'That's music to my ears!'
'Let's make music together!
'March to the beat of your own drum!'
These figures of speech all involve music and I don't need to tell you how powerful music can be, but how do you allow music into your life and what effect does it have on your life? Music can be a source of inspiration and energy and a reminder to live in the moment.
I was drawn to music at a young age. I was fortunate enough to go to school where all students in year 5 & 6 (around 10 years of age) had to play an instrument. After a brief trial with the flute, drums, violin, cello and clarinet, I chose the trumpet as it only had three values and was seemingly easier. Through those years I began to read music and feel its presence in my life. As I improved I decided that I wanted to continue and my parents kindly bought me my own trumpet. I continued to play through high school and had an excellent teacher who really inspired me, even suggesting I could go onto study music if I practiced enough and continued to develop. I decided against this as I focused on Science subjects hoping to become a Psychologist or Doctor and upon leaving high school, put my trumpet away to rarely play it again. I really enjoyed the concerts, performances and other things I did with the trumpet, but music wasn't for me. So I thought.
For 5 years, while I studied Psychology, music disappeared from my life, in the sense of creating it. I listened to music and went to clubs and did all the usual things young adults do, but never considered a career in music.
At 23, I discovered I could sing after visiting a singing teacher for a lesson, based on the advice of a clairvoyant who asked me if I had ever wanted to use my voice. She asked straight up "Have you ever wanted to do Radio, singing, acting and that kind of thing? Do it, you will be good at it."
At that time I was into martial arts and was considering travelling to Asia, teaching English and perhaps studying Karate in Japan. Europe and singing where far from where I saw myself. Of course, singing took a hold of my life and suddenly I was thrust back into making music, discovering not only my life's purpose but also my special talent. The one thing I appeared to be naturally good at and with hard work, was able to transition into singing as my full time profession.
The point here is I think music found me again and I am really pleased to have been given another opportunity to express myself through it. The feeling I get when I sing and sing well (not always the case) is exhilarating. The power of the human voice, emoting, expressing and delivering the text and music of some of our most famous musicians is great. To bring music to life is a real gift. Whether you do it professionally or not doesn't matter, it is the expression that is important.
I only realised how powerful a force music has been in my life recently, after realising that I think about it every day. Not having sung on a professional opera stage since 2014, I realised that what I missed most was the creative process of rehearsal. Of playing with a character, a scene and with other people to create something we can all agree on. It is a tremendous gift to be able to sing and play characters for a living but it also comes with great responsibility. Performers have the responsibility to give of themselves fearlessly in a way that allows the audience, no matter how small or large, to feel something. Music making, while satisfying for the performer is also about giving to others and then music really is a gift.
For those who aren't performers though, how can you use music to your advantage? I believe music has an enormous potential in the Personal Development realm. It can be used as an escape but is a tool for development, to enliven our spirit and fill us with the necessary power and resilience we need.
When I was 16, I rowed as a Summer sport. I really liked rowing and although it was not popular in my school, the feeling of floating on water was one I enjoyed. Being in sync with my other boat mates and pulling together to race on the river was fun. I was in the 4th crew in Year 11 (my second final year of school) and we trained that year throughout the winter season. We had a new coach and he was determined to put into place a strategy that would see us achieve better results. He had been successful at other schools and was given the chance with ours. In his training, we were required to do lots of ergometer training.
For those who don't know, an ergo machine is that funny looking Rower at your gym that never gets used as no one really knows how to use it properly. As Rowers, this was where we spent a lot of time creating endurance and stamina and building technique off the water. During this year, I hated them.
Every Monday morning we had to do a 2 minute ergo. Full pace. No stopping. Pumping hard. It was the sort of trial that made you want to throw up if you had eaten before the event. They were not pleasant. Once a month we also had to do a 20 minute ergo. A longer endurance event. Ultimately these scores were also being used to determine who would be in the first crew for the following year. I wanted to be in the 1st crew as going into my final year, there was also every chance I would become the Captain of Rowing, as there were only two of us approaching our final high school year.
One of the 20 minute ergos we had to do was at Rowing Camp. We went offsite for a week and did lots of training. Early runs, sessions on the water, ergos. Lots of ergos. We had been primed that this particular 20 minute ergo would be important. Luckily I was not in the first round of ergo rowers, which gave me 20 minutes to prepare for my slot. I used music to prepare in a way I will never forget.
