I was talking to a friend the other day about putting on concerts. I was saying that since COVID, I’ve noticed something different in the way that people buy tickets. And it’s not just me – it’s other artists too.

Tickets generally don’t sell until the very last minute. Take, for example, the last live stream I ran. It wasn’t until the day of the stream that I had enough money to cover all the costs I needed to. Now, I don’t have huge costs, and yes, eventually, it was all fine. But it was a nervous lead-up to the concert, let me tell you!

For every concert that goes on, someone, somewhere, is financially covering it. They are taking a gamble. And pre-COVID, that gamble, for many, wasn’t a big issue. It was fine – about a month out from whatever gig, enough tickets had been sold, and everyone was going to get paid, and there were no gaping holes anywhere. I was fine with the little concert series that is ‘Bach in the Dark’. I loved knowing I could easily pay my musical friends, cover their travel costs, pay me too, pay my musical arrangers, buy the wine etc. But now – that’s no longer the case. It’s a nervous wait.

And it’s not just me, I know. Other musical friends of mine are having to cancel concerts. I hear that festivals are being cancelled. I know that big arts organisations are selling various different programs for fewer nights.

And I wonder why? Is it the cost of living crisis? Is it that people are sick of things being cancelled due to sickness? Is it that people have just changed how they consume live music?

I also wonder how long I’m happy to live with this gamble each concert. I might be fine, learning to deal with it. I might get sick of chewing my fingernails and nervously waiting. I might find that living dangerously is a bit fun!

And it may change – but somehow, I don’t think it will, you know….

In Australia, we’ve just had a two-week holiday between first term and second term. I found first term really hard. It was long – and by the end, the kids I see each week were REALLY tired. (For those of you who aren’t working with little people, this just doesn’t translate to not-much-learning going on in the classroom, but lots of other dramas – fights in the playground, tears, less regulation of temper in older kids – all stuff we experience when we’re tired, but amplified in the fish-bowl of the classroom.)

I had a number of performances with kids in the term. I had a new choir give their first performance. An Easter play with some fairly complicated music. Lots of singing for performances (and therefore lots of training kids to walk on and off stage). Then there were some really awful things that happened outside of teaching. Curve balls coming at me from a few different directions.

It meant I finished the term totally frazzled. I knew what I needed. Time in the garden. Sleep. Time to sit and drink many cups of tea. Playing the cello. Time in the yoga studio. Walking outdoors. I did all these things.

But here’s something I didn’t know would happen. I had a program to prepare – and it was all slow, reflective music. Slow music isn’t easy to play. It requires really good bow control. Thought about vibrato choices. Very careful attention paid to phrasing. But practising for this concert was completely healing. I felt my soul being pieced back together phrase-by-phrase.

know the medical benefits of music. I see kids being clamed in the classroom by it. But over the last fortnight, I felt it too. And it was wonderful.

And now I am walking back into school for term two. There’s going to be some big weeks. And I feel ready. Thank you, again, music. Thank you for fixing me. Again.

  1. They love the children they work with. Genuinely love them. And want what’s best for each and every one of them. They will try and work out ways to engage kids who don’t want to be engaged, make kids smile who are shy, make not-fun things as fun as possible and stick up for the kids in their care wherever they can. Every day.
  2. Despite often having all sorts of stuff told to them by parents, or not being supported by parents, or being asked unreasonable things by parents, they do not let this affect their relationship with the child of those parents.
  3. On days that they come to school sick, or tired, or stressed, or with something else going on in the background, they walk into their teaching space and don’t let that show. I find that amazing.
  4. They will give ANYTHING a go if it’s going to benefit the kids they see. Dress up as a wrestler to encourage kids to read? No worries. Let their whole classroom be covered in glitter? Sure. Teach music lessons even when it may make them feel deeply uncomfortable? Yep.
  5. They always love biscuits and cake. Or both.
  6. They think about the job they do most of the time. They work on weekends. They prepare things on their time off. They are nearly always thinking about ‘their’ kids. They buy stuff to bring into their classrooms to help.
  7. They aren’t paid well. Lots of them work in classes without adequate air-conditioning, or that are freezing cold. Or that leak. And that doesn’t stop them from doing the best job they can do.
  8. They don’t really take themselves particularly seriously. Because you can’t really. Kids see through that. And if someone takes the mickey out of them in the classroom, they will always go along with it.
  9. They do stuff for their colleagues. Need chairs moved? Onto it. Need a classroom dismantled. Yep. You want a timetable created? Sure thing.
  10. They have incredibly strong bladders. This is a superpower, in my opinion.

So the idea for this project started after a live-stream I did in July. To celebrate the Aussie composer Martin Wesley-Smith’s birthday, I did a live-stream of lots of his works. I used to play his music a fair bit when he was alive, and have kept doing so after he died in 2019. One piece I avoided though (called ‘Welcome to the Hotel Turismo’) as it’s HARD – both to play, and to perform – as it involves projections. It also makes me quite upset – it’s about the Timorese struggle for independence. The backing track is full of gun-shots, and sounds that make me imagine bodies falling to the floor. I remember stories that my Timorese friends told me about the occupation and violence over there (everyone has a story, and if they trust you, little-by-little it comes out…). The piece is also incredibly clever and well-crafted, and makes me miss Martin.

