In this edition of the Sampler, my aim is to provide some context and food for thought on music education…
This month our talented guest editor Xenia Pestova explores the issue of ‘balance’ faced by creatives in today’s fast paced world.
Fading greens and yellows morph into the browns and greys of winter, swathes of landscape and sky are punctuated by the occasional wind farm, hill, horse, railway tracks, corrugated iron and brick. This is the blur I can see from my train window. Like many creative professionals, I spend a lot of time commuting between teaching and performing engagements and returning home to my husband, who is also busy with commissions, concerts and teaching. Often, we seem to just miss each other on our travels. Our break-neck scheduling can be exhausting, and we have to ask ourselves the difficult question of what it means to be balanced.
How can we all achieve this elusive balance between health and career, work and relationships, teaching and administration, travel and exercise, sleep and meditation, creativity and time to eat? How about: balance between featuring premieres and repeat performances, equality and diversity in programming, old and new music, experimentation and stylistic variety, finding the right mix in allocating responsibility and collaborative roles in projects between performers and composers?
Perhaps our sense of balance is connected to identifying priorities. Some of my current priorities are music, meditation and keeping a regular exercise regime, and running has become a positive addiction. This is great, until it becomes just another item on the “to-do” list, creating additional stress. It is remarkable how many of the principles that we can apply to meditation as well as running also apply to the discipline of creating music. One beautiful analogy that also connects to martial arts is the T’ai Chi principle of “gathering to the centre”, or “cotton and steel” – focussing on what is truly important, and letting go of the rest. Danny Dreyer describes these concepts eloquently in connection to running in “Chi Running”, a fascinating book on running technique that cultivates a focussed and mindful approach, equally applicable to all areas of life.
For me, full engagement with creative projects that I am passionate about is key in order to feel fulfilled and be able to contribute to interactions with others in positive ways. I have so much more to give to my students when I know I am able to spend time regularly engaging with my instrument, programming and preparing music that I truly believe in and collaborating with composers. Maybe being balanced does not equate to being perfect in all areas of our life, or being perfect at all: could it translate as being “fulfilled” instead?
In the wonderful book “Running with the Mind of Meditation”, Tibetan spiritual leader and marathoner (yes, this combination is possible!) Sakyong Mipham writes: “I believe that with pure intention, you can bring almost any activity onto your spiritual path. My intention in running is to benefit others. Thus running is a continuation of my spiritual journey.” Is this not a beautiful idea to apply to our creative practices as composers and performers? What if we are working not just to benefit or further ourselves and our careers, but for the benefit of other beings? How can we enhance someone else’s life today through art, while contributing to our own sense of balance and fulfilment? An inspiring thought, although hopefully one that does not require living in a monastery.
For this issue, I interviewed two fantastic performers of contemporary music who actively pursuing creative fulfilment: pianist Eliza McCarthy and vocalist Elaine Mitchener, and asked for their takes on the mysterious concept of balance. They also offer us glimpses of their fascinating and inspiring plans and projects. I curated a short playlist for your listening pleasure, and picked just a handful of intriguing events from the December Sampler listings. So, here is to a happy and balanced 2018 ahead!