Continuing with our recent foray into the effect of music on mental health, we came across this unusual article on the website of the British classical music radio station, Classic FM. Can the anxious find solace in playing or listening to the cello? Read on and perhaps listen to the cello playlists below during your Easter break.
Published a couple of weeks ago, the article is a rare look at how youth, music and mental health interact. We meet sixteen year old British school girl, Rose Lelliott, who has been tweeting about how she self-medicates her anxiety and depression with classical music.
In March, the young cellist tweeted:
When I have a panic attack, I listen to Elgar’s Salut D’Armour in my head and do the fingerings on my knee, out of sight.
I don’t have to think about anything else when I get my cello out and play
During 2017/18, I suffered the most debilitating panic attacks and anxiety. I had a lot of time off school. When I realised that listening to classical music on my headphones meant I could hear every detail of the instruments, I became submerged into this perfect world.
Rose’s Twitter feed went viral as a presenter of a classical music program saw her thread (Twitter handle is Rose@thelittleleftie) and, in a live radio broadcast, invited her to share her story. Rose told the radio station that over a period of nine months she had battled anxiety so severe that she could not leave the house. And then:
The moment my anxiety stopped was the day I began playing my cello again.
Rose said playing the cello had helped her mental health as “all you think about is playing in that moment”. She recommended that her stressed-out school friends listen to Debussy while studying. She also thought that learning an instrument fostered creativity, self-discipline and self-expression. Yet she had found music education in British schools sadly lacking. Underfunded and undervalued, it occupied the lower levels of educational hierarchies, outranked by sport and other extracurricular activities. This was a great pity – the study of music could do much to help students’ mental health issues, as well as aid concentration and learning.
Rose is not alone in finding solace in music. Much has been written on the value of music as a mental health therapy, including learning an instrument.
But we’ve seen little written about the cello itself and mental health – one exception is ABC FM music broadcaster Eddie Ayres’ 2018 biography of his time in Afghanistan as a cello teacher while dealing with trans-gender issues, depression and terrorism. Another is acclaimed Australian cellist David Pereira’s comments on his battle with OCD and the side-effect of medicines. Pereira said in 2009 that when playing the cello he could “stop thinking and empty [his] mind and just let the sounds come in”- “music can return us to health”. School girl Rose’s words echo this sentiment. Canadian cellist Erika Nielsen’s recently published account of managing bipolar disorder might also shed some light on how the cello can play a role in promoting mental health.
Rosella Room readers: any thoughts on the impact of the cello itself, as player or listener, on mental or emotional health?
You can find “Debussy for study” playlists here on Spotify, here on YouTube, and here on Apple (“Claude Debussy Essentials”). We didn’t find many ‘cello study playlists‘ but here’s one on Spotify and a ‘peaceful’ cello playlist on Apple, here.
Don’t be put off by Spotify’s oddly named cello playlist “depression for you with cello‘” – it includes some beautiful pieces by Bloch and others, here. And we rather liked this YouTube recording of a cello and didgeridoo, entitled “Calm melodies for stress relief”, here.
Image credit: Photo by Ira Selendripity on Unsplash
I’ve seen cello playing have an immensely positive and calming effect on many students over the years, both mine and those of other teachers. This is especially true of kids who struggle with autism, dyslexia and other learning difficulties which make their time at school more stressful than most. For teenagers going through exam pressures having cello to go to as a break from that is invaluable, not to mention the supportive peer group they gain from playing in youth orchestra and chamber music groups.