A letter from the future


Dear present Hanne, this is your future self.

First and foremost, I know you are going through a bit of a tough time right now. There’s some wonky old thought patterns, there’s some brain chemical fuck ups, and there’s some financial strain. You’re feeling a little shaky, and finding it difficult to get to work. But I’m here to tell you that it gets easier. It really does.

That’s not to say it gets easier easily. You put in a lot of work. You set yourself some strict guidelines. You set your bar too high and you failed, multiple times. You set it too low and you didn’t even get off the ground. But eventually it starts to pay off and you commit to a routine that will probably form part of your everyday for the rest of your life. This commitment is something you can do, by which I mean you do start to achieve a real consistency, something that might seem impossible from where you are sitting right now.

The key is self-compassion. Here’s a few pointers.

Stick with the Bulletproof Musician stuff. Do every exercise. Bug Latham to do them and then keep each other on track. Send Alethea the occasional reminder as well. It may seem like a lot to take on, but just add a little habit to your program every now and then. The confidence chapter is especially important. You can in fact do what you are setting out to do. Keep at it.

Look after your body. Make this a real priority. Exercise and movement is more important than what you eat, although don’t neglect that either. Pay attention to your posture, do your pilates, do some yoga. Go for walks. Moving is absolutely essential to your wellbeing. If you’re feeling foggy or low, even if you achieve nothing else just move yourself, sweat for ten minutes. Move first thing every morning, without fail, no matter how late you crawl out of bed. Drink more water than you are presently. Do Helen’s Tai Chi finger exercises.

Make the most of your lessons with Helen and Camilla. You will come to see this period in Cologne as the beginning of a major turning point in your life. It doesn’t happen straight away, but these teachers and their support and belief in you, as well as their knowledge of the repertoire you are throwing yourself into, are the best cheer squad you’ve ever had. Maintain your friendships with the Aussies of the Köln new music scene. Enjoy your time in Belgium and be on top of your game. Playing with that ensemble (now … and next year) will be really rewarding for you.

Your two years at Ghent are really really good for you. Take my advice, go with the cheaper one bedroom apartment and practise at the Conservatorium. Book rooms in advance and just be there. Make friends with as many of the other students as you can. Practise your French.

Some days are harder than others. Come up with more lists like your 30 Things. Have a list like that for a number of possible feeling-not-so-good scenarios, or other cases where you’re for some reason unable to do the amount of practise you’d envisaged (long day of train/plane travel, important meetings/classes/rehearsals, massive to-do list). These are the things you never get around to anyway, and they matter.

Helen is the kind of teacher that leaves some things open, but in a way that doesn’t leave you hanging with questions. Come prepared to lessons. List down questions in your practise notebook and throw them at her. On the occasion that you are underprepared (it happens, but it happens less and less), admit it. Tell her when you’re struggling with a big load of notes to learn. Eventually you’ll tell her when you have days that just never get going. She understands.

Oh, I should say that Darmstadt is crazy. Try not to get overwhelmed by all that is going on! There’s a big class of flutes, but Eva Furrer really enjoys working with you and Alex on Presto, and she is impressed with how far you’ve come. It’s daunting, it’ll exhaust you, there’ll be tears, but you can do it.

And – you finally learn Cassandra’s Dream Song! It’s another big step for you, like the Furrer was, and like the Hurel. It takes you a bit longer than you hoped to feel really comfortable with it, but once you do that the possibilities really open up. You can tackle anything.

My final bit of advice: try not to compare yourself to others. I know, I know, it’s a pretty thoroughly ingrained habit. But the more you stay focussed on just getting yourself to your next step the better it is for your mental health.

I don’t need to wish you luck. I am the living proof that you did it and will continue doing it, and also, it’s kinda awesome.

Much love,

Hanne xx
June, 2016

30 things to do when practise feels like an impossibility



Anyone who has ever read a post on this blog will know that I struggle with avoidance of the one thing that means the most to me in my life: music practise. Well, yesterday I read two great articles (this one and this one) and then I wrote this list. I printed it out and stuck it to the wall. Maybe there’s something in it for other music students.

1. The usual: listening. Listen to a new piece for 10 minutes.

2. Listen to a piece you’re working on for 10 minutes.

3. Listen back to a recording of a lesson or performance practise and take notes.

4. Write down repertoire list and plan out how to prepare for upcoming concerts and events.

5. Search for dream repertoire – solo/ensemble.

6. Listen to a recording of Manuela Wiesler/Emmanuel Pahud/Felix Renggli/Sophie Cherrier and try to emulate something of their sound/vibrato/anything.

7. Do 3 rounds of sun salutes.

8. Do a mental rehearsal of a piece you’re working on – could just be a section or could be a whole piece.

9. Do a set of 21s (mental rehearsal technique) on a sticky section.

10. Set a timer and improvise for 10 minutes, noting down any fun sounds you find.

11. Simulation training: run around the block/do wall sits or hold a plank/do some of those crazy push-ups-plus-jump and then try centering and beginning a piece or a section.

12. Write down a list of everything you’re feeling bad about right now, then find something good for everything bad.

13. Write a short story about one of the pieces you’re playing.

14. Come up with an affirmation and say it to yourself 15 times.

15. Turn on Björk really loud and dance.

16. Make a Spotify playlist for your next long train trip, and download it on your phone for offline access.

17. Do 20 mins of rhythm practise. Nail 7s over 5s or 9s over 4s.

18. Write a progress report addressed to someone really inspiring, but don’t send it.

19. Write a note to your past self about how far you’ve come.

20. Write a note from your future self to your present self about how far you’ve come.

21. Go for a walk in the woods/by some water with your headphones in, listening to a big energetic symphony (Schumann 2, Brahms 3, Mahler 1).

22. Reimagine one of your pieces with different rhythms or spatial notation, try to feel tension carry through different rhythmic outcomes.

23. Sing the whole way through one of your pieces. If you’re unsure about any section go over it a few times.

24. Imagine the perfect snack that one of the composers of your pieces might eat and make it for yourself before playing through the work.

25. Practise mindfulness with Liam for 5/10 mins.

26. Breathe into your lower back while lying/sitting/standing in various positions.

27. Get all of the to-dos out of your head and onto paper. Then do just ten minutes practise and think of a reward before you try to tackle anything on the list.

28. Compile a bookmark folder of inspiring articles. Read three of these then see if you feel like practising.

29. Message Latham. Tell him you don’t feel like practising. He’ll send you good vibes.

30. Vomit-write 750 words. Get it all out of your head. Work it out after then, don’t let it all stew in your brain and give you brain poisoning.