There are some pieces that exhilarate you when you play them. And then when you finish you feel like leaping around like a springbok. It’s the most wonderful feeling – the Dvorak cello concerto does that for me. Some Vivaldi too.

There are other pieces that leave you very satisfied after you’ve lowered your bow at the end of them – like you’ve sat down and eaten a really good meal of just the right amount of food. And the food was just what you wanted. And there was some really lovely wine there as well. I get that with a lot of Bach.

And then there are other pieces.

I had one of them in my last set of concerts that happened on the weekend. We played a piece by John Tavener called ‘Svyati’ – ‘O Holy One’ in Russian. It’s incredible. It’s for cello and choir – the choir sings a Russian Orthodox chant, and the cello ‘sings’ over the top as a priest would do. It’s the chant used in most funeral services – the priest leads the coffin out of the church, and the mourners follow, carrying candles. It’s really hard. It’s very slow and atmospheric. It requires nerves of steel from the cellist, and very long breaths from the choir.

I played this with the choir of St James, down in a very dark crypt on the weekend. I had practised and practised it. I had thought about it, sung it, worried about it, loved it. And at the end, when it was over, and I was placing my music on the floor I was hit by a wave of emotion. Really hit. And it was all I could do to not cry. Not from relief, although I was relieved. But by this very powerful grief.

The next two songs the choir sang by themselves, and I had to sit and piece myself together. And I was amazed at how this music had affected me. I wasn’t thinking of what it represented as I played. I was thinking phrasing and sound production. But yet it had that effect. I knew what was coming in the piece. I knew it backwards – yet it took my heart and changed it.

What an extraordinary thing music is.

Last weekend I had a concert. I chose to do it because it interested me. No other reason. I love working with a particular actor, and he’d wanted to do something with the beautifully dark fifth cello suite by Bach. It’s such a great suite, and I felt like I’d like to play it again.

So I chose to create a program around that idea. He would read poetry, and I’d play. A bit odd, I know. And I’d hold it in a tunnel. In the middle of winter.

Now, there would be various costs involved. The hire of the venue. The particular actor now lives in Melbourne, so there would be travel costs involved there. I’d need wine. I’d need to pay him for the gig. I’d also need helpers on the night.

Would people come? I only put it on because thought it would be interesting.

So it sold out. I probably could have sold it out again. I had no trouble covering my costs. And I had five very cheerful volunteers.

Driving to the gig I realised how fortunate I was. I play concerts that interest me as a musician. I don’t compromise anything, artistically. And I can do this and pay my rent. And pay others too. So, if you are reading this and come to concerts, and support my crazy plans – THANK YOU. I appreciate it. Hugely.

It was freezing though. Brass monkey temperature.

I spend a lot of time sitting playing the cello. It feels different every day. Some days it feels physically very easy. My back is strong and straight. My arms feel long and lithe. Other days it feels not-so-good-physically. My arms are tired. My lower back grumbles. Unlike my physical body, my ears are less change-ful. After a number of years doing this (sitting and playing), my ears can just ‘switch on’, and I can hear glitches, mis-shifts, things I don’t quite like, things I feel like I could do better. And so the feedback loop opens, and the practising starts.

Most of the time, I feel like I am speaking when I play the cello. Well, kind of a combination of speaking and singing. It’s not really surprising I think this. If you feed a cello through an oscilloscope (that’s the science gadget that measures sound waves), the graph that is produced is the most like a human voice. And I think of my cello a lot like a person (I know. Weird.), so thinking of him talking and singing isn’t too much of a step in any direction.

I’m preparing for a concert with an actor. I’ve worked with this chap a number of times before – I really enjoy it. I love it for a number of reasons…. It’s a really intimate way of working – just words, and my playing (it’s also quite draining, I think for the same reason). He’s really open to different ways of fitting things together. Because he’s not a musician, he’s not aware of all the Classical musician ‘rules’ there are, so doesn’t mind breaking any of them.

