I am a recent convert to vinyl. About a year ago, I convinced long-suffering-husband to get rid of the TV, and we invested in a record player, a good set of speakers and all the other bits that we needed for listening. We still own a CD player, and also have some black boxy thing (who knows what the proper term for it is? An amplifier? Probably. My head is full of other stuff that I need to know. I just know what it does, and how it works.) to enable us to also listen to streaming services.

I have loved listening to records. Sitting reading the back of the covers, just like I used to (it was where I started my internal collection of fun facts about composers. Sitting with my back up against the brown velvety cover of my mum’s sofa.). Reading lyrics, recording histories (did you know that at the end of the Beatles’ output Paul used to record the bass line in last so that he could know what was going on around it, and make it as interesting and fitting as possible?), looking at art work designed for each album – and most importantly hearing new stuff.

For example, we have a Peter Gabriel album I adore now. I knew one song on it when we bought it. I love the whole thing now – it’s crazy, and over the top, and totally wonderful. Same goes for numerous Sly and the Family Stone tracks. I love this journey. And playing it all on vinyl means you can’t really skip stuff – it’s actually just too much bother.

I was reading an article in ‘The Monthly’ the other day about a writer comparing her digital music library to her actual music library. (It’s here, if you are interested.) She’s a fabulous writer, and raises some really interesting points. She also said this “… I find my online listening becoming narrower, more predictably situated within my established tastes. …there is the mirroring of algorithmic recommendations, giving me more versions of myself and that self’s habits…” And it got me thinking. I do put on streaming services, but I know realise they are playing me much of the same stuff. This isn’t a bad thing, but it seems a shame, when there’s all this music out there.

So – I am going to challenge myself, and if you have read this far, why not try it too. Every time you sit and listen to music for the next little while, listen to something new. As in, new for you. I’m going to do it. And I’m going to look forward to unearthing things I’ve never heard before. I may find some awful stuff I’ll never listen to again. But I’ll probably find some excellent music too…

I haven’t blogged for a while. Things have been pretty crazy here. Let me just fill you in on my weeks.

For most weeks in the school term, I teach for three days. They are huge days – I don’t get much time off. I see as many kids as I can and lessons are all pretty high energy. In my experience, kids learn music best by doing. Playing music as much as possible. So this means that things are noisy. And I have to manage things carefully. I’m often asked why I teach like this. Well, a number of reasons. Most of the time, I like to be high-energy. I’m an extrovert, so it’s a pretty easy way for me to be. But most of all, I love seeing kids really engage – laughing, energised themselves. It means, after a while I have been teaching in their school, they rush into their music lessons. It’s fun. They love the energy and the slight craziness. It does mean I go home pretty tired though…

I’m paid well for what I do. I’ve negotiated this, and I work hard for it. The other days I don’t teach, I manage a concert series and I’m a cellist. People assume I ‘have a day off’. But I don’t. I’m up, just as early. I’m practising. Emailing. Keeping up with social media, and scheduling posts. Listening to stuff to see if it would work in a program. Updating websites. It’s busy. And requires constant work.

I don’t often have a ‘day off’. I was reading this article this morning. And it rang very true. Most artists don’t dodge taxes, despite what people think. We don’t shirk. We are tremendously disciplined. Sometimes too much so. But it’s not an easy path to walk. I wouldn’t encourage young people to walk down this road. Not unless they can’t imagine doing anything else.

Because I am so many things. I am a performer. A teacher. A business person. A dreamer. An editor. A researcher. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed.

(As I write this, I imagine your response. Please know, I’m not asking for your sympathy. I’m just being truthful. I’m writing this the day after a concert. I always feel pretty raw on those days. It leads to honesty.)

Is it worth it? Sometimes. When I play a fabulous concert and feel like I’m almost flying, yes. When I see a kid in a music class having a wonderful time, absolutely. When a cello student blossoms, it’s wonderful. When things all fall into place to create a really good program, yep. But it’s relentless. And often lonely. It’s sometimes self-destructive. It’s often disheartening.

But could I do anything else? No. It’s a like a drug. I couldn’t give it up.

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.