Classical Wellness is an online space created to promote mental and physical health in musicians. In this interview, her creator Jalayne discusses all things self-care, music and negative aspects of the classical music world that need to be addressed to bring about change.
Hi Jalayne, it's great to have a chat with you. Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
Thank you very much! My name's Jalayne, I'm a recovering perfectionist and I'm a cellist at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. I'm in my fourth year getting a Bachelor's in Cello Performance.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey with the cello, both as a soloist and an orchestra musician?
I actually started fairly late with lessons? I started originally in my middle school orchestra but I didn't get lessons until I was 16. So that's like six years that I was just playing on my own, and once I started lessons in high school, I joined a couple orchestras, [as well as] the regular school orchestra. When I graduated, I needed more time to get good enough to go to Conservatory, so I took a year off, practised like 5 hours a day and then I came here. That was in 2018, and I'm just about to wrap up this June.
What has been your favourite performance so far?
Definitely, the COP 26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in October-November 2021. I led the cello section for that, so that concert was amazing. That was by far my favourite performance.
What inspired you to start Classical Wellness?
For one, I struggled. I struggled from the beginning of my journey because I was immediately thrown into this deep end of having to practice so many hours to perform and perfect this craft, and it's not perfect, you know? But we're always striving for this perfection. So I struggled, and when I came to college, I saw everyone else struggling. Some people would admit it, some people would just try and hide it, but you can tell when people are struggling. I would see that people would complain about practising, they would be injured, they would be sending red flags about their mental health, and I'm like, “hold up, this is not right”. I was actually experiencing it too. So, I thought, “this is not being addressed correctly”. This is not how I would want it to be addressed if I had any control over it. So that's how Classical Wellness was born.
Why would you say it’s important for musicians - and creatives in general - to prioritise our mental and physical wellbeing?
We are all we got, really. I mean, if we don't have our mental health, if we don't have our physical health, what do we have? We aren't gonna be able to do what we need to do. If we're injured, sad, depressed, miserable, we're not going to be able to make music and transform lives the way we want to.
How would you describe the ideal practice session?
Every practice session is different, and there's going to be different types of practising. However, I think if you're going to have a meaningful practice session, you need to have a plan and be self-aware. You need to be aware of what is happening with your body, your energy levels and create a plan based on those energy levels, and on how your body feels. Having a plan that is actually doable too? That's the key. These five hours that I used to do? I would just sit down and say, “okay, I'm just gonna play for five hours”. No plan, no nothing. I had things that I needed to do (like, of course, you play your scales, then you play your etudes, then you play your music), and I would go through the motions. That's not the way to practice.
Do you feel that, as a female musician, you have had the same opportunities as your male colleagues?
No. Not because I’m a woman, but just because my experience was so different, to begin with. I came into this late, at 16 years old. That’s like, ten years later than most people. When I came into this space, I had women leaders in front of me, helping me. And I'm also a Black woman. I had my two women teachers and my high school teacher, who was the creator of another orchestra I was in. So, having those leaders behind me made me fortunate not to have had many experiences with sexism.
Speaking of repertoire, how well do you think female composers are represented in the classical music repertoire?
I don’t think they’re really represented at all. My teacher is a woman, and she has her own orchestra dedicated to women and composers of colour. So, again, with her orchestra, I’ve probably played [with] more female composed music than anybody I know. I think that specific orchestra is one of the only of its kind. Elsewhere, I don’t really see women at all. If I do, it’s like one little piece, and then it’s Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Mahler, you know? I think people are scared to do it because classical music has been built on these, like, six dead white men. They are great, but they’re not all that to be the only thing played by every orchestra. I don’t think female composers are very well represented at all. It’s incredibly frustrating. There’s just as many amazing women composers as there are men, but we only see the men. And that’s the biggest problem, especially with young women. We need to see what’s possible, we need to see more representation out there.
If you could send a message to every musician struggling with mental health issues, what would it be?
You’re not alone. It feels so lonely. Especially musicians because most of our time is spent practising alone in our room. Or if you’re at school, you see each other perform, and you’re constantly competing with people, and it feels so isolating. It’s okay to feel upset or whatever you feel. I think we all have the power and the autonomy to fix that in little ways. Of course, we can’t fix the whole classical music world just like that, but we can do little things to take care of ourselves. And it feels very scary to do that, because we’ve been taught that we have to constantly produce and give everything we have to our craft. It’s okay not to do that. It’s okay to take your own time to heal, self-care, and put yourself first. It’s okay.
And what would your message be to young female musicians in particular?
Keep doing what we’re doing; we’re changing the world, don’t stop!
Where can people find you online?
Instagram @classicalwellness head there if you’re interested at all and you’ll find more there.