A few years ago, I attended a talk given by cellist/composer Philip Sheppard, which was titled ‘Advice for Young Musicians’. He has since condensed this talk into a written article, which I will have linked down at the end of the post if you want to check it out. In his talk, Sheppard shared many interesting and inspiring thoughts on all things related to being a musician and making yourself a success in this world; he gave tidbits of advice on how to manage your life as a musician and a business, what issues you just don’t need to stress over and what deserves a little more time and care and practical ways to achieve your goals.
As a young student, I was always a little wary of lectures that were obligatory (actually I am still wary of ANYTHING obligatory…!). But I was totally surprised to discover how refreshing Sheppard was, how relevant and futuristic his advice was to me and my fellow classmates and I am continually surprised at how often I have since referred back to some of the things he said.
There was one point on his list, however, that really stuck out to me: I have never forgotten it and have thought of it on a regular basis. He said that, as musicians, we should always work with people who are better than we are. At first I immediately thought, but won’t that give me a never-ending feeling of insecurity, a fear of being constantly inferior to my colleagues and never quite feeling good enough? Actually, though, I think that this piece of advice is genius!
When we work with people that we know are not really as good as we are, we get comfy: there is no need to stretch ourselves, we are already in the top position and we can relax! Maybe this sounds kind of nice at first, but when you really think about it, how fulfilling can this work ever be? What is there left to achieve or strive for? It seems to me that a job working with colleagues that we can’t learn anything from is extremely limited; there will never be room to grow or go anywhere. And I can definitely say, having been in this position, that life like this gets miserable very quickly!
I have just returned from two weeks of working intensively with my new quartet and I am beyond excited! If I wasn’t so jet-lagged I think I would have trouble staying still in my seat! I can say, without any doubts whatsoever, that my new colleagues are all definitely very much better than me and I am so inspired! I have found that I am fast becoming better too, as working with colleagues that are so great at what they do means I have to constantly reach for more within myself, show my best side of myself, be on top of my own game all the time to meet what they offer me and continually try to throw the ball back at them too. And the result of all this? I feel incredibly happy and content, I feel exhausted after working so hard, I am artistically fulfilled and am inspired to keep going, searching for more.
I have finally understood Sheppard’s point. Working with colleagues that are better than we are, whatever your field of work, is SO important; for our own work, for our lives, for our emotional souls! The circle of inspiration breathes very much more deeply when we are looking upwards instead of down.
Exhausted, sweaty but INSPIRED and HAPPY and CONTENT after the first concert with my new quartet!
I am really excited to share with you that I have finally moved my blog over to wordpress! There’s nothing quite like a good old spring clean, and this feels like the mother of all (metaphorical) clean slates. My life as a musician and blogger finally feels beautifully connected and I can’t wait to get back into my full blogging routine!
On this site, you will find all my usual blog posts in their normal categories, and you will also be able to catch a glimpse of what I’m up to in my musical life; what projects I’ve got going on, concerts coming up, travel plans etc. Everything else will all stay the same, but do make sure to subscribe and follow me on my social media so you don’t miss out on anything!
For now though, must get back to packing; I’m travelling to Seattle tomorrow for two weeks of Beethoven Quartets and I CAN’T WAIT.
