Member Blog: Mental health and well-being of musicians

ISM members Jaya Hanley and Sarah James, who form The Chapel Hill Duo, took to Facebook to talk about how the pandemic has affected them, and how the government's current messaging is adding to a devaluation of the arts.

We have to talk about how the pandemic has affected the mental health and wellbeing of musicians, creatives and artists everywhere.

Those of you who know us well know that we strive to be happy, positive people, whose goal in life is to spread happiness and positivity through our music. It’s what we do. It’s also worth noting that when things get tough, we are always looking for the silver lining. We always make the most of our lot and, despite everything, have experienced some amazing things in the past few months. We are so fortunate that the vast majority of our clients and fans have been incredible. Thank you all for being supportive in so many ways:

It was deeply touching to receive messages of support from future wedding clients; offering to pay some or all of our fee in advance just to help out (three years in advance in one case). Probably most impressive are those clients that have fought insurance companies tooth and nail to try to get them to pay out the cancellation fees that we should have charged them when they had to move their weddings.

From a musical perspective, creativity and innovation have an incredible way of popping up in the most unexpected places. In some ways, being forced to stop working in the way we usually do has allowed us to grow as musicians and develop our art in a way that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. We have had to explore social media and live streams in a way that we had been scared to do before. Our fundamental need to create music and perform to people in whatever way we can lead us to creating music in different ways, including making videos and refining how we record in our little home studio.

Some truly amazing things have risen from the adversity we’ve faced.

However, one thing we have had no control over and that has caused us months of anxiety and dark thoughts, is the systematic devaluation of the arts, seemingly endorsed by the government. We have experienced the effects of this directly, and we’re starting to see it more and more in the way people treat us.

A small but increasing minority of the people we have interacted with professionally over the past few months have lashed out at us. We have received some toxic and aggressive messages and a few actual threats. Perhaps worse, some have had an expectation that we will do things for free or a pittance, because ‘we have a lot of free time on our hands at the moment’.

Everyone is hurting right now, and we get that, honestly, we really do. And, most of the time, we don’t blame people, everyone needs to vent sometimes.

What we can’t bear, however, is the growing sense that what we do is not valued. As musicians, creatives and artists, we have been told that we’re not essential and we’ve been told to 'retrain'. Most importantly, the support offered hasn’t been enough.

The insidious message that creatives don’t have value is incredibly dangerous. So many artists suffer from mental health problems and anxiety at the best of times. We have been extremely lucky, with savings and the support of our friends and family to fall back on, but we know so many incredible musicians that have had to give up perfecting their art because they don’t have that support.

We didn’t want to write about this because we always try to be positive and make the most of our situation. But we concluded that it’s too important for us to stand by and do nothing. Not just for ourselves, but for our fellow creatives.

Our life’s work as musicians isn’t just a job, it is a fundamental part of who we are. We cannot change that.

Thank you for reading. It sometimes feels like we are screaming into a crowded room. However, we know that if you’re reading this, you’re probably ‘one of the supportive ones’ and we’re preaching to the proverbial choir!

So thank you. Keep listening to music and appreciating the arts in all its forms.

Lots of love
Jaya Hanley (violinist) and Sarah James (cellist) of The Chapel Hill Duo.

www.chapelhillduo.co.uk

These words and photo were originally posted on Facebook on Tuesday 20 October 2020. They have been reproduced with kind permission from The Chapel Hill Duo, so that others may benefit from their shared experience.

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