Thriving as a Creative Artist in Uncertain Times

Dear Creative Artists,

I hope you’re staying well and taking care of yourselves. After some recent discussions with clients, I thought it might be worth sharing what I’m finding helpful, in terms of how we can support ourselves and each other under these unique circumstances.

Addressing emotional and mental wellbeing

Artists are a sensitive and empathic population, and I know at the same time it’s been tempting to just be stoic, to push down unwelcome feelings and just “get on with it”. However, letting yourself know honestly how you are feeling is amazingly helpful. Take time to be quiet and still each day and check in with yourself.

This crisis is bringing up very different challenges for people on a mental and emotional level. For me, for example, it’s brought up fears on a very basic level of not having enough to eat. For one friend, it’s brought back old memories of stress he had at a previous job during the 2008 downturn. For another friend, it’s fears of loneliness during a period of recommended “self-isolation”. For yet another, it’s “survivor guilt”, knowing that she’s ok, while so many others are suffering. It may be fears of illness or even mortality.

If old fears and anxieties are being triggered, the easiest thing to do is just take some time to scribble them down on paper, however they come out, and then tear up the paper or burn it. It’s best to take a few minutes daily to do this. Or if you feel you need to trace the feelings backwards more mindfully, do some journaling. There’s increasing data to support the theory that journaling actually has a tangible effect on mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/25/style/journaling-benefits.html

For me, once I discovered that my fears could be traced to some specific experiences I had as a child, something relaxed inside of me and I was able to reassure myself that I would have enough to eat- which markedly reduced my stress levels.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but having fun is also incredibly vital right now- I recommend watching comedy, playing games with friends online, holding Netflix streaming parties, and so on. It can be easy to feel that we shouldn’t be enjoying ourselves during a crisis, but actually, it helps no one if we’re suffering, particularly unnecessarily (for example, worrying about situations that are outside our control- of which there are many). And laughing is great for the immune system!

It’s also helpful to notice what we have, and to appreciate it- being grateful to have enough food, a roof over our heads, a beautiful sunny day to go out in, and so on. There may be things about this new way of life that are actually better. Look out for them.

Addressing practical needs

Of course, there are new aspects of your work and study to deal with. For some of you, your working lives may have been drastically altered at short notice.

I encourage you to be flexible and adaptable, and to experiment. I’m sure you’re already brainstorming possible options to continue earning and to keep your business afloat. One of the trickiest parts of this challenge is that it has come so suddenly.

I know some of you are considering teaching online and needing to research the best modality with which to do this. For others, you might need immediate revenue and will need to start looking for temporary jobs. And for others, there may be extra unoccupied time to fill.

If you’re moving your teaching business online, I recommend checking out the Facebook group “Online Music Teachers” run by a colleague of mine, where he spells out how to teach effectively, and what kind of set-up you need. He has an extremely successful online teaching practice and loves to work that way and there are generous resources available.

If you find you have extra time to fill, then, once your life has settled down from this initial upheaval, I encourage you to set some practice, repertoire, composing or writing goals. After all, this situation is temporary, and it would be great to emerge stronger at the end.

In fact, I suggest you ask yourself some good questions- you know, not the kind that undermine you, like “What the hell is wrong with me?” 😉 but more like,


“How can I emerge [fill in the blank- stronger/wiser/more resourceful/happier] from this situation?”

And if you’re not feeling ‘together’ enough to do this yet (and even when you are), then I encourage you to play or write for pleasure and as a release, as much as possible.

Being open to receiving support

It’s vital that we reach out to each other. What kind of support systems do you have? Do you need to create more at this time? I’ve been calling and texting more friends and family members to share about the impact of this new situation, and being honest about the challenges.

So, reach out, even if you haven’t spoken to the person for a while. Many people say they are feeling more connected than ever, right now, and what a blessing it is.

Reaching out to support others

One of the most beautiful things I’ve witnessed so far has been all the kindness people have shown each other. In our village of 1000 people, there are now 200 who have offered to help if someone is in need, through a volunteer-manned helpline. You may have read about, seen or experienced acts of kindness or selflessness yourself. Finding ways to be of service and take action will help you feel more empowered and take your mind off your own challenges for a while. I’m sure there are many opportunities on your doorstep.

I’d love to hear how you are doing and wish you well!

Bon courage,

Valerie


Uncovering the Dream

dream by damselfly58

dream by damselfly58

A while ago, I began to realise that a strange thing was happening to me. Every time I was invited to a wedding, something went terribly and bafflingly awry.