The notion of ‘living in the present moment’ seems to be a very popular one. I hear it offered as a piece of advice ALL the time; ‘try to live more in the NOW’, ‘savour the present’, ‘don’t think too much about the past or the future, just enjoy this moment’. And while I can see that there are many good qualities in trying to live this way, with this mentality, I also feel that there is a lot missing from it. I can definitely agree that it is a good thing to take each moment as it comes and not worry so much about what’s to come or what has already happened. Of course it’s wonderful to feel that sense of letting go, to just concentrate on what is happening right now, today, and enjoy it. But can we really live like that all the time? In reality, there are so many situations where simply living in the present is NOT the best solution. Perhaps we have to do a job that we hate. Maybe we are going through a particularly stressful period; for example, we might have fought with a friend, we could be having a financial crisis, moving house (always an extremely stressful experience), waiting for hours in an airport for a delayed flight or dealing with any number of other difficult issues. It’s pretty much impossible to ‘enjoy the moment’ in any of these situations, and if we tried, we would only be miserable! And what about when we are at the beginning of a new chapter in our lives? It could be that we have just moved somewhere new and don’t have any friends there yet, or that we are starting a new project or learning something new and don’t yet have the hang of it. What is it that keeps us motivated to keep going at times like these? In my opinion, the promise of a bright future is absolutely fundamental. We can go through hard times because we know that something good can come out of it. To have hopes and dreams is so important and, even more than this, having something to look forward to is, I think, one of the best ways to lift you up when you feel low. I spend so much time making plans and I love it! I love putting future ideas into action, writing things into my calendar, organising exciting projects that will take place a few months from now. As I look out of the window today and see the grey clouds and the rain, and having only the prospect of going to the gym and doing some difficult practice in my schedule, I am SO happy to know that I have many wonderful things happening in my life in the next few weeks and months. For me, today is not enough. I need the promise of the future. Ironically, it is when I am busy making my future plans, that I am REALLY enjoying the present moment! Similarly, everybody says it doesn’t do well to dwell too much on the past, and I get that – you can’t change it, what’s done is done. But, in some ways, the past can also really help us, and sometimes mulling it over is not a bad thing. Remembering happy times or successful times, thinking back on beautiful memories, laughing again at something funny that happened a year ago – these are all fantastic and essential for the soul and why not think about them often! Learning from our past mistakes is also only beneficial if we want to progress in our lives. Remembering how things went wrong last time, so that we may do them right the next, is such a useful and simple trick! I’m not saying that we shouldn’t make the most of each day, or that we should forget about trying to enjoy our current situations. I just mean that there is much more to it than that. We need things to look forward to just as much as we need our memories and histories. In fact, I think that it is only with these elements, that we can actually enjoy living in this moment, right now.
If you haven’t heard of the Hygge craze yet, and that would be ASTONISHING as it seems to have taken over the entire ‘first world’ in the last few months, then let me fill you in. Hygge, pronounced ‘hoo-gah’, is a Danish philosophy and lifestyle – incidentally, it is a word which cannot be translated into English, which perhaps says something about our real need for it? Anyway, Hygge is all about the art of living well, living comfortably, finding inner peace and tranquillity within your surroundings. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Well, I certainly thought so too. Having now read a book on Hygge, I think I am pretty well-versed in the laws of this lifestyle, and everything about it sounds absolutely wonderful; a house filled with cosy blankets, beautiful lamps and candlelight, holidays in wooden cabins with friends, gorgeously elegant clothes, freshly baked bread, riding bikes through the sunny countryside… My life suddenly feels incredibly un-Hygge-ish and I’ve decided to write a blog post about my search for it, for this magical state of being which will ultimately give my life a new-found meaning. Firstly, I must get used to low light, lamps and candles – having the main over-head lights on at home is totally anti-Hygge and ruins the beautiful ambiance of dimmer lights. The only problem is that I have terrible eyesight and my entire work consists of reading music, books or looking at my computer, all of which are impossible for me without the main lights on. Hmm, well, I suppose it is still winter time – maybe I will let this one go for now and revisit it when the days are brighter and lighter for longer in the summer. OK, I must now go through my wardrobe and get rid of all the sub-quality, and therefore un-Hygge, clothes. I’m only going to keep beautiful knitwear, expensive fabrics, perfectly tailored trousers… After staring in despair at the contents of my wardrobe for a while, I’ve realised that doing this would leave me with virtually nothing! OK – I’ve decided that my resolution from now on will be to save my money and ONLY buy the BEST quality