Mental or physical distress…

Mental or physical distress…

Does anyone else agree that when you’re seriously down in the dumps, the music thing totally deserts you? Not surprising I suppose if like me you subscribe to the view that making music is all about communicating feelings to others in a unique ‘language’. If your own feelings are shot, then no wonder you become musically inarticulate. By the same token, in due course it’s often the music which rescues you, as a great force for emotional healing. Well, thankfully I’m very seldom in that condition.

But what about physical distress? When I was at University and sang in folk clubs (in an earlier life) I once forgot the words of three songs in a row, couldn’t find the right pitch (I was unaccompanied) and I knew these songs well. I finished that night with a crushed ego, hardly any confidence left, and wasn’t I the most useless… etc. etc. Next day, I crashed down with the flu proper, raging fever, and into the sick bay for five days. Afterwards, I realised the two events were probably connected, which was a comfort.

This week just gone, I played sh*te at a pub gig in Broadstairs Folk Festival, and sure enough, next day I have a temperature and a raging chest infection. I conclude that when I’m fighting off a virus, it must interfere very significantly with normal mental activity, and that affects my ability to deliver the right musical results, especially under pressure. Can’t concentrate, and brain signals to the fingers seem scrambled. Maybe don’t play tunes when you’ve got a bad cold??

Anyone else experience similar symptoms?

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I certainly go through periods when the playing seems to totally desert me, but I don’t know whether I can correlate it with distress… then again, thinking about it, maybe it does. I always find it difficult to tell whether the “music thing” is just *my assessment* of the music I’m making, or something more fundamental. The two sides (assessment and creation) play off one another so much that maybe there’s no difference… After having been tune-mad for ages, I currently feel under-inspired, which seems like a similar thing. Probs just post-festival doldrums though.

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Stress is what distresses me, and there seems to be a lot of it lately in my life. Too much, and my judgement, tact, and enthusiasm goes right out the window. I play music in part to burn off some of this stress, but too much, and I start burning bridges.

I’ve always been an emotional player. Playing music is really speaking your heart. I love playing music with people I enjoy being around; it’s self-reassuring, an affirmation that you’re part of something special, and that you’re sharing things in a way you can’t with others.

What really frightens me is when, under such stress, things go badly with people I play music with. An insensitive comment, a rude crack (beyond the usual cracks), too much information, etc., and then things quickly get estranged. We all know how rare and special it is when you play great music with talented and sensitive musicians; at its best, it’s like being in love, or at least being in a close relationship. It’s not physical, but it’s a conversation of feelings, and when it suddenly turns sour, it’s the worst thing in the world. There’s no assurance it will get better, and there’s no assurance that you’ll ever be able to play sweetly together again. It’s like a poet losing his voice, or a painter losing her hands. How will you speak your heart again? How can you mend the damage, and simply say “I’m sorry?” How can you even show your face at your session?

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I have found this site to be a tremendous resource this year, and have recently “signed up” as a member.

I can testify to having experienced everything mentioned in the above posts to this thread, with one interesting addition: For over 20 years now, I have found that when my throat or sinuses and head are stuffed up really bad from allergies or major cold, my breathing immediately and completely clears up when I start playing the guitar, and stays that way until I set it down. If I have a bad cough, it subsides within minutes after starting to play the guitar, only to return after I stop. Has anyone else experienced anything like that?

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Yes, but this is a family site, so I won’t tell you when. 🙂

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Wha…Zina, you mean the lads quit bothering you whenever you pick up the fiddle, but they start right in again when you put it down?
🙂

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Uh…er…sure. Yeah. Yeah, that’s it. That’s the ticket…

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BTW, ceciltguitar, welcome to The Session. 🙂

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It’s very much like a sneeze isn’t it Zina? 😉

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So they say, Jack, so they say… *smirk*

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petemay, rog, stevie, i am very much the same, and relieved to hear your stories. I remember when I began to realize that musicmaking and physical well being were related…i wondered how I could comehome from one event elated and another crushed. Petemay, i looked up ypur profile because i was caught by the sentiment in your post. Your profile indicates that you are aware that you are a sensitive person,, and yes it can be a tough attribute to carry inthis aggressive world, but good on you man, or woman whoever you be. Baravo and i love you for it. its a good thing, its a contstant lifelong question.. did i do good enought? was i obtuse/ obnoxious? did they like me?

hells bells,, theres other players that dont seem to ever stumble on this stuff, but for thiose that do, well we just have to work through and through again…

mmm… sometimes i feel that when i try to say too much too quickly i end up saying nothing much at all.. i am trying to identify and empathize with the sensitivity issue. Music is an expression of mod and so the musiv=c that comes out of the palyer should be an expression of his/her mood…
technique is merely a structure, a bridge builder..
how big a span can you cross? Chasm, Gully River channel? Strait?

technique is awesome, magnificwent functional and wonderful, but maybe the traveler (listener) has no concept of the accomplishment because the ride is superslick………

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Well, thanks to you Rog, Cecil, Stevie and Veronica for the thoughtful replies. It’s quite a difficult thread, this one, since it potentially invites some quite sensitive personal disclosures, depending on how deep your feelings are, and how good or trusting you are at sharing them with a bunch of worldwide strangers on a site like this!

