Sport and Music

I’ve struggled to adapt to my harp lessons at the conservatoire, for a variety of reasons.

I’ve found it hard to structure my practice, hard to get to know a new teacher and her ways of working, and incredibly hard not to let my emotions get out of control when things aren’t going my way in lessons. I expected all of these, but didn’t know how it would feel.

Over the weekend I’ve been reading an amazing book by Dr Steve Peters, he is a psychiatrist who works with the British Cycling team and many other athletes. The book is called The Chimp Paradox and it’s about the different functions of your brain and managing these appropriately.

As someone who is chronically prone to self-sabotage and being ruled by my emotions, I really wanted to read this book.

Victoria Pendleton talked a lot about emotions on her recent BBC documentary and for a long time I have been fascinated by the similarities between performing/training at a high level as an athlete, and practising/performing as a musician.

I’m not very sporty, but this year I decided to challenge myself in an area other than music and my old job, and I entered a midnight bike ride challenge around London and an Olympic distance triathlon.

I’ve really surprised myself in numerous ways, in terms of being able to discipline myself and manage my time, and using my performing skills such as not giving up when things get difficult. I also discovered that I love running, which I never thought I would say.

Sport and music are something you can’t fake – if you don’t put the effort in, unless you are incredibly lucky with an incredible fluke, you are very likely to fall flat on your face when it comes to the big day.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve found myself using my running to help me when practice has got tough. If I go out running, and get stuck halfway, there is no other solution, I have to get myself home somehow and running is by far the quickest way.

Now I say to myself, if I was running, I’d have to finish so I know I have it in me to carry on with this horribly difficult phrase or whatever.

Back to the book….. I’ve started using some of the ideas already and managed to get through my lesson today without getting upset or frustrated when things were particularly tricky. There were things I hadn’t covered before, but I stayed calm and kept my head.

Over the week I hope to maintain my focus and improve the efficiency of my practice sessions. My concentration span is increasing all the time. With the help of another book, The Musicians Way, I’ve learnt a bit about structuring my practice and setting goals etc. Another book, Scientific Practice for Harp Students, has also been useful as it relates specifically to my instrument.

As I get to know my local area, which is surrounded by fields, hills and forests, I am more inspired to run. Running gives me space to think about the harp, studying, practising, and many other things besides. If I skip a run, I know about it the next time I go out.

Running also teaches me that I can’t push things forward without making sure the right things are in place.Β I’m also asthmatic, so have been gradually training my lungs as well as my legs. This requires a good sense of rhythm and an ability to keep my cool when things start to slip out of control on the breathing front. A musical parallel would be, I won’t be able to play the more advanced repertoire I am desperate to learn, if I am physically unable to play because I am too tense because I haven’t sorted out my technical issues.

I know there will be times when practising is going better than running, but I look forward to using them both together to give me the strength and motivation that I need.

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