clothes from independent designers who use only organic materials. It could mean that I will only get to buy one new item every ten years, but hey, I’m searching for Hygge and Hygge is worth it. From reading my book on Hygge, it seems absolutely fundamental and of utmost importance to Hygge-matise ones house if one is really serious about living in Hygge. My Hygge house should have unique hand-crafted furniture, a perfect place for each of my things and, of course, no clutter or mess. Looking around, I see the cupboard in the hall with the loose shelf, the wardrobe who’s doors are propping it up, the shelves that are dangerously leaning to the left… Well, there is nothing I can do about any of those except hope that everything stays UP until I move to my next place, when I will get ALL NEW and perfect furniture. But, I have to say, I think my house is doing OK on the Hygge front. Most things have their place, we’ve got some very nice rugs (must be Hygge), a soft fleece blanket on the sofa (very Hygge), lots of pictures on the walls – yes, I’m pretty convinced that apart from the furniture and the stack of empty wine bottles, I’ve managed to find Hygge at home. I know that to really live a life of Hygge, though, it’s not just about how you make your home – it’s about where you go, the places you visit and who you see them with. Hygge is all about weekends away in the snowy mountains, spas or at the beach with friends. This should be easy for me – I love to travel. Except that I can usually only afford to stay in cheap hostels or hotels when I go away, and I’ve always got to stay somewhere that will be able to facilitate me with a space to do my violin practice; those scales aren’t going to practise themselves, although they aren’t the most Hygge noise… Then there’s the issue of convincing my friends, who all lead their own busy lives, to fix dates for holidays where the aim is to sit quietly in each others company, no Twitter, no emails, no YouTube – this could be near impossible. Well, I’ll suggest it at some point anyway and see what happens. My conclusion? I hope that you have all gathered that this post was intentionally ironic! I gave my sense of humour a little freedom to come out here and I hope that it didn’t offend anyone. The truth is that Hygge really is a philosophy that seems to be very heartwarming and lovely, civilised and something we can strive to look for in everyday life. But, for me, that is exactly where the problem with Hygge lies – it is so far away from daily struggles, it’s not REAL life – it’s like an edited version of life you might see on Pinterest or Instagram, with only the bits that look perfect on the surface (and that are very expensive to create)! I get why the Hygge trend has become so fashionable and why everyone is talking about it – I’m sure we all want beautiful homes and clothes and expensive holidays, but, for most of us, that’s just not realistic. I feel that instead of trying to achieve this ‘fake’, Instagram-worthy lifestyle, we should concentrate instead on making the absolute best of what IS real, what we really do have in our lives, because we are so very lucky to have what we have already. Today, I am throwing this bloody book on Hygge away, I hope all of you will do the same, and instead I’m going to focus on the things that are truly meaningful and important. Follow my blog with Bloglovin
Over the past few days I’ve been thinking a lot about being ‘alone’ and what exactly that means to me. This won’t be a long blog post – actually, I am writing it as I am spending a glorious evening by myself and I have a lot to fit in tonight – but I wanted to get my thoughts down before I forget them because I do think that this is an issue that conflicts many people.
I feel that, in our society, there is a huge stigma attached to people who choose to be by themselves. One doesn’t often see a person eating alone in a restaurant, attending a movie by themselves or taking a trip alone. In fact, when we do see somebody alone in a (typically) social setting, we might even feel sorry for them, sorry that they don’t have anybody to share that experience with. Sometimes, it seems to me that every single thing about how a person portrays their lives, either by recounting stories to their friends or uploading their personal pictures on social media, is based and judged purely on who they live with, who shares their lives. We only see the most smiley and happy-looking group photos of people surrounded by hundreds of best friends and others who look lovingly at them. We hear only about the parties and the events and the busy social agendas…
But what about those who really choose to be alone? Choose to live life in blissful solitude? They make decisions only for themselves, don’t ever have to compromise, live their lives exactly as they want and answer only to themselves. They may eat in whatever unruly (or sophisticated) manner they choose, always leave the bathroom door open, spend their free time doing exatly what they want. Isn’t there something about that to be rather envious of? Doesn’t it seem empowering to be so in control of your own life?
Of course, I understand that loneliness can be one of life’s most evil villains, and that there are people who find themselves alone, not out of choice, and who are suffering. There are solutions to this kind of loneliness; my lovely aunt just shared an article today, written by a 90-year-old man who has come up with some really great tips on how to combat loneliness (I will link this article below!). But when I really think about it, I know that the loneliest people I have ever met in my life have been the ones totally surrounded by the most adoring fans, the ones with vast social networks and continuously beeping phones.
