Baird

Reblog, originally posted on RAM Page News

Do you ever find yourself writing elaborate to-do lists for the next day, while thinking ‘I’ll start fresh with the new me tomorrow, and it will be amazing’? Or perhaps you feel the urge to completely re-organise your bedroom furniture and buy a new stationery set before you can begin that pesky task that you know you need to do. These habits of procrastination are just a few of the numerous counterproductive behaviour patterns which fall into the category of perfectionism. In what may appear to be laziness to an outsider, there lies a deeply ingrained fear of failure and criticism. By procrastinating, we can avoid, or at least delay, the possibility of making a mistake. The issue is not carelessness, it is caring too much.

As Eat Pray Love author, Elizabeth Gilbert, stylishly summarises, ‘perfectionism is just fear in high heels and a mink coat’. Even the word ‘perfectionist’ sounds impressive, and has connotations of conscientiousness and high standards. However, it is in fact a barrier which hinders progress and prevents us from expressing our true selves. Perfectionism disguises our fears of not being good enough, with people-pleasing as its central aim. For musicians, who are expected to express themselves with openness and authenticity, the presence of this fake mask poses a problem. Healthy striving, on the other hand, can lead to excellence and the fulfilment of goals.

What is the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism?

Healthy striving involves a sense of achievement and satisfaction after meeting high but realistic standards that have been set. Another key theme of this positive mindset is the genuine enjoyment and enthusiasm for the learning process. It is fuelled by curiosity, and motivation is generated in abundance. The perfectionist, however, is driven by feelings of shame and the fear of failure. They feel the need to comply to a rigid and uncompromising set of ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’, rarely experiencing contentment or allowing themselves to relax during the relentless pursuit of their goals.

The healthy striver will calculate their self-worth through a variety of aspects including their relationships, family and hobbies. Therefore, making a mistake at work does not pose a serious threat: they have the mental foundation to be able to learn from it and move forward. On the other hand, the perfectionist will evaluate themselves only by looking at achievement and success. Encountering failure can consequently become a much more serious and emotionally costing experience.

How do I spot perfectionism in my life?

Perfectionism can be split into two categories: thoughts and behaviours.

Here are some examples of unhealthy thinking styles:

  • All or nothing: ‘If I don’t prepare every bar of this piece to the highest standard, there is no point in playing it at all.’
  • Tunnel vision: focusing on one mistake that was made and ignoring that the rest of the performance was flawless.
  • Analysis Paralysis: indecisiveness and confusion caused by overthinking.
  • Mind-reading: jumping to conclusions about what people think of you.

Here are some examples of counterproductive behaviours:

  • ‘Doing’ behaviours: excessive organisation and list-writing, over-checking your work and redoing tasks several times.
  • Avoidance behaviours: Giving up easily and leaving work until the last minute.

These thought and behaviour patterns can lead to several negative consequences including the loss of confidence, social isolation, tiredness and a heightened sensitivity to criticism. As Conservatoire students, who are in everyday contact with high expectations, competitive situations and the criticism of mistakes, it is essential that we experience this type of environment with caution and find an internal balance between control and freedom; seriousness and fun; criticism and encouragement; head and heart.

Furthermore, the ability to communicate a truthful and meaningful message to an audience through music simply cannot be found within a self-critical mindset which prioritises precision over contribution.

The BBC need to stop policing classical music concerts

‘I could have done without that bravo at the end.’ 

A BBC 3 presenters’ response to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s return to the proms.

Hyperbole can bend the truth, but not in this instance through the BBC’s coverage of the Proms concerts. An inexplicable performance of Brahms’ 3rd symphony with Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and the CBSO sparks a, granted extreme, but much rewarded ‘bravo’ following the works final movement. Commentary isn’t needed, but the BBC presenter angrily apologises for the individual’s passionate outburst. 

The implication is that this excited and enthralled post-covid prommer is impolite, uneducated and has ruined a deafening silence that is, although often welcomed, not entirely necessary. Why was I not surprised at this response? The BBC appears to commit to change, diversity, inclusivity within classical music, and yet still believes in ‘correct’ responses to music, eluding to there being a ‘correct’ and suitably educated concert type- as far as the BBC are concerned, classical music really isn’t for everybody.

Outbursts are needed at this point in the game. Musicians are scared for their futures and so much has changed. The proms audience is a fraction of its usual size and yet still presenters feel the need to pacify, the already stifled expression of performers and concertgoers being further suppressed. 

