December 2017 Music Notes

Catherine Shrubshall Help Musicians UK Westminster Abbey 2017

Dear readers…..I’m hoping that as you read these words which have been penned in early November, that our first St Cecilia Festival has been a resounding success…with pots of money raised for St Michael’s Church and for “Help Musicians UK” (HMUK). I also hope that my speech at the HMUK St Cecilia Festival at Westminster Cathedral on 22nd November will have gone well (I have to admit I’m feeling a little nervous at present!). So here’s the speech for your perusal……..

“When I’m introduced to people as a musician, they generally smile and say something like: “Oh how fantastic to do something you really enjoy as a career! It must be wonderful”. I smile back and say that it is indeed…and of course I know I’m very blessed.

As soon as I squeaked my first note on a clarinet I was hooked. I practised passionately, and gradually managed to produce a reasonable sound. Six months later I inherited a battered saxophone from my uncle….and became even more smitten. I formed a band, we got some gigs, and I started teaching some younger kids too. Making money out of what gave me so much joy was an added bonus! After a ridiculously disappointing session with the school career adviser in 5th form, I quickly formed my own plan…..I’d become a musician when I grew up! I can still remember her disapproving looks when I suggested such an outlandish idea! Huh – what did she know…..I’d keep practising diligently and get my grade 8 asap, then turning 18 I’d go to college in London …and post qualifying, get paid for doing what I loved for the rest of my life. It was just that simple for the 15 year old me, and I never doubted this would happen……well I guess I was mostly right! I did indeed follow my adolescent daydream, and here I am at the ripe old age of 55, still part of this amazing profession!

However, my beautifully naïve teenage self could not of course yet know the reality of being a professional musician and what it would actually entail, once I was flung in to the dog-eat-dog world of making my living from it, post college!

So thank goodness for HMUK – because they DO realise the difficulties that can plague a musician’s life…. the cash flow problems, the career path questions, the health related torments, the mental health stresses and the retirement insecurities…..they get it all. But not only do they understand these issues, they are there to support us when we need a push with professional development, when there are times of crisis….and when we just need someone to talk to.

I first came in to contact with HMUK 20 years ago when they gave financial support to a singer friend who had an operation to remove nodules from her vocal chords. Soon after that my 28 year old flautist brother spent a year in and out of hospital, desperately ill with cancer. HMUK supported him too…..even popping in to see him for a cup of tea at his home as he was recovering. Then came my turn to apply for help, but this time in the form of professional development funding, which was invaluable in pushing me forward to be more self sufficient (you can hear the recordings I made for this project on my website). Meanwhile over the years, another singer friend developed thyroid cancer, another saxophonist friend lost her musician husband….the list goes on, with the latest incident resulting in me being on crutches earlier this year……but the HMUK team have been there for all of us, providing respectful help quickly when it is needed, and a friendly shoulder too.

After HMUK supported me through a debilitating thyroid operation 3 years ago, I decided I wanted to give something back to this incredible organisation, and I became a volunteer. I’m part of their innovative project to visit older musicians…. Additionally, I’m currently organising a “St Cecilia Festival” in my home village of Thorpe-le-Soken in Essex. For this event I’ll be playing alto saxophone in place of a dear musician friend who died earlier this year. His widow will be playing soprano saxophone, and has gratefully received support from HMUK. The latest casualty is our lyric soprano, who broke bones in both her arms in an accident 2 weeks ago, and will be performing sporting her plaster cast. This is truly an example of the resilience of musicians, and how the show will go on, despite the difficulties – and we’ll make it all look fun and effortless no doubt!

Saint Cecilia is the patroness of musicians, and how proud she must be to be presiding over this event in this glorious cathedral venue…..and our satellite Essex festival too. The world would surely be a poorer place without music and the professional musicians that create and inspire. Thank you for looking after us HMUK.”
PS you can go to the HMUK website and donate if you missed the festival!

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