I can’t remember a time when music hasn’t been a part of my life. From dancing around the house aged 5 to ‘Frankie’ by Sister Sledge (no judgement please), to jumping the queue for flute lessons at school because I was viewed as ‘having talent’ (didn’t go down well with some of the parents), to travelling the world working as a musician for P&O cruises. Music has been a constant. Whether that’s a constant source of joy, inspiration, solace, or at times, frustration.
I’ve always been driven to learn more and so I had a plan of achieving my ALCM diploma on flute, as well as Grade 8 on saxophone and piano all by the time I completed my A-levels… as well as having begun, in addition, to learn the clarinet. This I achieved, although I didn’t actually take the Grade 8 exam on saxophone in the end. I think I recognised that I’d given myself a little too much to do.
Over-achiever and people pleaser were my default states.
Performance was a huge part of my experience, whether for school concerts, exams, or music festivals. The idea being that more performance practise better prepared you for your ABRSM exams. I completely bought into this because my teachers said that ‘practise makes perfect’, right? Wrong! Or it was for me, at least. I used to get SO nervous, no matter how much practise I’d done and this really impacted my performances and, in turn, my self-esteem. I used to play small and safe, which is the opposite of what a solo performer should be. I couldn’t seem to ‘sell’ the music.
I'd given myself a glass ceiling that my limiting beliefs made sure I couldn't get through, thereby keeping me in my familiar comfort zone. However uncomfortable that actually felt.
Music festivals were really competitions where friends were usually competing against friends. In each class there was one adjudicator who listened to us all perform before giving feedback to each of us in turn and ranking who was 1st, 2nd and 3rd. I certainly took this to heart, as this one person’s quite often subjective opinion formed the basis of my self-esteem, as well as my feelings of worth (or lack of) as a musician. Hence, the majority of my teenage years were spent getting more and more nervous about individual performances. The premise that ‘practise makes perfect’ didn’t always hold true either, as sometimes the more I practised a particular section, the worse it became. I enjoyed practising, I enjoyed playing, but these competitions really took some of the joy out of music for me. The more I wanted something, the worse I seemed to play.
Years later, after honing my skills at music college, I was lucky enough to travel the world whilst working for P&O Cruises as one of their house musicians. We would perform the music for the in house theatre company, the visiting cabaret artists and I would also perform regular classical flute recitals. I was confident in my abilities and had put my nerves behind me…as long as I had the music in front of me. Take the dots away and give me a section to improvise and I would panic…and I mean panic. Sweaty palms, feeling sick, rushing to the toilet, the lot! How, after all this time, experience and education could my nerves return like this again? Consequently, I built up improvisation as something that I couldn’t do, therefore when my job necessitated an element of improvisation, all my nerves resurfaced once more, but this time even worse. This was because I was in the position of being a learner again and feeling hugely inadequate for it.
My teachers helped me with the technical aspects of learning my chosen instruments. However, nobody attempted to help understand my nerves or help me to harness their energy and turn my mindset around. I hadn't had the necessary mental skills training.
These feelings were only compounded by a persistent performance related injury - Temporomandibular joint dysfunction. TMJD is pain and discomfort in the muscles of the jaw and the joints which connect the mandible to the skull. Pretty uncomfortable when you're a woodwind musician. This didn't bother me for many years as a flautist. It was when I began to seriously play the clarinet that I noticed the pain begin. After a number of appointments with a specialist, I was told that my options were to learn to 'manage' the pain, to have an operation, or to give up playing. When you're sense of identity is so intricately woven with music, that was a tough thing to hear. I persevered for a number of years by sleeping wearing a gum shield in an attempt to manage the pain and continue, but when this pain was severley affecting my ability to play the flute as well, I knew I had to make a decision, as I felt like I was in constant pain. It was even affecting my sleep. So I decided to return to land and retire my clarinet, rather than have the operation or give up playing altogether.
On my return to living on land again, I decided to pursue my qualification with Animas as a Transformational Life Coach. I’d always had an interest in psychology and what makes people tick. After experiencing what it was like to work with a life coach a number of years earlier, this felt like the right time and a natural progression for me.
In addition, to further enhance my work with musicians, I’m now delighted to be studying for an MSc in Performance Science at the Royal College of Music, specialising in Performance Psychology, as well as the health and wellbeing of performers.