Being Lazy is Easy

As most of the world is under a suggested “quarantine” right now, I thought it might be a good idea for me to revisit my blog. I won’t be teaching another university course in person until the Fall, and it looks like I won’t be in my Elementary music classroom until at least May, so I finally have time to do things. Time is such a precious commodity nowadays, and if you have small kids, you know how difficult it can be to carve out time to work on anything. I stay busy, but I’ve developed this habit of distracting myself from tasks that need to be completed. Sure, I’ve finished a couple of compositions within the past year, submitted some presentation proposals (even though the events were cancelled), and other stuff; however, I’ve been unable to make myself sit down and write, whether it be blog posts or articles. I have three or four articles that I just need to make myself finish, but I always find an excuse. I also know that I need to write more blog posts, but I continually find ways to procrastinate.

This is where the title comes in, because it has been way too easy for me to be lazy lately. When I was in undergrad and grad school, I adhered to a rigid schedule, and I would always find time for anything that needed to be done. It’s not that I sit around and do nothing nowadays, because it’s hard for me to be idle, but I’ve found that I’m constantly distracting myself from the tasks that are most important. Yes, I’m choosing to do easier things over the more time-consuming, strenuous, but also more rewarding tasks. If I still had my old drive and determination, I would have multiple articles published and probably many more compositions in my portfolio. Unfortunately, the new me starts a task, gets halfway through it, and then finds ways to procrastinate. I still have a lot of great ideas, but this new routine means that I have so many unfinished projects that need to be completed. It’s frustrating, and I need to actually spend the next few weeks doing the hard work.

This month, March 2020, was supposed to be an important month for my professional career. I was going to perform one of my compositions, Caccia for Solo Horn, at the Southeast Horn Workshop, and I was also scheduled to do a presentation about my research pertaining to etude books written for low horn. Sure, I’m happy that I have a little more time right now, but I’m also bummed that I didn’t get a chance to share my work. This was to be my first presentation at a workshop or conference and an important building block for my resume. I’m also scheduled to do a presentation about anxiety and depression at the IHS Symposium in August, but I have no idea if that conference will happen either. I was already afraid that I wouldn’t be able to attend due to monetary concerns, but now, it looks like everything will be put on hold until at least the Fall. I’m very frustrated, but I can’t let my depression or anxiety keep the next few months from being a time for increased productivity. Even if I can’t go to these conferences, I can still take this time to finish articles and compositions that could also aid me in my quest to obtain a college teaching position in music.

These are very uncertain times, especially considering that we don’t know how long schools and other organizations will need to be closed down. Will orchestras be able to present full seasons next year? When are churches going to reopen their doors? How long will teachers, especially private instructors, have to teach remotely? So many of us depend on these organizations and vocations for our livelihoods, whether it be a primary or secondary source of income. I’m lucky that my jobs have been able to seamlessly convert to remote-based, because my family and I would be in trouble if we weren’t getting paid right now.

Unfortunately, even though these are questions and issues that are valid and important, these concerns are ultimately out of our hands. I cannot control the outcome of these obstacles, so I shouldn’t let all of this stuff overwhelm me and drive me into a deep depression, because it would definitely happen. I’ve been suffering from chronic depression (Major Depression, Dysthymic Disorder, or whatever you’d like to call it) for a while now, and any sort of “bad” news or negative occurrence can set it off at any moment. Instead, I should focus on the things that I can control: spending time with my family, blogging, finishing those articles, completing my compositions, and practicing my instrument.

During the school year, I’m normally so busy that my academic pursuits, including practicing horn, are often times put on hold. Teaching elementary music, especially when you’re at a school that doesn’t give you many breaks or much planning time, is exhausting. It’s especially exhausting for me, because constantly being around people drains my energy like nothing else. It’s the curse of being an introvert, which is why I enjoyed music school so much. I was built to be stuck alone in a practice room for hours. Now, I’m lucky to even practice at all, let alone get 2-3 hours per day like I did in grad school. I miss playing horn, so I’m definitely going to continue taking advantage of the extra bit of freedom that I’ve been given for the next month. I’m also going to make sure that I do things for fun as well, because we all need time to unwind. Sure, we can’t really go out, but being an introvert, I’m perfectly happy staying at home with my video games.

