For me, music was most prominent in my life as teenager. I played the piano, violin (or occasionally the flute which I learnt later) whenever I could every day. It wasn’t exactly the way to be in with the ‘cool’ crowd at school, but I wouldn’t change a thing now.
The focus drifted once I started to make those big decisions about where my life was going. As much as I loved music, I made a very conscious decision not to pursue it as a career. Primarily, I knew I wouldn’t ever be good enough to make a living from music. Secondly, I didn’t want to lose the joy of it through it potentially becoming essential and pressured. Once I decided I was going to try and get into Medicine, I had to work much harder at the academic stuff (sciences didn’t actually come naturally to me!). The music was still there; just a bit more in the background.
Once at University, I joined the medical school orchestra for a while. But there was no regular access to a piano so my competence with that gradually regressed. I bought a digital piano after I qualified. But, life was busier and going to orchestras with my violin tended to be where the little time I had was used. Every time I moved (many times during my initial career!), I would seek out the local orchestras.
Music really came into its own more once I settled in Oxfordshire for a while. I joined the local amateur orchestra. Things evolved and I found other groups too. I met my now husband in one of the orchestras; he is a freelance professional cellist. The violin had got to a level that I was able to do high amateur/semi-professional level concerts with very little rehearsal time. This suited me well; the standard matched my abilities near enough (and stretched me!) and I found it far more enjoyable than playing the same music over and over for a term and only performing a concert 2-3 times/year.
I attended the local Church and often ended up playing the organ then, almost accidentally, took on the role of Choir Director when there was no-one else to do it! I can sing OK, choosing alto parts normally, but this was way out of my comfort zone! But – I did it for a couple of years – it was good experience and I still miss it.
Then life changed. We had our first child nearly 4 years ago. Understandably, music had to take a back seat. Then I got a new job back in Gloucestershire and we moved. Our second child arrived in 2016. The music? Pretty much gone. Of course I don’t regret having the children, but life basically got to the point that it was a never-ending cycle of work, children, housework. Repeat. No time or energy left for me in any way, nevermind the music. And so began my decline.
Attempts to bring music back in weren’t terribly successful. Playing the piano was frustrating; my muscles wouldn’t work properly and my coordination had gone. Pieces that I used to play without a second thought were a complete mess. I attended a local orchestra again but didn’t seem to have the staying power; I was always just too tired and stressed about tasks that needed doing elsewhere. I also missed the opportunities I’d had before we moved to do lots of different things regularly rather than back to a whole term doing one set of pieces and not feeling particularly inspired and stretched.
Despite missing it, attempts to play just became frustrating and made me feel very inadequate. I was no good at it anymore. I would feel utterly demoralised and give up.
So music fell by the wayside. As did my wellbeing! No great coincidence of course. Yes, there are many other factors that caused the exhaustion and depression, but the lack of music which is such a huge part of my very being was most definitely a significant part.
I knew I was missing it desperately though. I hear pieces on the radio and I want to join in. My husband plays in concerts that I want to do too, but I am not qualified to do so as I am not professionally trained (and no, I’m probably not good enough for most of them either). When he got to play Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius in Gloucester Cathedral, that actually felt like a deep physical ache inside me; this would be a dream come true for me. Maybe one day….
Not that they knew, but the CBSO have just done something for me more special and life-changing than I can really put into words. I’ve just been to the first-ever String Play-Along Day with the CBSO. I had to do plenty of practice for it – of course! It was an opportunity for amateur musicians to play alongside and be coached by CBSO musicians and one of their conductors. The pressure was on! A few weeks before, I got my violin out. It was way out of tune again having been mostly neglected for many months. Despite having perfect pitch, I even doubted my ability to tune it properly. Playing it sounded slightly reminiscent of a scratchy beginner. But, practice I did; I was terrified by the idea I would look like I shouldn’t be there and would make a fool of myself. I started to enjoy the practise. I played along to a recording; but couldn’t keep up at first! My sound improved. Then I got the notes under my fingers. I can do this!
Off we went to the CBSO Centre in Birmingham. I was so nervous but excited too. It took me a good half of the day to relax. But what an amazing experience! What an honour to be there! There is absolutely nothing that compares to being part of an orchestra playing beautiful music and then to be amongst players of such quality was incredible. The following is part of one of the pieces we played (this is from a CD, not us!); the section where the cellos have the melody absolutely melts me; so gorgeous.
Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings – Finale:
I was far from the best amateur player there, but I don’t think I was too bad either. I came home last night buzzing but exhausted. That day was the most fulfilling day I can remember for years. I’ve got my motivation to play back again; the cycle is broken. The CBSO have given me a lost part of my life back and I’m so grateful. It may sound dramatic, but it has really opened my eyes to how intensely I’ve missed it and how much I need it. And now I have tears streaming down my face again!
Later on last night, I suddenly realised it was over. What now? Back to the misery of my music-less life? I felt the anti-climax and felt very deflated. I don’t want to lose it again. I must find a way of keeping music as part of my life regularly. Today was a great start; I’ve been back on the violin and, if not doing that, I’ve been listening to this wonderful piece and others!
Music is back in my life and I’m not going to let it go again.