On Music

I've had a lot of time over the past weeks - after finishing the semester (and nearly collapsing with exhaustion, which means I need to take it easy next semester) and flying south for the winter - just to think. It's been good; my brain was nearly frazzled through with physics. Considering that it's by and large frazzled anyway, this was not too great.

I've been staying with my boyfriend, which is great because I get to relax, unwind and revise and not have my parents nag me (best of both worlds). Because he's an insomniac and I'm...well...not (my sleeping patterns are great if I can be bothered to get them right), I tend to wake up a bit earlier. I'm also a lazy arse owing to having overworked myself, so I just sort of...well...lie there and curl up and think. It's good for me to try untangling my mind.

One of the things I managed to untangle was why I love music so much. Of course, lots of people like music, even to the point of saying it's their life...but I did wonder why I liked making music so much. I guess having a music teacher for a mother didn't hurt, since I was exposed to a lot more music as a child than other people and in that respect I'm very privileged. Then again, my dad also grew up in a musical family and his musical finesse extends to listening to yacht rock...and I had the musical ability of your average cat growing up.

I must thank the head of music at my old school (John, if you're reading this, thank you for everything and see you on tour!) for setting me on the path to actually being vaguely good at music. After a 30-second vocal test (that just about everyone in the year passed), I joined the choir...and it probably didn't hurt that I went to a school that forced you to sing at least 3 times a week and got you to pick up an instrument in your first term. Yeah, I was lucky.

I don't think I really started to appreciate that until I came out of my shell and got really close to the serious musicians I knew, the ones who were - for lack of a better phrase - actually good. This was around the same time that I developed depression and for some reason I started to appreciate music a hell of a lot more. Even during my most severe episodes, I kept on singing and making music as a soloist or in a choir. And if I say so myself, I did it well.

After all those years, I think I finally understand why.

First of all, music is social - at least the kind of music I do, which is mostly choral stuff and musical theatre but even singing as a soloist requires me to listen to others. If everyone in a group tried to make music and not listen to everyone else, it would sound horrible. So doing music forced me to develop my frankly awful social skills and also gave me a safe environment to do so.

I get horribly anxious in social situations, which is why you might see me holding a crutch like a phone or a book. I worry constantly about saying or doing something which makes me look stupid or rude, which all comes on top of me being really introverted such that small talk bores and exhausts me (of course, you're not allowed to say that because that really is rude). If you swap the small talk for rehearsing a fiendishly difficult piece of music, I get far more confident because I've got a task to focus on (and there's generally less small talk to worry about because there's shit that needs to get done). I also know that I've got at least one thing in common with everyone else in the room - and more than that, because you need to practice together once a week at the very least most of the time, you end up developing a very strong working relationship with other people that sometimes turns into friendship. Hell, my old school chamber choir was like having another family and we still all get together to sing even though we've all moved away - sometimes even to different countries!

Secondly, music helps me to be confident. I know that I'm good at music - okay, I'm not virtuoso-good because that's not the path I'm taking so I don't put in enough effort to become that good, but I can sight-read very well, I've got a good range, I learn quickly and my voice sounds nice - so I don't have that much anxiety over working in a group. Solo singing, though, is a different story.

In a way, instrumentalists are lucky because they've got their instrument as a sort of psychological barrier between them and the audience. Singers who don't have a book or stand between them and the audience (and I prefer to memorise, even if it's a chore sometimes) have...well...nothing. It's like standing up and giving a presentation in your underpants. Okay, so if you're lucky you have bright lights shining in your face so you can pretend you aren't singing in front of a crowd, but if you're not you can see several pairs of eyes on you. And no, imagining the audience naked doesn't help.

It forces you to connect with the audience, to tell a story with your voice alone. It's challenging, yes, but so amazing to get right. And what helps is that sometimes you get to put on the guise, so to speak, of another character. Sometimes when I sing I'm not quiet, mousy Osnat anymore - I'm Cleopatra or Dido. And I get to borrow their confidence for a couple of glorious minutes.

Finally, music allows me to be part of something bigger. I can focus on the interpretation of the musical line or on the sentiment behind the words. I can join forces with other people to make something bigger and grander than all of us. And I can turn off my hyperactive, self-loathing mind to give up my body and brain in the service of something better than I'll ever be.

And for just those few moments, it's wonderful.