With their first Musicians’ Injury Awareness Week taking place 15 – 21 November, classical music podcast Things Musicians Don’t Talk About focus on musicians’ stories of how health challenges affect their lives within our arts spaces and culture. In this guest blog, podcast creator, Hattie Butterworth, tells us how her own experiences with mental ill health motivated her to start the project and what she and fellow musician, Rebecca Toal aim to achieve through the Awareness Week and TMDTA podcast.

Hattie Butterworth is a cellist, writer and graduate of the Royal College of Music. She is currently working as a freelance music tutor and mental health advocate, whilst also performing as part of the Odora Piano Trio. Hattie has a special interest in child and adolescent mental health and looks forward to combining life as a musician with supporting young people.

Rebecca Toal is a freelance trumpet player and teacher based in London. She is passionate about mental health, and through her role as co-host of Things Musicians Don’t Talk About and current training as a counsellor, she hopes to make a real difference in the way the music industry operates.

Thinking back to starting the podcast Things Musicians Don’t Talk About in June 2020 is a humbling experience. I was in the middle of a mental illness episode, one of about five or six that clouded my undergraduate degree in cello at the Royal College of Music. Maybe starting a project at this time wasn’t the best idea but, in fact, the planning, writing, hoping and dreaming gave me a new sense of purpose and something to live for in spite of my mental health.

I was dreaming of holding a space for musicians dealing with health problems within their lives. I wanted all the elements to my life I had kept secret during undergrad to be the cornerstone to a podcast project, speaking about my mental illness diagnosis of OCD, and challenging the stigma I witnessed around me. I had questions about music’s gentrification, frequent abuse of power, the emotional impacts of injury, and also about people who were living a varied, exciting and vibrant life alongside classical music.

And so the podcast was born! I quickly realised giving people space to tell their stories was special and needed respect and careful planning. I was conscious of creating a platform across ages, nations and open to all genres, though with a focus on classical music. Classical musicians can fade into the background. Vulnerability, mental illness and struggle are sometimes seen as something to keep hidden and as ‘weaknesses’ that are not supported within organisations and the ‘traditional’ culture. People have spoken many times about fears that their honesty will lose them work. This showcases the ableism we have normalised within our sector, something we have become passionate about exposing.

Rebecca Toal joined me in May of this year. I’d spoken to her in an episode about her experiences with eating disorders, which started whilst studying at specialist music school. It became clear that we had a similar dream, but different ideas and angles to realise it. Rebecca is someone with a ridiculous amount of ‘can do’, who listened to me as I expressed all my wild ideas for the podcast’s future. She was nothing but excited, the idea of a Musicians’ Injury Awareness Week being at the top of our list.

Here we are in November and less than a week away from our Musicians’ Injury Awareness Week! From 15 – 21 November we’ll share daily stories from musicians who have experienced injury, two live events and resources and discussion on social media, covering many aspects of performance injury, such as the emotional impact, vocal injury, preventing problems, and how to find help.

Injury is something that affects up to 89% of musicians at some point in their career (Savvidou & Staneck, 2019). Thinking purely among my circle of colleagues and friends, it is incredible to think that most of them have experienced playing-related pain, and yet peer support can be hard to access in music college environments. Thinking back to my own injury experience during the lower sixth at music school, the memories are of feeling lonely, ashamed that I was no longer able to practice and perform with my friends for 6 long months.

BAPAM’s support helped me back then, and later on when my mental illness was impacting my ability to play at college. Having a clinical space in which it is possible to feel validated by people who understand musicians is one of the greatest gifts. I hope that our Awareness Week can highlight the support offered by BAPAM and other organisations such as Help Musicians and the Royal Society of Musicians, who offer financial help.

At its worst, injury can change the course of a musician’s life, having a dramatic emotional, financial and social impact. Awareness is about bringing together the wisdom of those who have suffered, expert knowledge from professionals and information from researchers to help people overcome problems and end the stigma of injury. The greatest time of healing for me has always been when I have felt part of a community of others who know my suffering, the knowledge of community bringing an end to the shame we feel. I hope our Musicians’ Injury Awareness Week 2021 can play a part in people’s healing.

Things Musicians Don’t Talk About Podcast, Twitter and Instagram.