The power of a rest

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The power of a rest

Monday, 16 May 2016

As many of you may know, after completing my Master of Music degree at The Juilliard School in May 2013, I took some time off from doing music full time. As incredible an experience as it was, I was completely exhausted after my two years of taking every opportunity that came along as well as working many hours of the day to pay for the course. However, had it not been for the work I did at The Juilliard School to pay for my course, I probably would have been at a loss at what to do next. I had worked in the Career Service department, as an usher, a Resident Assistant, a research assistant, an English tutor, an audition monitor, the faculty assistant for the Harp Department, as well as the obvious harp related performances and teaching. No wonder I was exhausted!! I learnt a lot of things about my strengths and preferences, so, despite still being in two minds about whether I wanted to return to New York, I applied for an administrative position in London. I was so surprised when I got the job! I knew it would potentially only be an interim job for me, but I was really looking forward to having some balance in my life, as well as some regular money! I was still planning on playing and teaching, but the pressure of finding work would be off and I could do what I’d like.

All of this happened almost instantly after graduation, yet I still had another task to do which was, in a way, a culmination of my studies at Juilliard; compete in the USA International Harp Competition in July 2013. It was so difficult to build myself up to this being so exhausted still from my time in New York! Yet, I was pleased to be awarded 7th Prize, as well as receive such beautiful comments about my playing and musicality.

After returning home, both gratified and disappointed with the result of the competition, I decided not to touch the harp until I was ready. The days turned into weeks and suddenly a whole month had passed. I felt so guilty and confused that I didn’t miss playing. Around 5-6 weeks after returning from the competition, I decided to play and didn’t stop for over an hour, much to my poor fingers’ dismay. I enjoyed it so much! It made me realise that I had fallen out of love with the idea of playing the harp, which was such a sad realisation. Once I was playing, I loved it, but I still had to really persuade myself to do it. It had become a task on my to-do list, rather than the fun I’d always thought it was.

Over the two years of ‘break’ I had from full-time playing, I didn’t practise every day, and usually only an hour or so when I did. Bit by bit, with new repertoire, new challenges and revisiting some beloved pieces, I fell in love with playing again. I still did some performing, including an amazing trip to Carnegie Hall with Côrdydd and a private recital for the Guildhall students that I still consider one of my best performances. Somehow, despite not performing often or practising daily, I felt that my playing and my understanding of music were heightened. I looked forward to every performance and my creative juices seemed to be alive and well. It reminded me of a performance class at Juilliard in September 2012. We’d all just returned from the summer and I played Danse des Lutins by Henriette Renie for the first time. My teacher, Nancy Allen, seemed to love how I played and couldn’t believe the difference between May and September. The summer had been much more relaxing than my time at Juilliard, being at home and not filling every moment of my time with work, practise or study. I had learned so much during that first year at Juilliard, but with so many assignments and rushing around everywhere, my brain didn’t have a chance to process it.

Returning to studying in September 2015 was a difficult transition, not least because I would now be studying in a school where I’d been working full time. The consistency in my playing was the thing that had suffered the most from my break, and the only way to build it back up was through regular performing again. The fantastic opportunities that the Advanced Diploma have given me this year are priceless. Whilst the year has been up and down, I have reached a new level of confidence in my abilities as a performer. I’ve also learned to keep striving for the same balance in my musical life that I appreciated so much in my ‘working’ life, ensuring that I keep allowing time for my mind to catch up with my fingers. I truly feel that the time I spend away from the instrument and studying make all the difference to my playing, whether it is an evening, a weekend or a whole holiday away. Ideas mature and develop with time and, try as we might, I don’t believe that anything we do can speed up the process. Instead of trying to force improvement, I’m going to enjoy what I’m capable of now and always try to give myself space to breathe.

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