Emotions are an essential aspect of our basic humanity. But when they are out of balance they can become dangerous, with the potential to leave us feeling shipwrecked and adrift.
The Problem for Pianists
Of course this is true for everyone – but for piano players (and for musicians and performers in general) there can be some additional challenges, and the swing from over-excitement to terrible disappointment and back can become our daily emotional currency:
- We are exposed – even for hours on end – to powerful and profound emotions, communicated wordlessly by some of the most creative people in history
- To play well we must engage with our own emotions, those of the composer, and in performance with those of our audiences
- We work often in solitude, with few alternative emotional outlets other than our musical expression
- The touring of the concert pianist, and the long (often antisocial) hours of the piano teacher can put additional strain on our physical and social wellbeing
- The piano world is a hyper-competitive one (often in my view, destructively so) leaving many players with low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy and a crippling sense of failure
We contend with all these issues as an added factor on our journey through life, which of course includes the same emotional challenges in our personal lives, family, security, and health that everyone else has to cope with.
It is little wonder that so many pianists sustain significant emotional damage and suffer from mental health problems.
A recent survey by The Stage reported 7 out of 10 musicians report mental health problems, while a study conducted in Australia by Entertainment Assist found that musicians are up to ten times more likely to have mental health problems than the general population.
What we need is “emotional wisdom” – the self-awareness that helps us keep our emotions in check, balanced and healthy.