So, to anyone that is feeling lonely, or worried about their chosen lifestyles, whether they are social butterflies or not, I encourage you to find the solitude in your lives. It is definitely something that I place huge value on in my personal life; I seek out my private moments and look forward to them. This doesn’t mean that we don’t love our friends, or that we don’t also like to spend time with people. I mean only that the happiness that we can create for ourselves can be just as wonderful. Tips for loneliness article
Today’s post marks the 100th blog post that I have written for Freya’s Nook! When I checked this number in my blog statistics I was quite surprised and, I have to admit, a little proud. I really had no idea when I started this blog, under a year ago, if it was going to be something that I would keep up or put a lot of work into. But I have found it to be so fulfiling, such a wonderful source of joy and creative freedom and I am really pleased that I have made it to post number 100! To mark this small milestone, I have decided to pick out a few of my favourite posts from over the past 10 months or so, to reflect on them and see how my blog has developed and grown. Looking over my old posts has been really fun and interesting – there have been so many that I had completely forgotten about and I did have a few laughs (particularly at the oldest ones!). I have chosen a handful of favourites to highlight here and I hope you will enjoy looking back at them too! I have linked them all up so if you would like to re-read one, or indeed read it for the first time if you missed it before, please just click on the title! Violence Vs Art Although this was one of my earliest posts it is still very much relevant today, if not more so. I wrote it just after the terrorist attack in Belgium last year and it covers a topic that I feel very emotional about; how as acts of violence in the world increase, we have an ever greater need for art. I mention how important all different types of art are, simply for humanity, and I feel strongly that today, in the face of Trump and Syria and everything else, art is absolutely fundamental to us and can show us the way forward.
The Beauty of Berwick Church This is a post that is very close to my heart. I wrote it after a visit to the wonderfully intimate and pretty Berwick Church in Sussex, England, where I spent a glorious afternoon with my Mom and dog. It is such a nice memory to have, as my parents have since both moved and I am no longer very connected to this place. This part of the world is so beautiful and this church in particular has such an interesting story to it.
Be Strong, Simple and True – Eugene Delacroix I wanted to mention this post, because I particularly remember feeling very pleased with the finished article after I had written it! In it I talk about the philosophy of the great artist, Delacroix, told through his own personal journal, and how inspiring I found so much of what he said. It is always a pleasure to re-read some of his passages and get inspired all over again!
Jacob I have written a couple of posts about certain people in my life that have been extremly important to me, and I intend to continue to write more like this. But the one that really sticks out and has a fixed place in my heart is, of course, the tribute that I wrote to my friend Jacob, who did tragically almost six years ago. Comic Book Affair This post was SO fun for me to write, as I had just discovered the fantastic world of comic books and graphic novels, and was so excited about it! Since then my comic book collection has definitely grown considerably – I should definitely call this a lasting relationship now, rather than an affair – and I have taken huge interest in the incredible art that comes from these books. I am proud to call myself a nerd!
The Musician It took a while, but a few months after starting the blog I finally stepped out from the shadows, unafraid about whoever should read it (including people I know in real life), and told the world about who I really am and my life as a musician. This was a hugely liberating moment, and since then I have written so many other musical-related posts which has been incredibly gratifying for me personally. I plan to continue to feature as much of my musician lifestyle on the blog as possible and look out for some new musical projects coming up on the blog soon!
A Few Thoughts On The Non-Expert The subject of this post is one that is really interesting to me; that we may do things, know things, take interest in things without being an expert in them, and that’s OK! I was inspired to write about these ideas after a trip to the opera with my (non-musician) boyfriend, when, talking with him afterwards, I found that he had noticed and appreciated so many interesting things about the production which were very important, that an expert musican eye might not have seen. I still think a lot about this, and the unbelievable pressure that exists in our society to be an expert, to be really at the top, of everything we do. Favourite Paintings and Weekends In Series I have so enjoyed getting stuck in with a few different series’ of posts on my blog, and two that I particularly enjoy writing are the Favourite Paintings series and the Weekend In Series. I love writing about art in, what I hope, is a non-pretentious or scholarly way, just coming from someone who thinks it is interesting and beautiful and wants to share her feelings about it! And travelling is also a huge part of my life – I love to recount my experiences and tell my stories here!
Blogmas Day 22: The People I’m Thinking Of This Christmas Blogmas! What a huge feat that was, and I am so happy that I managed it. 24 consecutive daily posts seemed very daunting, and I was extremely last minute on a couple of them… but I also absolutely loved writing it! My special favourite was Day 22, when I wrote about all the people whom I would not be spending Christmas with, but who I was going to be thinking of. It’s personal and emotional, but it means a lot to me to have written this for them.
