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You need to learn to switch off

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Laura Sinnerton Laura Sinnerton | 17:21 UK time, Friday, 4 May 2012

As a musician the job can often be very all consuming. Not in a romantic, tortured artist locked in a garret way, your music lit by the light of one guttering candle, but practically, and by necessity. The Orchestra's own season gives way to the summer Proms season, and splattered all over both are recording sessions, tours and education work.

It's not just that you spend the year learning millions of notes, it's also that you spend an incredible amount of time trying to be, for want of a better way of putting it, better. You practice, and you criticise, and you analyse your playing, and as I've said before, it is the only way to continue improving and developing.

I used to pray that one magical day, the secret to perfect intonation, an infallible sense of rhythm and flawless bow technique would be revealed to me, like scales falling off a man's eyes in a biblical parable. The truth is, there is no secret, just a lot of hard, constant, work.

However, when you are tired and feeling overworked, the constant light that you shine upon your playing can bring all your insecurities into very sharp focus - why can't I play F naturals in tune? Why do I keep dropping my arm like a lead weight in down bows? Why does my viola feel like an actual shoe box jammed under my chin? I personally can at times get myself so wound up that I feel utterly paralysed by negative thoughts about my own playing.

Everyone is aware that you need to look after yourself physically as a musician. I love a good sports massage to loosen the inevitable knots that come from playing the viola, and try to see my favourite practitioner regularly in the hope of avoiding injury. I have poor circulation, so if there is even a slight chill in the air, I wear gloves or arm warmers.

We become sensitive to the smallest changes in our physicality, and seek help from physiotherapists immediately a problem becomes apparent. For some reason, I have always found looking after the mental side of my musical wellbeing much harder. I often feel guilty if I don't practice, like I'm some kind of fraud.

It is for this precise reason that it is important to learn to switch off. In the Orchestra, everyone has their own way of doing this. Some people develop a penchant for Lycra and running inhumane distances. Some people pursue Open University studies. We have keen photographers, foodies, wine connoisseurs, people in bands.

It has taken me a stupid amount of time to realise that it is as important to take time away from the instrument, as it is to spend every waking minute thinking about it. It's not an excuse to avoid practising or to be lazy, but just as an athlete must rest between training sessions, we also need to give ourselves time to rest.

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