But I think the thing I like most about this process is he shows me a different way of listening to things.

We’re preparing a Bach suite for a concert. I can talk to you about the phrases, or what volume I’d like it. I can easily understand harmonies, and where each phrase should go (in my opinion, anyway). But the other day I came home to find an email waiting for me from this actor. He’d listened to the same suite, and written down thought-grabs he’d had. He’d given me a story, a snapshot of feelings and gestures, a set of actions.

I sat down to play the suite the next day. And I turned off my thoughts, and read his ‘story’. And then I played. It was wonderful. Like drinking a new sort of drink – something kind-of familiar, but totally new. It was tremendously exciting!

We start rehearsing together this weekend. I’ll hear the poetry and prose he has chosen to go with each movement. And things will change again. We’ll talk and explore things – and it will excite and challenge me.

And I’ll love it.

I had a pretty crazy May. A trip ‘out west’ for three hectic days teaching. My usual days in Sydney schools. Rehearsals. Concerts. A big yoga workshop weekend. Lots of practise.

I’m not writing this to say how busy I am. I hate that people seem to want to compete about how much they do. I’m writing this to say thank you to everyone who helped me through it.

The person who drove me to a rehearsal I had after a big day teaching, and still had to keep going. The friend who checks in on me to see if there’s anything she can do over a week. The other friends who help me at concerts. The person who cooks for me (yes! It’s true!). The people who pour me a glass of wine when I go to their place, and just let me flop. The teachers who cook me muffins, or give me chocolate, or something to drink.

It’s all so incredibly appreciated.

I read stories of musicians who feel unsupported, or who burn out. I talk to people who are creatives who sink into really dark places, and who don’t feel they can get out of there.

And hearing these stories make me love the people who help me even more. There is no way I could do what I do without all the people who help me. Who support me.

I thank them a lot – but it’s never enough.

I get asked that question a lot. Well, the quick answer is, I actually don’t want to. They are wonderful, but they are tiring. I get totally worn out. And I need recovery time. Time to do not-much. Time to see friends. Time to walk a dog-that-doesn’t-belong-to-me, or practise yoga.

I thought I’d list what goes on before a St James concert. I’ve chosen this one because it’s where most of my concerts are.

  1. During the day, everything at home is put in a big pile. I’ve practised everything I need to do, and polished the cello. Bit antsy, but ok.
  2. Drive to the venue about 3 hours before the concert. Still antsy.
  3. Get everything into the venue – cello, stools, lights, wine, tablecloths – you name it, it’s loaded in.
  4. Move all the pews around and count the number of seats we have to put out.
  5. Sweep the floor.
  6. Set up the bar. Put the wine in the fridge. Check all the glasses are clean. Set out the tablecloths, snacks etc.
  7. Set up the CD table. Still antsy.
  8. Get the programs and list of people that are coming and set up the ‘check -in table’.
  9. Wash the chairs.
  10. Hang black-out curtains.
  11. Put up signs so that people don’t barge in before they open the doors (yes. It happens. I’ve had huge number of excuses….).
  12. Check all the right lights are turned on (or off) for the start of the gig.
  13. Get dressed. Start to get calmer.
  14. Check with all helpers that they are ok and know what to do. Realise most things are done now, and calm down even more.

Then I can get ready to play. Now, I have help that makes things easier – and I so appreciate it. But that all goes on before I can sit at a cello to warm up. On Saturday night, after the second one gig, the entire thing is reversed. So not only am I emotionally drained from whatever it is I’m playing (because I don’t seem to play unless my heart is on my sleeve!), I’m also physically worn-out too.

The Sunday after two St James concerts I lie pretty low. Try and dig in the garden. Noodle around the house and listen to records. Eat some good food.

And it’s enough for me. How long will I keep doing it? Not sure. At the moment, it’s fine. There’ll come a time where it’s not fine, and I’ll stop.

But not just yet.