Posts Tagged ‘music’

Lessons from John Cage

This last week was rough, as you know. I’ve been a bit of a walking ball of stress for the last few days, and as a result, was aware that my mood has been dropping. Two things happened over the weekend, however, that have helped.

First off, I was walking down the main road on Saturday when I spied the conductor, M, of the concert band I’ve played in for the last five years, at a bus-stop with her (unbelievably cute) little boy. This is the band where I found my feet and first good friends at university. It’s the band I cut my leadership teeth on, as I was its president in my third year. It’s the band I avoided last year, as I was too afraid of being ‘found out’, full as it is, of people who know and care about me. M had heard I’d been ‘ill’ (the story I tend to use is glandular fever, as it explains a slow recovery/low energy/weight loss etc) – and was just so lovely, asking how I’d been, and how I was managing, and then started talking about how she’d had something similar, and then developed anxiety and depression, at the end of her final year at music school, and that it was the mood things that took longest to shift. She asked if I’d had problems – and all I could really say was ‘yes, and it’s been bloody awful’. M is lovely – a little scatter-brained, a little too keen on making us play Starwars medleys EVERY SINGLE YEAR – and after playing under her for son long, babysitting her son and being one of the older students, I know her pretty well. The admission felt safe, which is never has previously. It felt as though for the first time, someone knew what it’s like to be a hundred-miles-per-hour person reduced to a crawl. She also said to me,

‘Char, you play hard at everything – just remember, the harder you play, the harder you’re going to have to rest, before something MAKES you rest.’

That may be the best summary anyone has ever given me, like, ever. She then slightly over-did it by talking about how John Cage’s (AWFUL) 3.44 or whatever it’s called is still music despite being composed SOLELY OF RESTS (NB to the non-aware – it’s NOT). I get her point though. When you play tenor sax (as I do), you need the rests to breathe. There’s only so many bars of semiquavers you can play at breakneck speed before you start wanting to pass out. I need the odd rest, to remember to breathe. It really lifted me, seeing M, as it reminded me that no-one vilifies you for having the odd term out or being ill, which thanks to the attitude of el medical school, is sometimes hard to hang on to. I don’t totally subscribe to thinking my depression was just ‘a need for a big rest’ – but I do agree I’d been running on empty physically, and mentally, and spiritually, for a long time.

I think the other thing might come into my next post. In the meantime, here is John Cage’s ‘masterpiece’, and the first and third movements of one of my favourite pieces of band music, Folk Song Suite by Vaughan Williams. I sang ‘seventeen come sunday’ and ‘folk song from somerset’ as a child so this medley has always been a favourite.

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