Guest post by Simon Reich
Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brian Wilson & Johnny Cash all had things in common. Not only were they gifted musicians and composers, but they managed a depressive side to their lives.
Amongst classical composers, Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, to name a few, suffered severe bouts of depression. In fact Schumann and Tchaikovsky tried to kill themselves and failed. Other more recent musicians / composers include Johnny Cash, Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys), Bruce Springsteen, Kate Bush and Alicia Keys. The list of those in this category would end up being extremely long, so take my word for it, there are a lot! In fact a recent study has found, of the ten careers with a high rate of depression, artists, musicians and writers, were fifth on the unwanted list.
Some have thought,” if only we could get rid of this debilitating depressive side to them, they’d go on to produce greater music and more of it.” In reality this may not have been the case at all. Anxiety, depression, paranoia and many other symptoms of their mental condition, could have been a driving force and muse to these great composers. In fact taking away their “thorn in the side”, could have been akin to a botched frontal lobotomy. Compositions could have come out devoid of the emotion needed to take a piece of music from merely pedestrian to great, outstanding and possibly even brilliant!
This realisation has been a turning point in my life. The many years of thinking I’d been dealt a cruel blow, gave way to a channeling of the gushing spring of creativity I had inside. I was far from afflicted, I was blessed!
Unlocking the Blessing
Synesthesia is the ability to see colours while hearing tunes. In a similar way, my earliest childhood memories of listening to music had my stomach churning like butterflies were inside me, when certain chords notes or progressions were played. It often led me to shedding a tear.
I can still remember sitting on my suitcase in my grandma’s flat in Germany before we were about to head back to Australia. A song came on the radio and my stomach did a somersault inside me as the emotions of the day got the better of me. As a nine-year-old boy I didn’t quite understand what was happening, but in hindsight it was an addition to my arsenal of the senses. Sight , hearing , taste , smell and touch . This was a sense that was triggered by feeling acutely aware of people and situations to feel sorry for. At times to my detriment. Or not being able to say no to requests. Seeing the melancholy in situations when others saw only positive outcomes, and many other symptoms that played with my heart and mind.
My empathy levels were set extremely high, most likely by my depressive condition, but the flip side to me “over-caring” was that I felt extreme emotion to certain musical patterns, and this was a gift I would gladly accept!
I quickly realised I had an inbuilt monitor to songs that I would go on to love. Sometimes it might only be a bridge or chorus in a song. Sometimes I might only feel it the first twenty times I listened to it, but nonetheless, it was a feeling I began chasing – and it eventually became my yard stick for a great piece of music, both self-composed or listened to.
A bit like the way a blind person increases the range in sensitivity of their hearing, my depression created a deep emotional connection to music and has helped me to compose pieces that have firstly touched me, but then gone on to bring solace to people all over the world.
If many of the composers and musicians that are now household names did not coexist with a depressive side to there lives, then I truly believe we would not have a legacy of outstanding music that channels the depths of despair and the heights of euphoria.
As with any medical conditions, if this article has exposed things you have as yet not dealt with, please seek professional help.
You are not destined to live a life of misery, or shorten it through suicide. Depression can be managed and as has happened in my case, harnessed for a use that is beneficial to yourselves and those that come in contact with you or your musical endeavours.
I have included a link to a tune I wrote soon after hearing the very sad news of Robin Williams taking his own life.
It’s called “Broken” and partially channeled my own feelings and then added into the mix how I felt about yet another person dying by their own hands. The World Health Organisation estimates that each 40 seconds, someone in the world takes their life. By 2020 this is expected to change to every 20 seconds. Very sobering figures, but something I believe music can greatly help to change.
Please also read The Pianist’s Emotions here.
Simon is a pianist and award-winning composer from Victoria, Australia.
Further information : Simon Reich Music