In Harmony: Music and Mental Health

interviews Music Durham about mental health.

By Matthew Prudham

Just like any other extra-curricular activity, student music provides an excellent break from the degree. Amy Simpson, Music Durham’s Welfare Officer, quickly emphasises its social benefits: “people can isolate themselves quite easily at university; not having a space outside of their work can lead to some people being alone in their room.” Music broadens your social horizons from your college or degree – as Kirsty Dempster, President of Music Durham, states, “it’s a great way to meet like-minded people”.

Personally, I’ve made great friends through student music. Yet, before that first rehearsal or meeting, we all feel nervous about fitting in. Kirsty highlights the importance of social secretaries in these cases. Bar crawls, film nights and other socials, which social secretaries organise, help everyone fit in right from the first rehearsal.

Student music is a great way to meet like-minded people

As Welfare Officer, Amy’s role has a “a bit of everything”. She is responsible for signposting welfare campaigns and events, and organises events where musicians, often incredibly busy with rehearsals, can relax. These include film nights and doughnut drop-ins; it’s important for musicians to have time to relax away from rehearsals. There’s also a variety of ensembles offering different levels of commitment; some non-auditioned ensembles are more focused on relaxed music-making and forming connections. The auditioned ensembles often place focus on commitment and working hard to create high-quality music.

Kirsty has found joining Durham University Gospel Choir this year has had a positive impact on her mental health. Image credit: Durham University & Jess Lawrence.

Musicians during second term’s ‘summative season’ often feel under pressure. At this time, communication between an individual and their ensemble is vital. Kirsty stresses that it is valid for people to drop out if they believe they have too much on their plate, but also points out that communication between individuals and ensembles is crucial; “if they know at the start of term that they won’t be able to make many rehearsals, then say at the start so a decision can be made early on; this ensures everyone can feel comfortable with what’s going on”. Kirsty and Amy also keenly detail how music helps them look after themselves. Kirsty joined Gospel Choir this year, and has found it “so uplifting, you see all the Gospel Choirs moving and clicking together. They’re doing it because they are feeling the music, not being choreographed. The feeling you get from everyone singing together is so empowering.”

Singing together is so empowering

Music certainly has helped my mental health more often than I realise; the cathartic feeling of rock music allows me to release frustration, anger, or disappointment. During a week I felt particularly low, I bought last minute tickets to see Wolf Alice in Newcastle with a mate. The experience in the moshpit was so revitalising, a community of people coming from all over to see this one artist and share this experience, it was something special. The next day, I felt refreshed and cracked on with work. Amy also touches on the fact that musicians themselves raise issues of their own mental health issues through their music: “Having performers and composers sharing their own stories to which a lot of people can relate, it helps people realise they’re not alone with these issues; it also normalises them and makes it okay to talk about.”

Seeing Wolf Alice at the Academy in second year revitalised my mental health. Image credit: Matthew Prudham.

Overall, Kirsty and Amy keenly highlight the benefits of involvement within music for student mental health. If you join a non-auditioned ensemble to burn off negative energy through making music, or a demanding orchestra that allows you to divorce yourself from the stresses of life, music can have a profound impact on your well-being either way. Student music also adds something to look forward to in your weekly routine. The feeling I receive after a successful concert, when you’ve put much effort in rehearsing pieces to a high standard, is unlike anything else. Without being involved in the range of opportunities here at Durham, I’m sure that my experience as a student would be a lot worse. It affords me moments to escape from stress, to revitalise myself, and see that there is life beyond the degree.

Image credit: Durham University & Jess Lawrence.

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