So why on earth am I recording it? After the live-stream, I was inundated with emails from people talking to me about this piece. How moving it was. How powerful. How come they had never heard it, or seen it before? So, sitting over a bowl of noodle soup a few days later, Ben and I wondered about recording it. My way of playing it. Ben said he’d edit and sound engineer and I trust him and his work totally.

It’s always a thing I think when I record – does the world need another version of this particular piece? There are two recordings already of this piece – but I think this will stand up to both of them. I play it very differently. I hear Martin in my head a few times ‘Yep, Rach. You can do that. Actually that’s quite good. Keep that in.”

December 31….It’s the day before we start recording, and my practise today wasn’t good. It never is the day before a concert either, so I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m allowing myself to be quite raw emotionally through this process. I am hoping this will lead to my playing being able to conjure up the feelings that Martin hoped to convey in the piece. C.P.E. Bach wrote once A musician cannot move others unless he too is moved. He must feel all the emotions that he hopes to arouse in his audience…” So I’ll see how I go.

I know the backing track incredibly well now – where the chickens crow, where the helicopters fly over, where the gun shots happen.

The room is set, and clean (I hate playing in clutter), and Ben and I have talked over the order that we’ll record. I am a bit frazzled emotionally. And I am edgy. So I’ll spend the rest of the day in the garden.

January 1 – first day of recording. We’ve spent most of the day recording. I had already decided that we’d record the piece in sections, and this morning decided to start at the end first, which wasn’t what I’d planned yesterday. The last chunk is probably the most playable, and I thought it might settle my nerves. Turns out I was right.

There are three really hard parts in the piece – we recorded two of them today. Actually, it was neither of those parts that I needed to do over, and over, and over (and then walk away and come back and do them again…). Who knew an F sharp minor arpeggio was THAT hard???

I also have to sing in various bits – and Ben needed to place a microphone REALLY close to my mouth. I discovered that’s one of the best ways to make me feel really nervous and uncomfortable – so if you are near me and want to make me shut up, that’s what you need to do.

We’ve done 2/3rds of the piece now. I never really know how I play in the moment of performing (either in a concert, or recording), but I trust Ben’s ears, and he seems pretty happy.

January 2 – second (and final!) day of recording. “Why don’t you like recording much?” I am often asked. To me, unless it’s a live recording, it’s trickery. Things are mostly recorded in little chunks. The same bits happen over and over. Sometimes one note is grabbed by the clever engineer from take 3, and slotted into most of take 4, which is tacked onto the end of a particular magical end of take 2. And that’s what is presented as ‘the piece’.

There was trickery happening today. Because we did the hardest section. I’ll be interested to hear it all once Ben works his magic with the editing software…. And there were SO many mikes used eventually. One even with a ‘pop’ screen (it softens plosive vowels) for me to use as I sang.

But I’m pleased. Pleased it’s done. Pleased that I could play with integrity. Because I want to do justice to this magnificent piece by Martin. It’s incredible, when it’s put together with the images and his music. It’s clever, and heart-breaking, and achingly beautiful. And I can’t wait for you all to hear it.


I got an email from someone last week that comes to concerts. I don’t think they meant be as rude as they were, but I raised my eyebrows as I read it. I won’t quote from it, but it basically said that I wasn’t doing enough to promote the music of women composers, and I should include at least one piece in every concert.

Now, this got me thinking. Should I be doing what they wrote (not asked. Told. Yep.)? And why? Why should I have to include a piece that I mightn’t like, or want to play, for the sake of supporting women music-makers? (I hear a lot of music by women on the radio. Some of it I like enormously. Some of it underwhelms me.) The good bit about this weird email is it got me thinking about why I program particular things in concerts, and why.

So I got to wondering…. what do I want to get out of every concert? I choose things to perform to challenge me technically, musically or emotionally. I choose to do pieces that I want to play. I might want to feature the music of that particular composer (be it male, female or prefer-not-to-say). I might ask the other artist I’m playing with what they would like to do, and take their recommendations.

I know that female composers have been underrepresented. And if I like something that’s been written by a female, then of course I’ll play it. But will I play something just because it’s been written by a female? No. Would Fanny Mendelssohn want me to play her trio because I love it (which I do), and want to share it, or because it was written by a woman?

Because having to practise something that you don’t like is a drag. And I spend hours practising things before I even start rehearsing them. So I’m not going to feature pieces to appear like I’m ticking some kind of gender-balance box. It might work for others, but not me. I’d like to feature things I love and want to share, regardless of who wrote them.

So, no. I won’t play things because I feel I should, or because I’ve been told I need to. I will play things I want to, and love. I will play them to audiences as best I can. (Because I will have loved practising them, exploring them, making them a part of me.) I don’t really care who wrote them – male, female, old, young, if I would have liked them personally or not. Because for me, that’s not the important bit.