Connecting Through the Screen – Jodie Mitson

Digital Ambassador Jodie Mitson chronicles life as an RNCM trombonist in this series of monthly blog posts.

February was a transition from technical assessment preparation to recital planning and fighting to reach the end of the second term’s academic challenges (one more Music, Culture and Performance essay to go!) As well as RNCM classes keeping us occupied I realised over the mid-year recess how important music is to unwind even if it’s your focus and primary cause of stress in term time too! During the week off I found myself constantly listening and watching musical performances, as well as following the antics of musicians on social media. It’s great to see comedic output from the people you look up to; it reminds you that they also have a personality and life away from the instrument.

In classes at the RNCM when we’re introduced to a new musician or ensemble, I often find checking out their online profiles. This can give you a sneak preview into their world, especially if it’s a different genre or area of study. This has resulted in me joining a Trombone Yoga page which works on posture and the physical aspects of playing as well as the importance of rest, however I don’t think my balance has improved!

As a trombonist I mainly follow brass-related content online, the best of which includes Ian Bousfield’s podcast, James Markey with his 365 day practice challenge (every day for a year – although I have reason to believe he cheated a few times…) and Marshall Gilkes with his fantastic ‘online trombone lessons’. These are brilliant comedic videos, some of which involve his three-year-old son giving a masterclass, father and son presenting their own ice dancing display and which excerpts to best belt out when testing a new instrument (just so everyone knows you’re really good! *eye-roll*).

Aubry Logan also offers some jazz/pop inspired content in which she sings as well as playing, which isn’t often a combo we’re used to, however, last month we learnt all about her house move to Texas with everything frozen! These personal insights allow you to have a connection with the person – you even feel like you understand their music better because you see them having fun with it and pushing through the struggles.

In terms of non-trombone related accounts, I enjoy the output from violinist Nicola Benedetti. Her Benedetti Foundation work, aimed at younger players, gives a good insight into the pedagogical aspects of online musical content. Although this account is naturally a bit string-centric, Nicola gives very open and honest practice feedback and she’s spoken of the struggles she endures after having time away from the instrument. To a non-string professional, she still sounds pretty good even when she’s warming up! It’s also liberating to hear professionals having struggles and tackling self-doubt too. As well as individuals I also enjoy the LSO’s Instagram quizzes, which are usually based on a different theme each week.

Having top musicians share their practice struggles or technical hints with younger, less advanced players can be inspiring and motivational, but it’s important to note that these musicians – like all content creators – monitor their output. This can potentially be detrimental to some student musicians who may struggle to rationalise why their playing hero can fit in five hours of practice a day and they cannot. Without concerts or masterclasses to attend it can be quite isolating ‘doom-scrolling’ through the talent and project announcements whilst criticising and questioning yourself. Many see social media as a release from their own work, however it can also be a blackhole of forgetting your own journey and comparing yourself to yet another perfect profile. Sometimes a break from the virtual world is needed.

Outside of the professional realm, the RNCM and other conservatoires also have wonderful online platforms which promote student stories, projects and videos as well as student takeovers, Q&A sessions and revisiting past concerts. This is a great sharing platform to connect with students and music you wouldn’t usually follow. It’s also a pleasant surprise when someone you know pops up! I would recommend checking out the RNCM Connect campaign and following their social media platforms to stay up to date with college goings on. The concert series is due to resume soon so keep an eye on that!

It’s great to support other conservatoire students too – much of their experiences will be the same as ours over the past year, seeing and sharing stories and experiences can really help people relate to the struggles (these struggles are real! How annoying are your parents or housemates being right now?) It’s inspiring to see the potential of our generation and the need for live performing to resume has never been greater. Everyone is crying out for meetings, collaborations and just the feeling of joint musical enjoyment which cannot simply be replicated by a livestream feed. The music community is a small one, we have to rally together in hard times to fully benefit from the best times ahead. I’ll see you in the concert hall (then the pub!) when this is all over!

3 March 2021