 When one of my best friends asked me to bring something meaningful to place on the altar at her wedding  I knew just the thing– a beautiful wooden statue of two people kissing, closely entwined. I got up early that morning, and it was not until I was halfway to work that I realised that I had left the statue behind. I couldn’t risk being late for my students, so I had to resign myself to attending the wedding without the statue, and hoped my friend wouldn’t mind. She was gracious about it at the time, and it wasn’t until much later that she let on that she had been deeply disappointed. Continue reading…


Facilitating Creative Freedom in Performance

At the PIanoWhen I was an active and successful concert pianist playing recitals in Britain and across Europe, one of my main focuses was practice. I was most often playing repertoire chosen by others, as I was a collaborative pianist working with singers and instrumentalists. One moment I would be working on a Brahms cello sonata, the next a Messiaen song or an operatic ensemble by Verdi. I loved the variety of repertoire and performers — but I often would feel anxious as the performance date grew nearer. With so much repertoire to prepare, practice time was frequently limited, and on the evening of the performance I would find myself backstage thinking:
“If only I had one more week to practice…I’m just not as good as I should be…. Call yourself a professional….I wonder if I’ll make some big mistakes… I wonder what (fill in the blank) will think…”. Continue reading…


Can you see me waving?

I’m always fascinated to meet new clients, particularly when they come from far-flung parts of the globe. I’m an inveterate traveller myself, and started young, living on three different continents by the age of seven.  Maps, globes and atlases have always attracted me.

Here’s a map Robert made for me of some of the locations of my current and former clients. It’s fun to see how widespread they are, and it reminds me of some of the rewarding work we’ve done together over the years. Hello, world!

/map/


Impro as a Lifestyle

impro

photo: Remy Bertrand

Recently, I’ve been taking theatrical impro classes which culminate in a public show, and they’ve sparked lots of ideas in me. Our teacher, Remy is extremely imaginative and adventurous, and so we never know exactly what we’ll be doing from one moment to the next. However, we do generally start the class with a warm-up.

An impro warm-up is designed to get us to a place where we are able to be open, creative, free, bold, natural, inventive, uninhibited. Once we are in that place, anything is possible. It doesn’t really matter how we get there. Recently, we were instructed to improvise several scenes and songs in Spanish, although most of us don’t speak the language. At other times, we will speak gibberish, or mime, or do one action while describing another. It’s more about what goes on inside us- allowing ourselves to experience that moment of daring, the pushing-through of the membrane that usually stops us emerging fully into life. Continue reading…


Klezmahler!

She’Koyokh and members of the Aurora Orchestra

A few days ago, I happened to hear about an intriguing concert in London- the Aurora Chamber Orchestra playing Mahler’s First Symphony, followed by a Klezmer band, She’Koyokh. Being a fan of both Mahler and Klezmer (traditional Eastern European Jewish folk music), I decided to book tickets, not quite knowing what to expect.

The concert took place at St Luke’s, Old St in the City, a converted church, now rehearsal and concert space for the LSO and others. The first half began with the orchestra in darkness, a sole spotlight on Timothy Orpen, an astonishing young clarinetist, who played a virtuosic solo by Jörg Widmann. Hardly had he finished when a clarinettist in the rafters took over (Susi Evans, from She’Koyokh), playing a traditional Doina, accompanied, still in darkness, by the orchestra. This was drama at the service of the music, and it worked beautifully, highlighting the prime role of the clarinet in both the symphony and in Klezmer music, and introducing both improvisational and traditional music from the outset. It was only after the conductor, the charismatic Nicholas Collon, crept on to the stage and the first few chords of the Mahler symphony trembled into life, that the lights began to come up.

The Mahler was performed in a brand new version for chamber orchestra by Iain Farrington, with one instrument per part. This version was fascinating. Watching single strings cope with demanding counterpoint and lyrical intensity in a virtuosic display with the transparency of chamber music was stimulating. Each wind player brought individual colour and charisma. There was nowhere to hide, and no one wanted to. There was sometimes a pull between those wanting to let music breathe (particularly string players), and the wind agreeing with the conductor in wanting to drive the music forward. This resulted in minor ensemble difficulties occasionally, but over all the playing was outstanding. The famous funeral march of the third movement is punctuated by obvious references to Klezmer music, making explicit the raison d’être of the programme. It was only in the fortissimo sections of the final movement that I really missed the impact of a large orchestra.

After the interval, it was the turn of She’Koyokh, a distinguished klezmer band, to take the stage. In vibrant outfits, with rakish hats and equally rakish grins, they provided an immediate contrast to the classical players, and the audience were enthralled within minutes by a series of songs and dances from the Sephardic Jewish tradition, Bulgaria, and Turkey, amongst others. Astonishingly, some of the Aurora players had volunteered to join them, having taken a series of workshops on Yiddish music. A main part of the success of the evening came from seeing music being made with such playfulness, courage and risk-taking. Watching the classical players step (leap) outside their comfort zone, be inspired by folk music, and willing to improvise publicly was an inspiration.

As humans, we often mistake seriousness for purposefulness, and vice versa. Here purpose was all joy. The strengths of the classical players: virtuosity, musicianship, the ability to learn new music quickly in different styles, combined with the strengths of the multi-cultural band: Characterfulness. Juice. Drama. Instinct. Chutzpah. Groove. It was one of the most invigorating evenings I’ve experienced in a long time, and I didn’t want it to end.


Got juice?

My new blog post on Music Teachers Helper about the difference between being ambitious versus having a juicy creative life!