Last night, I went to have dinner with some friends of mine. Both professional musicians, both in their fifties. Unlike so many other musicians I know, they are both still really engaged with being musicians. They still want to share music with others – by performing, teaching, coaching and listening. I find them both incredibly inspiring. They are also both really normal. They have other interests. Their feet are well and truly on the ground – and their heads are…. well, where they should be. Not up anything, as the saying goes.

On the way there I was reflecting about these two, and how much I respect them both. And they are the sort of players where their goal is simply to share music. They walk on stage and seem to say to their audience (without saying it out loud, of course) “Look! We have found this piece of music! It’s just wonderful. We’ll play it to you the best we can – and hopefully you’ll think it’s really wonderful too…. Have a listen.” There is a real ego-less way of being and playing.

Then there are other sorts of performers. They walk on stage and say “Look! Look at me! Listen to how I play this! I’m great! You should notice me!”. And they fill their conversations with their friends and colleagues about how they were noticed the other day, or should have been noticed by others, or how well their CD sales are, or how much they have been played on the radio.

The second sort of musicians are often far more successful. They have the names that you would know, if you were not in ‘the business’. I find them phonies (thanks Holden Caulfield). I try to be around them as little as possible. And sometimes, these known names are not like the second type of performer. But, in my opinion (and after all, this is only my opinion), not so much.

I really believe that performing is not about fame. It is not about being noticed. It is about sharing. And for the sort of performer who doesn’t even write their own music, it is about me even less. It is about Bach, or Bloch, or whoever. It isn’t about adulation, or travel, or being noticed. It is simply about taking dots on the page, and turning them into something that makes others smile, or cry, or remember that wonderful day and how they felt.

I hope, when I am in my fifties and beyond, that I am like these two people.

If anyone has been reading this (or the facebook posts for ‘Bach in the Dark’) they will know that at the end of January I’m recording a disc.

This is a big deal for me, as every recording project I have ever done has been hugely unpleasant. There is always something that goes horribly wrong – someone can’t play something, there’s too much noise outside, it’s freezing cold, egos get in the way…. this list goes on and on.

But after two years of a dear friend (and a musician I admire so very much) asking me to record with him, I have said I’d try it one more time. If I was going to record with anyone, it would be him. I have decided not to listen to raw takes – I am bringing down a very trusted pair of ears (that do not belong to me) to listen to the takes, as I know that at the first whiff of an out-of-tune anything, I will stop being creative and imaginative, and become some kind of uninteresting cello-playing robot. And that wouldn’t be true to everything I hold dear as a performer.

So, for better or worse (hopefully better), I am going to Melbourne to be a creative cellist with lots of patience as we have to do things a number of times to get everything right. (I am not so patient. That will be hard. Not as hard as the last Bartok piece we’re doing, though.)

We rehearsed a lot last weekend. We gave a little concert to some friends who gave up their Sunday afternoon to come a tell us what they thought. We’ve talked endlessly about how things are going to go. A recording schedule has been drafted. I have so many callouses I could stick pins in most of my fingers and not feel a thing.

So it’s nearly upon me. I am reminded of my favourite quote (at the moment) about creativity, by Anna Funder. “This is the trick to creative work : it requires a slip-state of being, not unlike love. A state in which you are both most yourself, and most alive and yet least as sure of your own boundaries, and therefore open to everything and everyone outside of you.”

Here goes……..

I’ve just come back from a week away down the south coast. My long-suffering, very patient partner (aka ‘The Bear’) and I escaped Sydney and went to stay in a little house with four other really dear friends. The little house it a bit neglected, but charming. The balcony wobbles. The oven is terrible. The stair-rail up the side of the house wouldn’t pass an OHS test. As someone climbs the stairs, the whole house wobbles like a firm blancmange. But it was the most perfect place to be.

We talked a lot. Read. I knitted (my new hobby). There was a lot of laughter. Lots of wine, champagne and some fabulous cider. Loads of Maltesers (TM). And these people put me back together after a pretty huge year. My job is excellent, don’t get me wrong. But it wears me out by the end of the year. I feel like an old flannel in some grotty Laundromat. Being around five wonderful people for a week was the most excellent thing.

I also had to take the cello with me. I am recording a CD at the end of January, which terrifies me. Every recording experience I have done up to this point has been incredibly stressful and really, I’d rather have root canal work. But I have agreed to try it again with my dear ‘musical brother’ accordion-playing-whizz. So I had to slope off for a few hours every day to practise.

It was a really enjoyable process, having the space to be creative. To try a few new things here and there. And to really enjoy playing again.

So here’s to 2014. I’m planning a year with many things in it. Some terrify me. Some I’ve done before. Some I’ve been wanting to do for a while. But I’m hugely optimistic. And smiling. Could be the result of an excellent week away. Thank you to the Bear, the Cabin Boy, the Wordsmith, the Colour Guru and the Lens-Cap Operator. I love youse all.