As it was 1995, iPods and other high-tech gadgets weren't invented yet, but I had a Walkman and my favourite mixed tape. A selection of songs that I knew could help me prepare. So while I watched the first round of rowers on the ergo, as I felt anxiety and butterflies, I listened to my mixed tape. It had Eye of the Tiger, some Chicago and even some classical songs on it from memory. I sat very still and tried to almost meditate. Not moving a muscle, instead pulling my resources together and visualising myself on the rower. I watched the pace of the others and saw the rhythm I would need to maintain in order to achieve a good result. I broke down the 20 minutes in my mind into 5 minute increments. Really only two or three songs. I listened intently allowing at times, what felt like electricity flowing in my veins, to really build up in me. Red Bull hadn't even been invented by then, so this was an all natural feeling.
I can still remember the moment, I jumped on the ergo and got myself comfortable and allowed the feelings to flow. The music I had listened to from my Walkman, was now firmly in the head and with this internal playlist, I set about rowing. Power flowed and my technique was there, I was pulling better and better scores. I couldn't stop myself and after the first two blocks of 5 minutes, although feeling pain, was able to push on. Excitement grew as the other Rowers realised that I was potentially going to get the best score of the day so far. 4 of us rowed at once, so I made sure I kept ahead of the others, powering with each pull of the handle, keeping my cadence up. The music was playing in my head and with an almost excited elation, I spurred myself on. The music was giving me the power to pull and to maintain a constant stroke.
I finished the 20 minutes and virtually fell off the machine, collapsing a little before realising I had pulled the second, almost highest score of the day so far and in the end, maintained this position. It felt wonderful and to top it off, that was the moment the Coach called me in with the other potential 1st crew Rowers. I took my seat in the boat from there on and went on to be the Captain of Rowing as well. That was the moment, I knew music had given me greater potential and allowed me to go beyond myself and what I thought I could do.
So what is the message for you, another music enthusiast reading this post? How can you further incorporate music into your life? Could music allow you to express yourself more fully in some way? Absolutely.
With streaming services like Spotify, we no longer need to spend hours creating mixed tapes, but can put together a nice playlist in 5 minutes. Whether we want to meditate to music, pump ourselves up for the day with 80's pop and contemporary hits, or visit a concert of our favourite artist to receive their inspiration, this is all possible in 2018.
I suggest you use a playlist to help you in your daily routine. Plan the tracks to lead you somewhere. Perhaps starting with slow tempos and then getting faster as your day winds up. Maybe you want to start with a bang. Here are some of my personal classical suggestions.
These pieces I have collected over my life so far and they have meaning. I strengthen their meaning by using them in new contexts, giving them life and allowing the melodies to wash over me, strengthen me and build my confidence. The effect I know is real as it allows me to continue to further my life, gives me inspiration and taps me into the universal. Music is the Universal language and one that we can all enjoy. Its beauty is in the playing though, the singing and the dancing.
Alan Watts says 'You must remember to sing and dance while the music is being played.' This is both metaphorical and actually important. He means it in the context that life is not a journey and destination at all but just an experience. We are simply here to experience. We often get so caught up in the destination that we forget the moment. What will happen after the concert? How will I get home? How will my date end? Instead we need to just be in the music, the moment. Like a good film or concert, we are sucked into the moment and forget our troubles and our lives just being there with the actors and musicians. This is the gift performers give. They allow you into the story if you take yourself there. At this is how music is real. Listen to it, absorb it and allow it to unlock the power in your life, to inspire, to give you hope, to sit in your moment of success or to just be. Wherever you are in the moment.
If you are someone who sees music as background, noise or something less than important in your life, I encourage you to try creating a Playlist for a Purpose and to see what effect and power that music can have on your spirit, on your motivation and on your energy. You might just find it gives you the daily kick you need to strengthen your habits, live in the moment and create a rich and fulfilling life. And row a 20 minute ergo!
David Corcoran is a Personal Development Trainer who specialises in Voice and a professional Opera Singer. This Blog contains his regular musings, thoughts and ideas. He is based in Vienna, Austria.