For what it’s worth, here’s my advice for everyone during our quarantine: do things with your family, do things for yourself (for fun and self-improvement), and do the things that you keep putting off until another time. Whether we like it or not, this is our time, and we can choose how we deal with it. I’m choosing to look at this as an opportunity to be more productive and to finally push myself to make that next step.

It’s Been a While…Thoughts After a Year of Blogging

This past summer, I thought that I would spend a lot of time writing, but I just wasn’t as motivated as I thought I would be. Sure, I accomplished some things. I wrote a few good blog posts, and I’ve been working on an article inspired by my posts on anxiety. Much of my time over the past couple of months has been dedicated to a project that had been on the backburner for a long time, about 5 years to be exact. Ever since graduating with my DMA, I’ve wanted to make a worthwhile contribution to the horn world. Right after graduation, I began working on an idea I had for an etude book. I was really excited and very motivated at the beginning. I think I wrote about 5 or 6 etudes before I became discouraged and succumbed to depression. At the time, I was very upset by the fact that I couldn’t find a job…any job. I ended up working at an awful Comfort Inn located in Morgantown, WV for about 7 months, and the only reason I even got that job is because I knew someone that worked there. It was one of the worst experiences of my life, and even though it paid the bills, it did nothing to help my psychological state.

I’ve come back to the etude book idea once or twice since then, but my heart was never into it. Until about a year ago, I was unsure if I would even continue pursuing a career in higher education, or a career in music at all. After reaffirming my commitment to music, finishing the etude book is not only something that I want to do, but it is also a way for me to try and establish myself as an academic/professional/whatever you want to call it. I’m tired of waiting for people to give me an opportunity, so I’m trying a new tactic. I’m going to make it impossible for people to ignore me, whether it be for good or bad reasons. I mean, I’m never going to make it at all if I don’t try, so I might as well make the most of it.

There are quite a few things that I’m currently working on that could aid in my endeavor to finally establish myself. I’m in the final editing stages of my etude book. I’m about to conduct the premiere of my first all original composition, a brass octet, on Sept 17. I’m also working on a new composition for horn ensemble and a short-ish composition for horn and piano (not ready to write a sonata yet). I’m planning on premiering the latter two pieces at the next Southeast Horn Workshop at Western Carolina University. I have a lot of exciting things on my plate, and even if they all fail, at least I can say that I tried. At this point, I don’t really see failing as a bad thing. I can learn from my failures. I just don’t want to continue to hold myself back by worrying too much and not even trying. I’ve done that too much in my life, so now is the time to try, no matter if I succeed or fail.

Speaking of worrying, I started this blog over a year ago, because my anxiety was through the roof. I needed a way to constructively sort through my feelings, and I really think that this blog helped me to jump over the final hurdle. I will always struggle with anxiety and depression. I’m not naive enough to think that I’m completely cured, but I do feel stronger because of this outlet. I’m also grateful that I have this new medium with which to share my ideas. I never dreamed that I would be brave enough to be so open about many of the things that I have shared, so this experiment has definitely been a step in the right direction. Hopefully, I’ll be able to continue going in the right direction by being more active on social media and maybe trying my hand at some podcast stuff…we’ll see. For right now, I’m happy, and I truly believe that I made the best decision when I first began this blog. I was extremely nervous and afraid, but now, I’m finally getting to the point where I don’t care as much about what other people think. The doubts are still there in the back of my mind, but it’s become increasingly easier to tune them out lately.

Some things that I still need to work on: Obviously, I need to post more regularly. There are a lot of reasons and factors as to why I’ve had long stretches of inactivity on my blog. Sometimes, I do let my social anxiety get the best of me. I think I’ll always struggle with it from time to time, but I know that I’m trying to get better. Other times, I’ve just felt burnt out. This summer is a prime example, because I had all of these things that I wanted to do, and I was frantically trying to stretch myself too thin at the beginning to get everything done, and then, I just gave out. I was overwhelmed, and I felt that I needed to step back, so I did.

I also need to finish what I start. I still have two blog posts that I have yet to finish that are both at least several months old. I also have many ideas for posts that I just haven’t had the time to work on yet. It’s a struggle having to work basically four different jobs to make ends meet, and then also doing this extra stuff on the side. I know that it will pay off in the end, but there are definitely times when I just have to stop and rest.