Zina Lee, you clown, trust you to come back with a shallow crack for a laugh! I suspect there’s a deeper person behind the humour…

Veronica, I am male, as in Pete. Thank you for the heart and the encouragement. And like me, when you start typing things with enthusiasm, I see you tend to hit all sorts of extra keys on your PC keyboard! That’s a bummer for me, playing the accordion!

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I think there’s a correlation between physical and/or mental state and the way one plays, but I’m not sure if it’s always one-way. I totally identify with playing poorly being a leading indicator of some lurgi getting ready to attack. But sometimes when I’ve felt really down mentally, playing has lifted me. Maybe it’s just nice to know there’s still something that you’re good at when the rest of your life is in the toilet 🙂

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I always sit in sessions and wonder why I’m playing either a) better than usual (rarely) or b) worse that usual (normally). It’s when you hear tunes that you know you know and you’ve played oudles of times before and the whole thing deserts you, or your fingers won’t move fast enough any more - like playing in treacle. Or you’re not at all happy with the sound your instrument makes that night even though it’s in tune. I’m sure physical and mental health is a big part of it but not all of it. Imagine you went into every session on a perfectly even keel and potentially able to play *normally* (yes, whatever normal is). What other factors change your ability from that moment on?

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I’m not sure if I’m imagining things, but it seems humidity make a big difference, not just on the feel of my instrument, but also on the way sound carries or fills the room in general.

Has anyone else noticed this? We recently had a spate of really wet weather, during which the sessions were fantastic; then as if overnight the whole city dried up and the next session just sounded… *wrong*. Which put us all in a foul mood. Knowing absolutely nothing about physics and accoustics I promptly began coming up with all sorts of hedge theories, like the amount of moisture in the air makes for the transmission of a fuller timbre, or perhaps it was that the walls, floors and and furniture had absobed moisture and this had changed the accoustics of the room. Or maybe it was just the instruments reacting badly to a sudden barometrish change.

But I’m rarely on form at sessions anyway. I’m at work by 6am every morning, and usually go to bed quite early - round 9.30pm-ish. So by the time we actually start playing on Thursday nights, it is in fact already past my bedtime, and it shows. Plus, the guinness does NOT help. Well maybe the first one, but not the many others that follow 🙂.

Wooden floors are also plus; otherwise things don’t sound quite right.

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Obviously, if you are ill, your playing will suffer. However, even if you are just slightly below par or slightly stressed, this can also have an effect. Of course, it can often be very slight. On the other hand, if you are feeling particularly good physically and/or mentally, this will have a positive effect.
So many things can affect my playing. If I’m really cold, I stiffen up or, if it’s too warm, my fingers get sweaty etc. Sometimes my instrument doesn’t stay in tune—sometimes, it’s my mood that causes the problem and I “interfere” with things unecessarily but room temperature can also have an effect. It’s not uncommon for other instruments to be “out” when your own are actually ok and you have to “tweak a little to suit them”. I find it much harder to stay in tune in these situations, as I my natural inclination is to return to “concert pitch”.
I find too that if I’ve “botched up” the first few tunes of the evening, I can get dispirited and a pattern seems to set in.
Fortunately, most of these problems don’t happen so much these days, probably due to me gaining more confidence and being able to relax more.

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Is “the music thing” the same thing as George Bush Sr’s “the vision thing”?

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Yes, Q, I’ve been wondering about just that (humidity). I’ve noticed that kind of effect quite a few times recently - one session the fiddle will fill the room, which means less physical effort is required to make sufficient sound, so I guess I can put more energy into decorating the notes and be generally more relaxed, whereas another session the fiddle sounds really muddy, and I have to put loads of effort into making what seems like a tiny noise, and nothing seems to flow right anymore.

I don’t notice this kind of thing nearly so much playing on my own, as it’s not necessary to make so much noise.

I’m really looking for a way to play with lots of volume, lots of speed *and* delicacy at the same time, while remaining unamplified! I play for a group of rapper-dancers which require fast (~160bpm) jigs and they dance in pubs, often with a lot of ambient noise, and no chance of amplification. I always end up sacrificing almost everything in the aid of power, but I wish I knew how to avoid this!