I had a really amazing experience today. I had a concert with some kids. Now, these kids are from really tough backgrounds. They deal with enormous amounts of stuff – really horrible stuff – and that’s before they even get to school for the day. They shouldn’t have to deal with this, but it’s just their lot in life. These are the children I come home and weep for.

But this post is not about their sadness and rotten lives. This post is what they did today. We had  a concert. The whole school was involved. Year six were ushers, and sound technicians (well, they manned the CD player and adjusted the volume!!), and gofers, and runners. Children drummed, and sang, and played and were proud. These are children who three years ago would not look me in the eye. They would not sing. They were shy and distrustful. Today they sang with their heads up, and their chests proud. They watched, they focused – every one of them was a superstar. I was so very proud of every one of them.

In the craziness of all these rehearsals over the last few weeks, something happened. I had a group of four little year four girls who were a group of soloists. They would sing a verse here and there, by themselves throughout this musical pageant. They sounded beautiful. Two weeks ago, one of these lovely little musicians had her world turned upside-down. Her mum died. I don’t know how she died. But I watched this little girl tell me a fortnight ago, and crumble. My heart broke for her. You see, when I was in year five, my dad died. He didn’t die suddenly, like this mum, but he was gone out of my life, and my world turned upside-down too. Like I was walking in a snow globe, and suddenly it all flipped. And got turned on its side over and over again. I remember what I felt. And my heart broke to see this little girl having to go through similar stuff. I talked to her about it. And I cuddled her when I saw her.

This school has fabulous pastoral care. Her class teacher is a wonderful, wonderful woman. And she is loved, and looked after when she is at school. And she loves music, and having this to work towards was really great for her.

On Monday I found out that her mum’s funeral was on the day of the concert. She said to me at the dress rehearsal that she would be there – ‘because I want to. And because mum would want me to.’ But I have to say, I didn’t believe her.

And half an hour before we were due to start, this little person walked into the hall. She smiled at me and said ‘I’m here!’. And she sang her solos. And she drummed. And she was an angel on stage. And I was conducting her with tears in my eyes.

I loved music all through school. I played the recorder, and the flute, and of course the cello. I sang in the choir. I rang handbells. And I remember when dad died I kept playing my cello, and really started to love music more. I was nurtured through this by some fabulous music teachers. I can remember my cello teacher gave me a record of Du Pre playing a ‘recital’ of all sorts of little cello pieces. I now have that record on CD, and I play it often. And it reminds me of that time in my life. Every time I play my cello I am reminded of my dad. And when I am really vulnerable, I remember being the little girl playing a cello duet with my cello teacher at his funeral.

And now, I was the music teacher, helping a little person who loved music come to terms with the punch that life had dealt her. I was the other side of same coin.

It has been a tremendous honour to work with this little girl, and conduct her today. And it has reminded me of me, and my dad, and all my music teachers, and other teachers who loved me and looked after me.

I wish her all the strength in the world.

I’ve had a pretty gruelling week. Teaching at the end of the year is always really difficult – year 6 children are ready to leave their little pond of primary school and move on to the bigger pond of high school. Everyone is tired – children (who are grumpy), parents (who often make some pretty unreasonable demands at this point), the office staff, the fix-it people around the school, and the teachers themselves. It’s a bit like pulling hen’s teeth to get anything happening at this point of the year.

And traditionally, this is the time of year for all the school concerts. Groan. And the Christmas carols. Sigh. And all that jazz.

Now, this is the life of a music teacher. In the midst of all the yawns and tantrums you get concerts read to go. That’s fine with me. I see it as an enormous challenge to get these children being the best they can. It’s expected. And when it all comes together (thanks to the help of all the staff), it’s a great thing.

But this year has been quite hard. Not only did someone drive into the back of me this week, and my car then also had a flat tyre one morning, but a few other things were thrown my way by the universe.

A little girl who I teach told me her mum died suddenly. She burst into tears in a rehearsal. It was true- her mum did die suddenly, and she was sent to school soon after. She’s a brave little person, and my heart is breaking for her. And what could she manage to do at school? She could manage to sing, and drum, and ‘do’ music. Other children I teach are going through some really serious family upheaval. And what did they want to do? They wanted to sing, and perform, and have their music lessons.

Now, I am just writing this as a music teacher. I’m sure that art teachers, or drama teachers, or dance teachers would write the same sort of things, but from a slightly different perspective – insert ‘acting’ for ‘music’, for example. But why are we taking Creative Arts away from children so often? Why are these the things that are cut when budgets are slashed? Why is literacy and numeracy so more important than healing little peoples’ souls?

I am flabbergasted, you know. There have been hundreds and hundreds of studies done about the importance of music educations. I’m sure there are the same amount of studies done with all the other creative art subjects. They heal children. They give them back their sense of self. They feel them with pride. They make them walk taller. They make them smile when there’s not much else to smile about. They level the playing field in the classroom. I see this daily.

What more do our power-brokers need to read? Or see?