If you’re reading this: I’m glad that you’ve stuck around, because I think this next year of blogging has the potential to be truly special. I really do appreciate everyone that reads my blogs, and I promise to do a better job, or to at least keep trying to do my best.

Value Yourself

Throughout my life, I have dealt with anxiety on a daily basis. Even as a small child, I remember having anxiety attacks and being afraid of social interaction. Finally in 2011, I was diagnosed with both Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder and subsequently prescribed medication. I have had my ups-and-downs over the past several years, but in general, I can say that my life is a lot more livable and enjoyable on medication (my wife can attest to this as well). It took my doctors and I a few tries to find the right medication and dosage, but the trial-and-error process was definitely worth it.

The un-medicated years were tough, but I was typically able to conquer my demons. I have always suffered from performance anxiety, and it was definitely very bad at the beginning of my musical career. As a young student in middle school, I would play so softly, because I didn’t want anyone to hear me make a mistake. I really didn’t want anyone to hear me at all. No one really believed that I would be good at music back then, but I worked at it, practiced, didn’t give up, and I gained some confidence along the way. By the time I was in 8th grade and transitioning into high school, I was a decent musician. I wasn’t great, but I had potential, and my teachers began to notice it and started to treat me in a different way. I started to feel like I belonged in band, in the music world, and during high school, I began to break out of my shell. I started playing more confidently, I didn’t shy away from exposed parts or solos, and I let my personality show through my music.

I began to love and enjoy music so much that I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing it, whether that meant playing or teaching. So, I went to college, and faced a whole new array of obstacles. I’m an anxious person, and college brought a new set of people to face, a new set of rules, a new level of commitment, so I had to adjust. Through hard-work and putting myself out there, I overcame my performance and general anxiety once again. Even though it might have been helpful, I never utilized any psychological tricks during my formative years. If I had a bad performance, I picked myself up and tried again. A combination of practice, a relentless work ethic, and stubbornness helped me achieve my musical goals: getting into grad school, earning my DMA, playing in numerous professional orchestras, winning an orchestral audition, etc.

Needless to say, I have put so much effort into my musical career that it is a part of me, and a very big part of my identity. Music is not only my career, but it is my main interest/hobby. I love it so much that I can’t stop thinking about what I’m going to do next. I have gained a lot of confidence through my musical pursuits, and it really transformed me from a shy introvert, to someone that finally felt comfortable in his own skin. My achievements in music became a huge part of my self-worth, the primary part, and I was really happy, because I was succeeding.

This, unfortunately, is never a good thing and turned out to be my fatal flaw. To judge one’s self-worth through achievements is a slippery slope, because these things are so fickle and fleeting. Yes, I should be happy and celebrate my achievements, but this should never solely determine how I or anyone else values themselves as a person, which is what happened with me. Unfortunately, when my injury occurred, and I started to notice issues with my playing that wouldn’t go away, I panicked. Over the course of three years, I tried weird things, constantly changed my embouchure, changed mouthpiece placement, and eventually, I lost the ability to play for a while. When this happened, my life came crashing down. I literally didn’t know what to do with myself, because playing the horn was my world. It’s what I wanted to do with my life, and I had this goal of becoming a college horn professor, and now that I couldn’t play, I didn’t know how to adjust. I put too much value into the wrong things, and I was unable to put my life into the correct perspective when things started to take a turn for the worse.

At first, when the playing injury happened, I was in denial. For a long time, I did not want to confront the fact that I had a problem (several problems), and I kept brushing it/them off to the side. I didn’t think that this could happen to me, so I wouldn’t allow myself to believe that it was that serious. I decided to keep going about my business, and I told myself that things would get better over time. I was also under the impression that I didn’t have time to deal with this injury. There are all of these unwritten rules, and if I wanted to make it, I needed to audition more and win an orchestral job. I didn’t have time to wait and let myself heal properly, because I needed to do all of this stuff to get a job, and if I didn’t get a job in a certain amount of time or before a certain age, I would be deemed a failure, and since my personal identity and self-worth was involved, I felt like a horrible person as well.

This lack of perspective didn’t allow me to listen to my body and ignore outside (and inside) influences or pressures. My embouchure was not ready, but I pushed myself too far, and put too much emphasis on career outcome/goals, which in the end, severely altered my career trajectory. It has taken me 7 years to fully overcome these problems. Just think about that…if  I had done the smart thing, maybe just take a few months away from playing, I could have saved myself 7 years of grief, and I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog right now.