Back to humidity - I think it’s quite possible that humidity (or whatever it is) can start the downward spiral - things don’t seem to flow right, so you feel a bit worse about what you’re playing, so things get worse… resulting in mental distress, the effect, rather than the cause, this time…

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Cecil, I’ve experienced something very similar; I used to have a lot of sinus trouble, and all I had to do to be able to breathe well enough to get to sleep at night was spend 10 minutes or so playing music (mostly Irish & Welsh tunes) on my psaltery. Worked like a charm every time.
Pete, I too find that I play badly when becoming ill, but whan I’m emotionally out of sorts is one of the times when I play best. Possibly because that’s when I need music most! When I’m depressed or unhappy or upset, music puts me back in balance. For years whenever I felt off I would sing Ella Fitzgerald’s version of “I Ain’t Got Nothin But The Blues” and that would pop me right out of it. Now I play Irish or Scottish or Welsh tunes on my harp or fiddle, and ditto.
Having just moved from a humid place to a dry one, I can say definitely that humidity bites. The tone of my fiddle improved considerably, and after the pegs stopped slipping I’ve had much better sound out of it thatn ever before.
Incidentally, I don’t play my fiddle when I’ve got a cold because I sneeze a lot. Which makes the post-practice cleaning of the fiddle top take a lot longer. :p ;)
Sara

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Er, that would be “THAN” ever before. &^$#% Imac keyboard…
Sara

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Actually, Pete, I was quite serious. *grin* Cecil asked if there was anything that was similar to his situation, and there is, for me. I’ve noted that if I was sick and something important like a performance or some other such sort of thing (especially the other such sort of thing), the sickness will clear up during the time span of said sort of thing and immediately come right back afterwards.

It’s probably an adrenalin thing, is my theory. I once was violently ill with a 24 hour flu and there was a stage performance of a play I loved, acting a role that was extremely important to me. I threw up almost continually right up to my entrances, threw up every time I came off stage and all the way through intermission, and someone had to drive me home holding a garbage can, but onstage I was just fine, focused and in the moment.

I’d really rather not do that again, though. ;)

But you bring up something that’s important to know about Irish traditional music sessions, and that’s that it’s not usually a place for deep discussions and that most people usually keep the tone fairly light. Most of us regular posters treat this board as we do a session. Pleas for a more serious session will generally get you anywhere from funny looks to active slagging.

Not to say that I’m not capable of a deep conversation, and a short check of my past posts will prove this (right along with proving that I’ve an active membership in The Glee Club), but I think it’s worth remembering that Irish traditional music is (largely) about enjoying oneself, and generally finding oneself is only a pleasant and/or useful byproduct of the process.

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Hi all. I’m new here. 🙂 Anyway, I find playing tunes on my bodhran and dulcimer to be quite calming, be it in a pub session or practicing along with my CDs (Lunasa, Jerry O’Sullivan, Natalie MacMaster, Chieftains, Danu, and Altan are all my practice buddies!). You become too focused on the music to be depressed over the fact that – in my case – last week you were in Ireland and now you’re not. I miss it so much (I think I was born in the wrong country) , but the music always brings me back!!

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So we’ve got Q saying that humidity improves the sound, and Sarah saying that dryness improves the sound.

My own experience is in line with Q. Here in God’s Own Country, most music sounds better as humidity is increasing during the approach of a cyclonic weather system from the Atlantic, and loses that certain quality in times when the air is dry (fortunately thats not often). This was always most particularly noticeable when I played the pipes many years back.

As for the stress thing - if music is an expression of emotion, and emotions are affected by stress - which I believe to be the case, then music will be affected by stress.

But what about the artistic genius of the tortured spirit and all that?

Dave

(but then, by the same logic, if all green things were fish, and all fish smelled of ginger, then all green things would smell of ginger).

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Here in Denver, humidity means that the instrument sounds better, but dryness means that it stays in tune better!

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If humidity is bad, then don’t play in Ireland.

We’ve had nights here in northern Florida (County Leon!) where the rain was beating the old tin roof of the converted railroad warehouse/pub like a drum. Somehow, those nights produced some great music, even if it made the bodhrans a bit flaccid (heh).

Given the constant of humidity, I’d rather play in an old building than a new one. Old buildings breath, and new ones don’t. My surroundings make a huge difference in how I feel about making music, and if the building/room is great, with good acoustics, then even if the humidity is high and I’m feelin’ a bit blue, the music will still be good enough to lose one’s self. And it’s transcendence that I’m mostly looking for.

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Well, I was living in Seattle, which I would guess is as humid as Ireland! I now live in Ashland OR which has been having temps in the low 100s (f) and has an almost semi-arid climate, so right now it’s extremely dry.

Part of the problem is where your instrument was made, or so I was told by the music shop where I bought mine when I told them I was moving to a hot dry climate from a cold damp one. They said that since my fiddle was made in a dry area it would sound better in a dry area, and so it does. On the other hand, my harps, one of which came from a hot dry region and the other of which was made in a cold damp region, both took the move just fine and it hasn’t noticeably affected the sound of either. So maybe the guy at the music shop was full of manure, who knows.
It probably depends on something really esoteric, like current stock market figures, and isn’t based on humidity at all. ;)
Sara

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Fascinating! There was I talking about feeling sh*te and playing sh*te, and the reverse of course. Now we’re talking about humidity! Does humidity affect the way you hear the sounds, and the way your instrument makes them? Does the sound you hear make you happy or fed up? personally, when I’m in the very occasional trough and the music deserts me, humidity is irrelevant!

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Excessive heat and/or humidity can make one feel like sh*te. There is a connection. But heartache or sickness can happen anytime. The worst? Losing your mate/dog/friend/family member while feeling sick on a humid, hot day. Might as well play some tunes to make yourself feel better!