A musician's life off stage


Have you ever thought about the crucial role selfless and silent caregivers play in the lives of musicians?

What makes a musician great? Is it his or her ability to take us into the realm of sublime timelessness during the period they engage us? Is that reason enough for us to venerate them? What makes them such important entities for us?

They are healers indeed! Since music’s therapeutic value is well known. But some recent developments seems to be taking the art far away from its basic purpose. Meaningless awards and titles, the artistes’ constant craving for adulation and desperation to stay relevant not only render true creativity irrelevant but end up making musicians create pressure on themselves.

In a study recently published in New Zealand and later on followed up in the U.K., it was found that musicians have the second highest incidence of mental breakdowns (the highest being doctors).

While the artistes battle it out in the performance arena, it is important to know if they are backed by a stable or protective environment at home. And so, in the wake of the upcoming December Season, I turn my attention to the support system that contributes immensely to the production of great musicians.

Family support

The sacrifice and strength of character of those in the support system are crucial in the face of irrational and unreasonable behaviour some musicians show in their personal space. As a performing artiste, I often see how my moods and behaviour affect those closest to me — my wife, mother, siblings and friends. Though it’s a part and parcel of my creative make up, it cannot be an excuse.

And I think of Constanze Mozart. Of Clara Schumann. And of Saint Tyagaraja’s wife. To live a life not as an equal, but as a permanent caregiver, uncomplainingly.

Constanze Mozart endured a husband fond of wine and women, but who composed the most beautiful songs. She had to tolerate a man who was often careless with his money, and owed debts all over Vienna. In this, she made a home for him, raised his children and allowed him his space to create musical solutions for the universe. Also a young widow, she took to popularising his music and in later life, memorial concerts, to support herself and her two sons, one of whom also became a musician and composer. Biographers of the Mozarts have often been harsh on Constanze, which is rather usual for patriarchal hagiographies of the age. But we must understand how hard and complicated life must have been for her, given how prolific and unpredictable her brilliant husband was. The important thing to remember is that she was a musician herself.

Very little is said of Saint Tyagaraja’s wife. Not the first one, Parvati, who died young. But the second, Kanakambal. Amidst all the hardships that she faced, she created a stability in their householdattending to both economic and personal challenges, fairly often.

Clara Schumann was a gifted pianist, perhaps one of the best in her time. She was also a collaborator with her composer-husband. Her life was far from easy, being a performer herself and having to deal with a genius at home, who was emotionally unstable. He died young, at the age of 46, never recovering from his mental illness.

At this point, I want to hit the ‘pause’ button. Before assessing the mental health of musicians, both the well-known and the not-so-known, I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all the caregivers. I want to use this essay to celebrate their nurturing, selflessness and special strength of these silent witnesses to greatness. May the festive season fill all our lives with light.

The writer is a well-known pianist and music educator

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Printable version | Dec 16, 2019 12:22:02 AM |

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