Of course, if I’m trying to blame the system or the “rules” for my problems, then I’m lying to myself. Even though things need to change, we can’t make excuses for ourselves. We are the ones that have to take action, and I was unable to be truthful to myself and others. When my injury happened, I was afraid, so I didn’t accept it. When my career wasn’t going in the right direction, I was afraid, so I became more of an introvert and stopped trying. Instead of being happy for others and trying to emulate them in order to find similar success, I was angry. Angry at them for succeeding, angry at the system for not giving me a chance, and angry at myself for a multitude of things. Like I’ve stated in other posts, I was severely depressed, and for those of you that have dealt with depression, it is a mental disorder that is very difficult to overcome, and I suffered with it (as well as my family) for approximately 4 to 5 years.

In the end, I had to make the decision to overcome my depression. It took a while, but one thing that really helped was learning how to develop a positive image of myself. I needed to understand that even though my life had not gone the way I expected, I wasn’t any less of a person because of it. At the time, my self-worth/confidence was basically non-existent, and I had pretty much spent the past five years just continually tearing myself down. I also didn’t listen to others that were trying to support me. My perception of myself was so awful that I couldn’t take any positive comment the correct way. I would twist it in my own mind until it became completely negative and only added to my torment. Of course, my mind still tries to do this on occasion, but I value myself now, so I’m able to brush these negative feelings aside and know that they are untrue.

This is the key: learning how to value yourself as a person. Don’t judge yourself based on career success and/or failure. Careers change, goals change, and life changes constantly. Learn to be comfortable with who you are as a human being and don’t base your self-worth on merits. These things don’t last long, and just like the old adage, “money can’t buy you happiness.” It can buy you a lot of things, but it can’t fill that void. It’s the reason why people with bi-polar disorder will go on shopping sprees and buy lots of things during “high” periods. Everyone gets excited with a new gadget or toy, but what happens when that “newness” fades? There’s no substance within the relationship, which is why I had to make changes in my life.

First, I needed to change my relationship with music. For so long, I had judged myself based on my musical accomplishments that I had lost the joy of making music. I needed to find that happiness again, so I decided to make enjoyment the main reason for continuing to play. I love playing horn, and there is no reason why I should stop. During my struggles, I seriously considered giving it up, because things were just so unpleasant; however, I just couldn’t imagine my life without music, so it took some time, but I figured it out. I’m still practicing a lot and playing at a high level, but I’m not doing it just to make money or to get a job anymore. If I don’t want to play a gig or teach something/someone, I’m not going to do it. Earlier in my career, I wasted too much time worrying about what other people thought, and I took every single job or gig thrown my way. Now, I’m focusing a lot more on what fits best for me and my family, which led to the other big change that I had to make.

If music wan’t going to be the most important thing in my life, then something had to take its place. Thankfully, I had something that could and should take its place. The one thing that helped me successfully overcome my depression was my family. At first, when my depression began, I felt like a failure, because I was unable to provide for my family. I had spent 10 years in college, and I had just graduated, so I was supposed to start making the big bucks. Unfortunately, this did not happen, and I was extremely hard on myself. After wallowing in my own self-pity for a while, I finally realized that these individuals, my wife and kids, didn’t care about these things that I was constantly worrying about. They loved me and valued me for who I was as a person, and they didn’t care what job I had as long as I was present. This really helped me to develop a new sense of self-worth, and I began to realize myself that my job nor my career mattered as much as I thought it did. I had a great deal to be happy about. I was able to spend a lot of time with my kids and enjoy watching them grow up, and I was still able to teach and make a difference in people’s lives.

Even though I’m still searching for break in my career, I’m not discouraged, because now I have the proper mindset. I have a job that allows me to help provide for my family, but it stills gives me the time and opportunity to pursue my real interests. I’m still teaching my college students and private students, and I’m also trying to create my own opportunities by composing and forming groups to perform my music. It’s tough and a lot of work, but I enjoy it. I’m also still able to spend time with my family, which is super important.

In the end, I think it really is just about having the right mindset and keeping the important things in perspective. Hopefully, I can continue to keep my life in the correct perspective and not let my career pursuits dictate all aspects of my life as it once did.

