Over on Twitter this week this government advert on a skills and training website started doing the rounds:

Musicians, and others who work in the arts, are, justifiably, feeling extremely anxious, undervalued and largely ignored by government at a time when the arts sector in general is in a perilous position due to the UK government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic (and yes, it is government response which has caused the current situation, not the virus: viruses don’t make policy.).

This insensitive, ill-thought advert, which actually originates from 2019, comes just a week after Chancellor Rishi Sunak inferred that working in the arts is not “viable” (for which read: “not a proper job”, thus ignoring the huge contribution the arts makes to the UK economy). He later attemped to clarify what he had actually said by offering some emollient words to theose who work in the arts – and Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary (who reminds me of Blinky Ben from tv political comedy The Thick of It) apologised for the “crass” advert. I note that this advert, together with others of the same style, have now all been pulled from the website in question.

Ever since I became more involved with the UK classical music scene, via this blog and my work with professional musicians, I have sensed an attitude that persists in the UK in particular that working in the arts is some kind of “hobby job”, rather than a “proper” profession. I think this comes, in part, from the perception that many of us who work in the arts love what we do, and thus we are not “serious” about our work.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. The many musicians I know, as friends and colleagues, and others who work in the industry, are incredibly committed, serious and, above all, professional people; that we enjoy our work is a bonus, but it does not mean that our work is not viable, nor has value.

The trouble is, for those outside the profession and, it would seem, politicians, creative people like musicians or artists or writers don’t always display outward productivity – the fruits of their labours may not be immediately visible and as a result there is a societal attitude which suggests these people are “lazy”, “unproductive”, or “don’t contribute to society”.

So to counter the suggestion that we are not viable, that we need to “reskill”, here are just some of the very important skills which musicians possess:

Well-organised

Self-starting

Self-motivated

Self-determined

Good time-managers

Adaptable

Flexible

Collaborative

Team players

Hard-working

Resilient

Mental toughness

Physically dextrous with fine and large motor skills

Highly developed memorisation skills

Able to take initiative

Thinking creatively/thinking on their feet

Goal setting/achieving

Used to working to very high standards

Able to cope with stress

Imaginative

Persevering

Determined

Empathetic

Good listeners

Able to cope with failure/setbacks

Diligent

Patient

Able to concentrate for long periods of time

Detail-oriented

Intuitive

Analytical

Entrepreneurial

Pattern recognition skills

Lateral thinking

And let’s not forget all the others in the creative industries:

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Guest post by Doug Thomas

A few months ago, I made the decision to start a new day job outside of the music industry. This choice, and temporary departure from constant musicality, has had immediate impacts on my career as a composer and artist.

Spending less time devoted to music taught me to give more value to musical moments. Taking some distance from musical instruments also showed me to approach music differently, and to hear differently—to see afresh—,and has improved my interest in other arts. Consequently, listening to music in a new way taught me to speak the language of music freshly, and therefore compose differently.

Having less time devoted to music taught me to organise myself differently, and to value the musical moments that remained. Music has always been in the foreground of my daily life, and having the feeling that I had all the time in the world to dedicate to music was  sometimes synonym to neglect. On the contrary, realising that each musical moment that I spend is being timed has had the effect of making me self-conscious of what I want to hear, discover and learn about. Another consequence of having little musical time is that I have learned how to tame the muse—so it comes out when I need it. I have started writing differently, from necessity, and to quote Rossini: “Nothing primes inspiration more than necessity”.

Being left with a set of ears as my principal instrument made me start listening again, differently. By taking some distance I took my ears—and to some extent my eyes—off what I had been focusing in the past, and I started looking elsewhere, coming back to a greater variety of music and breaking the boundaries the instruments had made. As a result, I expanded my interests in different arts; photography, architecture, design, cinema and literature. I feel like I’m a different—if not better—aesthete.

Whoever learns to listen better has a lot of chances of ending up speaking better. Whether that is the case here is unknown yet, however I feel like I write differently, more freely. The absence of instrument—the translator—resulted in myself being forced to speak the language by taking more risks. The absence of the limits of my own technical abilities have also expanded my creativity, not only in terms of the language itself, but also in my choices of instruments and colours.

There are of course a few drawbacks to taking some distance from music. The main one being that I miss the instruments, which I have barely touched in months, both and contradictorily, by lack of envy and lack of time. Louis Armstrong used to say “If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. And if I don’t practice for three days, the public knows it”. Similarly, I feel like my instrumental skills are getting weaker and weaker everyday. There are also things that I am probably missing out because of the limited approach I have on hearing and creating music. Inspiration used to come from improvisation and practical mistakes as much as ideas emerging from my brain.

Important decisions have impacts that spread towards different parts of one’s life. This change of route has had a direct influence on my career and growth as a composer and artist.

Being a little further from music taught me to give more importance to the moments I can devote to it.

Additionally, stepping away from the practice of an instrument seems to have made me a different—and perhaps better—musician. The multiplicity of mediums in approach and expression in regards to arts has allowed me to find alternatives in discovering and understand new music and arts.

It is said that Mahler was more of a composer than a performer, and Berlioz did not play any instruments—it did not stop them from composing great music, and hopefully this will apply to me.


Doug Thomas is a French composer and artist based in London.
 
Since founding NOOX in 2014, Doug has released numerous solo projects, including Short Stories, Vol. 1&2, Angles and Cassiopeia. For his latest release, Ballades, he has collaborated with Piano & Coffee Co.

His interest in multi-media associations has also led to engagements with choreographers, photographers and visual artists from around the world, including London, New York and Reykjavík.

Doug has studied at the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance in London, as well as with Berklee Online College of Music. Some of his mentors include Jérôme Bechet, Dylan Kay, Audrey Riley, Maurizio Malagnini, Enrica Sciandrone and Stefania Passamonte.

“Music allows me to express ideas and feelings in a unique way. Each piece I compose is an attempt in finding balance between interest and beauty, within the limits of my own language and experience. I like the idea that music can provide us with an alternative to our daily life, whether it completes it, or helps us take some distance from it.”