Grace Notes: How music helped me to settle in

I have been living in Sweden for just over two months and I’m now feeling pretty settled and normal, almost like I belong here. Even the language is becoming less of a mystery, and I’m starting to pick up bits and bobs of conversations in Swedish, although I have little to no chance of being able to form a reply yet…

However, I found the first few weeks here hard. Some days would be fine, but others I’d feel very far away from everything and a little lost. This was often because I’d seen a post on Facebook or Instagram from a friend back home doing something that had I not moved, I would be doing too.

Lodging in a flat means that I spend a fair amount of time on my own, and while most of the time I find it refreshing (and it’s nice to be able to put on pjs at 6pm and not be judged), sometimes I wasn’t able to shut off my brain completely and I’d get myself worrying over nothing and then stress out and not be able to get anything done.

The one thing that I found really made it easier though was listening to music. Every day I have a half an hour walk into faculty and I listen to my iPod the whole way. I don’t listen to things I am studying or pieces we are about to play in a concert, but tunes that I know really well and associate happy memories with. It also gave me a chance to really appreciate the beautiful scenery around me and watch the seasons change, without my mind being clouded with things I need to do, or was missing out on.

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Walking home in the summer evening

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Watching the colours change into autumn

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One of the first frosts (it got down to -4, but I’m told it’ll get much colder….)

For me these included tracks like ‘Ziggy Stardust’ by David Bowie, ‘Can You Forgive Her’ by the Pet Shop Boys, ‘Ballad of the Great Eastern’ by Sting, or ‘Comfortably Numb’ by Pink Floyd. These songs change on a daily basis, but if I was to choose a few things to listen to now, it would be the above tracks.

By giving myself that half an hour or so to and from college to shut off, let my mind wander and just get lost in the music, really helped to keep me from going crazy.

Even though I now feel pretty much at home here, I still have my walk and my music every morning and most evenings, and I really enjoy just being able to escape and let my mind wander wherever it chooses.

Grace notes: ….and relax!

Last Thursday (I’m sure I’ve mentioned this a few times) I had my end of year exam. I’ve mentioned here that one of my big struggles this year has been with performance anxiety. I’ve been trying a few techniques to combat this and I really think they’ve worked! I managed to get through my exam without falling apart, forgetting my piece and letting every mistake get the better of me. Here is what helped me through.

1) Memorising. I knew my piece back to front, inside out and upside down. I was practicing from memory for a couple of months without using the music and so was used to not staring at the dots the whole time. This allowed me to be completely immersed in the piece and distance myself from the fact it was an exam (I also played with my eyes closed which really helped! Even though I may have looked a little silly…).

2) Visualisation. Every night before I went to sleep I ran my piece in my head. I imagined I was in my exam room and playing with my accompanist and tried to feel the ‘nerves’ of the performance. This is also a great technique to help you sleep… I definitely didn’t make it to the end of the piece every night!
I got this technique from a great YouTube channel called Clarinet Mentors, which have a few videos on how to manage performance anxiety which apply to all instruments, not just clarinets.

3) Listening. In the weeks leading up to my exam, I recorded myself playing the whole piece through every couple of days. This meant that I could listen back to it and hear for myself the good bits, and the bits I needed to work on. I could also listen to one from a few days before and hear the improvement, which is a great confidence boost!

Maybe if you’re struggling with nerves, or are stuck in a rut with learning your piece, these three techniques might help!

Also, apologies for being late on this post. I had a mini-holiday in Prague (we got back at 4am this morning), and that was the perfect post-exam treat! I’m totally relaxed now and ready to start up again with practice, lessons and learning my part for the college opera, ‘A Midsummer Nights Dream‘.

Grace Notes: Surviving the stress

It’s exam season, so there are a lot of highly strung people round college at the moment! I never really notice when I get stressed. It just bottles itself up inside me and usually something silly happens (I forget my keys, ruin my dinner, etc), I have a meltdown (like the time I had all the problems on a coach back from Bristol. I wrote about it here) and it’s only then that I realise how stressed I am. This involves crying and hysterics and is generally embarrassing for myself and anyone around me. There’s not a lot I can do to stop this, but there are a few things I think really help post-breakdown to show me things in perspective and realise it’s not the end of the world.

  • I’ve talked about it before (here) and I find it such a great way to relax. Just doing lots of stretching and long breaths, and really focusing in on the different sensations as you do each position is so calming. Yoga With Adriene has an amazing routine specifically for stress, and this helped me loads after my latest meltdown.
  • Just have a chat. Chances are, they’re stressed about something too and you can vent to each other. They’ll also have an outsiders view and can maybe help you realise that just because you have an exam, doesn’t mean your life is going to end.
  • I personally find comfort eating helps. I’m not suggesting going overboard and scoffing on junk food 24/7, but some cake, cookies or ice cream can make you (at least temporarily) happier and might help you get through the stress. Ben and Jerry’s Cookie Dough Ice Cream is my personal favourite.

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  • This one especially if you’re stressed about stuff going on at Uni (exams, friends, house, boys, girls etc.). Sometimes going home, even for 1 night, can remove you from everything and help you to see the situation in a more rational way. I often find it hard to see things clearly when I’m stuck in the ‘Trinity bubble’.
  • Free time. Take a day off! One day of chilling won’t make or break your exam. If, like me, you’re doing music, maybe just listen to the repertoire you’re learning, or play some easy scales to keep your fingers moving, but nothing too intense. If it’s academic, then perhaps just read through your notes, and then leave them and go out and do something. Even if you move from your desk to the living room and end up watching tv all day, having a veg day could be exactly what your brain needs.

These are a few things that help me to step back, take a breath and be ready to start afresh the next day. I can’t wait until Thursday afternoon, when I’ll be exam-free and able to start my summer!