 

An Efficient Embouchure, Confidence, and Air Support/Control

These three qualities/aspects of playing may not seem to have anything in common, but in actuality, they are very similar and all equally as important. In order to be a good musician, one must master each of these concepts. When we are learning to become a musician, we always seem to tackle these issues individually and hardly ever tend to see the association between them. Since suffering my injury and going through the subsequent rehabilitation, I have noticed a striking similarity between these three ideas. From my perspective, I have come to realize that these three qualities CANNOT exist without the other.

Once I began suffering from Embouchure Overuse Syndrome, I began to notice a drastic decline in both my confidence and the ability to use my air efficiently while performing. This was primarily due to the fact that I was utilizing an inefficient embouchure. I know that there were a multitude of problems created by my inefficient embouchure, but these are two areas in my playing that I struggled with the most during my rehab. I actually began to regain my technical facility and flexibility first after fixing my embouchure, and I believe that this helped me to begin to feel more confident in my playing, which in turn, continued to elevate my playing ability in general.

My loss of air support seemed to be directly derived from both maladies, my loss of embouchure and confidence. It didn’t happen at once, but over a period of 6 months, I began to notice a drastic decline in my ability to play long phrases, and my sound went from being very colorful to just mediocre. Personally, I know that these side effects were mostly due to my lack of confidence. Normally, when an anxious person suffers from an anxiety attack, you sweat, shake, lose the ability to concentrate, and suffer from shortness of breath. I didn’t realize this at the time, but I had been scarred so badly that I began to suffer an anxiety attack every time I picked up the horn. I was so afraid of playing and messing up that I was unable to take in enough air to produce a quality sound, and sometimes, I was unable to produce a sound at all. Initially, I thought that something else was wrong. I began to wonder if I had lost my air control and support due to my weight gain and lack of exercise (Thanks, Depression!). Maybe it was due to the fact that I wasn’t practicing enough. Yes, I’m sure these things had an affect, but my anxiety was the root of the problem. Once my condition began to improve, my air support and control came back. I still need to exercise and lose weight, but my anxiety had to be conquered first.

The funny thing is that even though my embouchure was back to normal, and I was beginning to regain some confidence, I still suffered from issues with my air when performing in front of others. My anxiety was so advanced that even though I knew that I was improving, I was still scared to play for others. Nonetheless, I still put myself out there and subsequently gained more confidence through these experiences. I’ve noticed that as I become more confident, my anxiety is more controllable, and I don’t have to think so much while I’m playing. This means that I’ve also been able to utilize my air more efficiently, which solidifies the fact that my air support not only depends upon an efficient embouchure, but also relies heavily upon my confidence level.

I have always suffered from anxiety, so it comes as no surprise that I would need to face my nemesis once again to regain control of my life. This whole ordeal affected pretty much every aspect of my life in a negative way, so I’m glad that it’s over, but I can honestly say that it has made me stronger. I think it has also forced me to re-evaluate my teaching, and I do feel that I have become a better teacher throughout this process as well.

Some more thoughts about air. I wish that I could give everyone some magical tip that will fix all of your problems, but I can’t. However, I will say that most, if not all, problems can be solved through hard work and determination, which is what it took for me to overcome my issues. One thing that I have noticed is the fact that as I have become more efficient with my air, I am thinking less and less about the process and more about the result. I’m not thinking about how to create the sound. I have a clear concept of the sound that I want, and then I just do it, no extraneous thoughts involved. When I’m teaching younger students, I do give them specific instructions, “Use more air,” “Faster air,” “Energize the air,” etc., but I also explain that I’m trying to teach them how to intuitively use their air in order to become more efficient. I constantly point things out in the music, especially whenever slurred leaps are involved. I try to remind them that every time they see a leap, they should begin to “energize” or “churn” the air more quickly on the bottom note to prepare and support the shift to the upper note. If you take worrying about air out of the equation, then you can just focus on the note, which ultimately gives you a better chance to be accurate.

It all really boils down to efficiency and confidence. If you’re efficient, you’ll be more confident, and with confidence, you can achieve a great deal. Efficiency is the key factor, but for someone that suffers from sever anxiety, confidence plays a major role in how I perform and how I sound. Even if I’m playing efficiently, I will not sound good unless I am confident in my abilities. Confidence takes to time to develop, but I promise that it is worth it. I’ve felt the difference twice (lack of confidence vs highly confident), and it is really a life altering experience. Remember that everyone will progress at a different rate. For me, it took longer due to my anxiety, and I also had to surround myself with the right people. Just don’t give up, because like I mentioned earlier, if you put in the work, it will happen.