Professionalism is one of those ‘buzz-words’. I hear it crop up all over the place; whether it’s someone talking about wanting to be a ‘professional‘ in a certain field, a boasting ‘professional‘ qualification on a CV, a commended quality of ‘professionalism‘ in a colleague or a ‘professionals only ‘ notice in the description of some job advertisement. As far back as I can remember, education, particularly at university level, has been promoted as being the key to one day becoming a ‘professional‘ at something. I have been asked on countless occasions if I am a ‘professional‘ musician, or if I just do it for fun. I have also heard people introducing themselves in social situations, describing themselves as a ‘professional‘ artist, teacher or whatever. But what the hell does PROFESSIONAL mean?! What does it really take to achieve this status? And is it really all that meaningful, in the end? I guess one could say that a professional in something is someone who, for any specified activity, earns most of their main income and spends most of their time. If your main job, which you spend most of your time doing and for which you earn most of your money, is driving taxis, then you are a professional taxi driver. If it is writing books, you are a professional author. However, already I can feel the arguments rising within. One could say that, surely, to be a professional, a certain level of skill or a qualification must be required, and to some extent I can agree with this. For example, I don’t think a professional doctor without a qualification from medical school exists, at least I hope not! And I don’t think you could call yourself a professional carpenter if you didn’t have those specific skills. But here is where is gets cloudy. Because where is the exact line? What is the last qualification that one definitely needs in order to be able to call themselves a professional? I’m sure a P.H.D would be the cut off point for some fields, while a standard high school education is enough for others. And what level of skill does one really need? And who decides what level your skills are at anyway?! I could call myself a professional musician – I spend most of my time and get most of my money from playing the violin. But if I need to prove my skills as a violinist in order to achieve that professional status, who decides if they are good enough and what IS good enough? It’s funny, because I am sure we can all think of someone in some career field or other (perhaps our own) who calls themselves a professional and yet, in our eyes, severely lacks the qualification and/or skills to be anything close to a professional. I suppose that there really is no standard for ‘professionalism’ – each job is totally different and requires something different from each person, so the lines get altogether too blurry to be able to say exactly who and who isn’t a professional. Why then do we place so much emphasis and value on being a professional? I feel like it has somehow come about and been passed down through the generations that one has to create their position in society by showing off their worth, and being able to label yourself as a professional automatically places you on a certain rung of the ladder. This is what we are told to aspire to from a young age and this is what I take issue with. There are so many people out there who do a WONDERFUL job at whatever they do even though they aren’t considered to be professionals. I have been inspired many times and not just by what they do but by the people they are as well. And conversely, there are also so many hideous and incompetent professionals in the world! And if these are the people that young minds are looking up to, just because of this obscure and indistinct label, and if these are the ones who are supposed to be the goals and role models for anyone starting out on a career path, then I am terribly worried for my generation, the next generations, the future, for all of us. I am definitely not innocent in this and I would hate this blog post to be taken as some kind of rant; after all I have also been raised in this society system with these values. In the past I have definitely set store by a person’s ‘professionalism’. But in this new year, I want to try to see past all of that and I would encourage anyone else willing to do so as well. I want to make music. I want to be a kind and caring and sensitive person. I want to meet interesting people and get inspired by the work and ideas of others. Absolutely none of this relies on being a professional at anything! I hope that this is the new set of values that we, all together, can springboard into our future.
Today’s blogmas post, although short and simple, is one of my favourites. I dedicate it to my beautiful dog, Sasha.
If you are a pet owner, but especially if you are a dog owner, I know that it will ring true with you when I say that Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a furry animal at home. In fact, home isn’t home without them either! When we get new pets I think we underestimate just how much they work their way into our hearts and lives, and if you haven’t got a pet yet, let this be a warning to you! The really weird moment, when you realise just how much your pet has changed your life, always comes when, for whatever reason, the pet is not at home when they usually are. The house has an indescribable emptiness, a huge part of it is missing – the part that makes it home, to be exact.
I’ve never owned any other kind of pet except for dogs, so I could well be extremely biased when I say that dogs are the most wonderful creatures on the planet and what they bring to Christmas is irreplaceable! I look at Sasha, my Labrador Retriever, and my heart just melts with love for her. She is such a character, has such a unique personality and you just can’t help but feel intense happiness when you are around her.
I don’t think there is anything quite like the love that a dog shares for their owner, either. Even those times when you had to leave them by themselves for a long day, or ignored them or had to cut their walk short. They will ALWAYS be happy to see you, look at you with true love in their eyes and be the first to forgive you your shortcomings.
This Christmas, Sasha is the one spreading the most love, warmth and joy in our family. She takes us for beautiful walks, makes us laugh, listens to our silly conversations, makes us feel so cosy and homely. It’s funny that the only one of us who can’t talk, cook, buy gifts or write Christmas cards should be the one to make this Christmas our favourite one yet!