Thing is, I’m not sure I want my audience to be quiet anymore. Thank you for your energy, your applause and your joy. That is the audience I want to play to, and I hope the BBC will end its policing of classical concert conduct because, quite frankly, I’m over it.

Celebration, graduation and inspiring humility

By Hattie Butterworth

I make up part of the Odora Piano Trio and have witnessed, with surprise, confusion, delight and pride how our creative lives have changed both together and individually since our formation in early 2017, when we were just 19. We have each graduated now- me from my undergrad and Sophie and Songeun have just completed the one-year masters programme at the Royal Academy of Music. They have not only completed it, but completed it with humility, dedication and with some unbelievable successes.

Trio has always been my safe place. Arriving into it as a stressed and anxious obsessive person, the others have always shown me another way to be a musician. They have worked through many artistic and personal challenges, but never have I felt them being anything other than entirely self giving, supportive and kind. We have never found ourselves in competition with each other. Never have conversations focussed around hours of practice or festivals and competitions won. Never pitched against each other, I don’t know how much the others practice and I don’t need to.

Asking how their masters exams went and I am taken to a new level of awe. Numerical success in exams is arbitrary, of course, but their results are baffling. Songeun reluctantly discloses her recital mark of 90%- a mark of 70 achieving distinction. Sophie achieves 86% and I am feeling emotional. Maybe in the past this might out of self loathing, knowing I could never achieve such marks in my own exams, but actually the emotion comes from joy in how strong their personhood is. I know them as people, never sacrificing friendship for practice or enjoyment for practice or using competition as a means of fulfilment. I am aware how blessed I am to play with people of this calibre, but most importantly with people who want to meet people, play for people and share with people, this holding far more importance than a mark they might achieve.

But the mark says a lot about the musicians they are and the dedication they have. It is a celebration of how hard they have worked during such difficult circumstances and how important it is to understand that success doesn’t have to be at the expense of the person you are. Success is more exciting when it lives alongside freedom, friendship and the knowledge of how little marks really mean in the context of the huge, ephemeral musical landscapes.

Our fear of being unprepared won’t end well

By Hattie Butterworth

Lying in bed at 9:40 on a Sunday night isn’t an easy place. The looming week ahead has coined the phrase ‘Sunday Blues’ for a good reason, and here I find myself hard-core relating. Tomorrow sees a rehearsal with my piano trio- the second rehearsal since playing together again and, truthfully, I am elated.

But I feel a return of the familiar anxiety, stomach churn and realisation that my brain isn’t satisfied. My mind wants reassurance. I don’t feel prepared- I usually do more work than this for a rehearsal.Today has been draining- I’ve actually felt a bit depressed the past few days, which can make practice difficult and I want to push back. This heavy brain-baggage is pulling me towards compulsive late night practice. A dark and draining place for those who know it. It promises a strange allure- the paradoxical thrill of working when everyone else is turning to rest. I tell myself I can’t rest because I am not finished. I am not worthy of rest yet.

To have recognised this compulsion is a step and it is why I am writing. There isn’t any real bone in my body that wants to go back to practice now. I am giving in to the fear of unpreparedness. Who am I, flawed, in the face of my two brilliant friends?

I think about what the trio, Sophie and Songeun, would want me to do if they were here. Our Ravel trio depends on me getting my shit together learning the part, but still I know they’d want me to honour the pull to rest. The only person here that is dissatisfied is me.

To be unprepared is to be alive. I can’t be ready for the future because the future is out of my control. I can decide to prepare in line with my physical and mental health, understanding that my love for the cello is a mutual affair. If I push myself too hard, the burn out forces me to stop. If I don’t push at all, I sense a longing and my life feels hollow in some way.

This evening I was given a choice, either to honour the familiar brain path to burn out and dissatisfaction, or to work with my mind and not against it- to place my worth as a person above my skill level as a cellist, because that is healing and kind and feels right.

Stay awkward, imperfect and unprepared

Hattie xx

Welcome to our new website!

Welcome! I have loved hearing from you all and the feedback from the podcast has been really encouraging. I have been so grateful to my guests for their openness and amazing wisdom.

I am now looking forward to continuing sharing, this time via this website! I understand that there are many people that would love to share their story, but are perhaps apprehensive about the idea of a podcast. This blog can be a space for stories, advice and everything in-between! Do get in touch if you’d like to write for us, I look forward to hearing from you.

With love and best wishes,

Hattie x