More Thoughts on Dealing with Playing Injuries and the Stigma of Talking About It

We (musicians) have a lot more people coming out and talking about their injuries and issues these days, which is a good thing. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma that keeps many musicians from talking. I totally understand it. I lied and kept gigging until I just physically couldn’t play anymore. It was tough, because I didn’t have a full-time job, and these gigs comprised most of my income. I didn’t want to lose the gigs, so I just kept taking them. After each gig, my playing got worse, because I wasn’t focusing on good habits. I was just trying to figure out a quick fix to get me through the performance. I’d work on fixing the real problem later….except that the real problem ended up being too big to fix, because I kept putting it off.

I really wonder if things would be different if our society of musicians were more open about injuries (and dealing with illness). Would orchestras have a “Disabled List” and allow musicians the proper time to heal without worrying about pay? I don’t think it’s fair that athletes are allowed to go on the DL and receive high-quality medical attention, while musicians just have to figure it out on our own. We perform at a high level, get less time off, and we have to be way more accurate. Could you imagine a principal horn player of a major symphony only hitting 60% of the notes on the concert? Or having an accuracy rate of .250 out of 1.000? Our batting average has to be in the .900 range or we might lose our job. Some conductors won’t accept less than .999. It’s unreasonable, yet this is part of the reason why the orchestral profession is consistently ranked as one of the most stressful jobs. It also makes sense that a lot of orchestral musicians suffer from anxiety and health-related issues that stem from work. So many principal horn players have suffered heart attacks that it makes me never want to play principal in a professional orchestra.

I mean, if you’re a tenured member of a full-time orchestra and a member of the union, then you probably do get some benefits and paid-leave, but the majority of us do not have one of those full-time gigs. Most of us piece together a “full-time” salary by playing in several different regional orchestras and teaching. These jobs, unfortunately, do not offer paid-leave nor benefits, which leads to the big question: how would most of us afford to get help if something happened?

Sure, you probably qualify for Obamacare, but the insurance available through the Marketplace isn’t what it was when the program began, especially if you make a “livable wage.” The deductibles and premiums are so high that it’s almost not worth having insurance. Even the insurance that I have through my public school teaching job is awful. Each individual on my plan (me and my two kids) has to meet a $500 deductible on “sick” visits before the insurance even starts paying anything, and when it does start paying, it only covers 80%. This is why we’re switching back to my wife’s plan, even though it costs more, it’s better insurance.

Even if you could get help, where would you go? Are there doctors that specialize in helping musicians? Are there treatment options for focal dystonia? Is treatment available for those musicians that suffer from work-related anxiety and depression? Does each professional orchestra provide a medical staff to treat work-related injuries or illnesses? Does the orchestra pay the bill for any medical procedure required by its members? Does the orchestra employ massage therapists and chiropractors specialized in treating musicians?

Again, if we were professional athletes, the answer would be yes to all of these questions, but we’re just musicians. There’s all of this interest and money being thrown at sports medicine programs, but we don’t have a need for arts medicine. There isn’t a realistic need for people to help musicians with injuries, because there’s no money to be made in that venture. Musicians only bring sound to life, and aid in the effort to keep our culture alive. Music only makes people smarter and more equipped to handle all types of situations. Work ethic, problem solving, teamwork, listening skills, etc.

It just doesn’t make sense.

Although, even if we had help, would musicians talk and take advantage of it? Everyone is just so afraid to admit that something is wrong. We don’t want to fall further down the “call list,” because we have an injury or suffer from an illness, whether it be mental or physical. I finally started talking about my issues, because things really couldn’t get much worse. I had to hit rock-bottom…so, is that what it takes? Do musicians have to lose all hope before they will start talking about things? It shouldn’t be that way, and I hope that we can change it. We need to be more open and talk, because how are we going to find people that can help us? How are we going to warn and/or help younger musicians struggling with some of the same issues? We need open dialogue and a safe environment in which to express our needs and concerns.

I’m glad that people like Dr. Peter Iltis are working to understand more about focal task-specific dystonia. Dystonia in general seems to be more prevalent nowadays, not just with musicians, and if we have the technology and resources to solve the problem, then it needs to happen. Another society that I just discovered today is the Performing Arts Medicine Association. It was formed in 1989, and holds a yearly symposium in Colorado every summer. Obviously, there are people out there working to make things better for musicians, but it definitely isn’t common knowledge. I think we really need to make a lot of this information more readily available, and we also need to help musicians feel more comfortable about coming forward. We need to get rid of the stigma and start helping people, because we’re all in this together.

I definitely don’t have the answers, but I do have lots of questions. Hopefully, some of these questions will lead to answers…I’ll let you know if that happens.

Musicians Dealing with Depression in the UK

An article posted by Classic fM (and other sites) that has been making its rounds throughout social media the past month is giving us a little more insight into the number of working musicians that suffer with anxiety and/or depression. This study was conducted by the University of Westminster in conjunction with Help Musicians UK, a charity based in London, surveying over 2,000 musicians concerning mental health. According to the findings, over 70% of the musicians surveyed at some point suffered from anxiety or panic attacks, and roughly 68% stated that they had dealt with depression. These are staggering numbers that should not surprise anyone in the business, especially on the academic or orchestral side. We know first-hand how difficult it is to find any job that pays a livable wage, let alone one within the field of music.

As someone who has dealt with this issue (and really is still dealing with it…), I can honestly say that the combination of the guilt that you feel for not being able to provide for your family coupled with the anxiety of not having a steady paycheck is a suffocating feeling. You’ve done everything that you were supposed to do. You practiced a lot, played all of the recitals, wrote all of the papers, worked yourself to death trying to finish that dissertation….and you still can’t catch a break. Plus, now that you need help, you don’t have the financial means to do so, especially if therapy is involved. For a while, I had a hard enough time trying to keep my anxiety medication filled, because we didn’t have insurance or the money to see a doctor.

The good thing about this study, even though people still don’t realize just how tough it is to make it in music, is the fact that Help Musicians UK is dedicated to help change the industry and provide free assistance to those who need it in the UK through Musicians Minds Matter. This is a 24/7 mental health service that will hopefully provide the proper care to suffering musicians. The only problem is that this is only happening in the UK and not throughout the world. Like I stated, I’m grateful that this issue is receiving attention, but we desperately need this type of service in the states.

I also wonder if the study focused equally upon artists working within the art music and popular music genres. I have a feeling that this study was aimed more towards the actual “industry,” rather than those of us struggling to make it as an instrumental performer or teacher. It would make sense, because those within the “industry” are generally high profile, but that doesn’t make those of us on the classical side any less important. If anything, I feel that the art music and academic side is even more “cut-throat” than the pop culture side. Now, I’m not trying to say that one side is better than the other or needs more attention, but I do want to make sure that all musicians get the proper respect and treatment.

I really hope that more and more people realize that the music field is broken. We have too many highly-qualified individuals and not enough jobs to go around. There are so many very talented musicians that I have met through my journeys that completely gave up on music, because of the high-risk, low-reward nature of our industry. I’m grateful that I have a teaching job and that I can teach at a couple of universities, but my salary doesn’t even come close to off-setting the amount of time and debt that went into obtaining my training and degrees. I also was not trained or prepared to deal with many of the hardships that I have had to go through over the past few years. The field is definitely changing and evolving, but I don’t know if it is changing fast enough. There’s also a big culture divide that has severely lessened the support and appreciation that the arts receive throughout this country, which is a travesty. It’s getting to the point that if you don’t live in certain parts of the country, then you may not have the same opportunities as a person living somewhere else that is more supportive of the arts. I’ll leave it at that because this is definitely yet another issue that also needs attention.

If I had access to the resources and/or the time, I would take on a similar type of research/study here in the states. My focus would probably be on academics and classical artists, but I could also devote some attention to industry artists as well. Unfortunately, adjunct professors are not allocated researching funds and most outside (non-university) grants are given to full-time professors anyway. I will have to do some investigating to see if a study like this can be done here. Maybe it already is being done and I just don’t know about it. I’m just glad that musicians with depression and anxiety are finally being acknowledged. Music Minds Matter, having just gone live this month, is in its fledgling stage right now, so it will be interesting to monitor its success (or shortcomings) over the next few years.

Here’s the url for Music Minds Matter:

https://www.musicmindsmatter.org.uk/