Building resilience in 2020

A few years ago I wrote a thesis around the idea of building resilience in music students.  The topics I covered back then seem to resonate very strongly with our current crisis. I’ve spent a lot of time recently reflecting on the increasing need for understanding of resilience as we deal with the world in 2020. It seems important to me to use this time of change to address aspects of our education system that are currently disadvantaging our students.

You may be thinking that resilience is something mainly discussed in volatile situations like war zones or for people with difficult backgrounds. But resilience is something we all need on a day to day basis. In fact, the World Health Organisation identifies resilience as being one of the eight attributes in promoting positive mental health. This includes promoting it not just in acute situations but in everyday life. Resilience has been studied for the last 50 years but research has only recently expanded from a focus on high-risk populations to the everyday lives of stable populations

Over the next few blog entries I’ll introduce just some of the ways we could 1. Build resilience and 2. Re-vamp the (let’s face it) out-dated conservatory system to match present and future needs.

Firstly, some points about resilience itself. It is a term that pops up in so many fields, from evolutionary science to behavioural psychology but overall the idea is the same.


The term resilience comes from the Latin ‘resilire’ which means ‘to leap back’ or to return to equilibrium. The process of recovery after a stressful event plays an important role in understanding resilience. Each person will react to a stressful event differently according to his or her previous experiences or predispositions.  Each person’s path to recovery will also be a different one. Recovery relates to behaviour directly following a stressful event. In order to take the steps to recovery a person needs to understand his or her equilibrium – the feeling of being content and in control.


One aspect of resilience refers to prevention and resistance. To prevent negative situations implies preservation or protection of one’s equilibrium and is used to pre-empt and prevent negative situations.


From an evolutionary perspective, resilience is strongly connected to the ability of species and ecosystems to adapt. In order to build resilience, humans need to be accepting of change in their environment and adapt accordingly. In an evolutionary context resilience and adaption mean survival.


But resilience is more than just recovery and survival. It involves more existential questions of purpose of life. What sort of life do we want to sustain after recovery? What are our values and goals? Without a sense of purpose recovery can seem less urgent. In their ‘Handbook of Adult Resilience’, Reich writes ‘Whereas resilient recovery focuses on aspects of healing of wounds, sustainability calls attention to outcomes relevant to preserving valuable engagements in life’s tasks at work, in play and in social relations…Mind and body homeostasis is sustained not by emotional neutrality but by ongoing, purposeful, effective engagement‘ [1] By this definition, resilient people don’t necessarily seek out constant comfort, but rather continue actively engaging in the world accepting the potential for change and discomforts with the higher goal of living a more worthwhile life.

Learning, growth and vulnerability

Recovery happens naturally in humans over time and often leads to personal growth. Reich et al. remark on the amount of people who, after a stressful situation, develop a new appreciation for relationships, situations and things that were taken for granted beforehand.[2] In a similar way, people express other qualities and discover new sides to themselves when faced with stressful situations. Communities often witness out-of-the-ordinary acts of bonding and good will in times of hardship. Being resilient and being vulnerable are co-existing states: many negative experiences will leave us with information about ourselves that we could not have learnt otherwise.

I’m certain many of these definitions will resonate with you in the current climate. The Corona pandemic will impact our comfort zones and ‘homeostasis’ for a while to come. Already we are changing our ways of thinking, protecting ourselves, adapting and hopefully learning.

Keep reading the following blog entries for ways in which we can adapt and actually improve upon our ‘homeostasis’ in the arts world.

[1] Reich, J., Sautra, A., & Hall, J. S. (2010). Handbook of Adult Resilience. New York: The Guildford Press. Page 6

[2] Ibid. Page 4

A freelancer in Corona

We’re at a forced crossroad. The precarious cultural world we lived in pre-Corona will not exist in the same form after 2020. For artists, ‘Going back to normal’ isn’t really going to cut it. And whether we want to or not or not, we’re going to have to change our habits. There is no more time for head-in-the-sand.

I’m a performer and I’m a teacher. I really have two halves that cannot succeed without each other: performing without thinking pedagogically feels shallow and false; teaching without performing becomes superfluous and dry. Both of my halves are nurtured by each other.

At times during the lockdown I have felt my own professional redundancy: cancelled performances, digital lessons limited in so many ways and a diary that hasn’t been so empty for a decade. As a freelancer I question what my diary will look like once concert spaces start to open up. And more importantly, how do I WANT that diary to look post-2020? Filling up with the same ‘normal’ concert engagements for the same sort of audiences seems a narrow, almost selfish wish.

My empty diary has led my mind to ask: what was the point of all that? I want to play and connect with other musicians and audiences but post-2020 connections will be different.

When the performance engagements fall away for the indefinite future, I also notice that my motivation to teach flails. What’s the point of the traditional violin lesson when there is no culture to play in? Art needs context and community to thrive. My teaching-half asks ‘how can I continue to pretend that pre-Corona learning is relevant post-2020? How can I pretend that nothing has changed?’.

I have started asking older students to come up with their own projects in their own communities as a way of keeping the spark (and the practice) alive. At a tertiary level I’m asking students to think of fresh ways to be examined given live exams are not really possible. Every school holidays I aim to ignite a new pedagogical flame that will sustain myself and my younger students until the next holiday. All these things are ways that I try to keep myself and my students nourished and in flow. But it’s exhausting.

Making music privately at home and within Corona parameters has taken on a bitter-sweet taste. There is musical energy in the moment: it’s bliss and I can almost forget the world. But afterwards there is a dead-end. A no-through road.

Again, I feel as though we’re at a crossroad that must be addressed very creatively – that’s what artists should be good at after all, right?

It’s easy to get distracted from all this as summer finally arrives. Many of us are having to just deal with present challenges and understandably don’t have energy to think much further than semester break. I am lucky enough to have a partner who earns well and we are financially stable – that’s a rare thing for a freelancer! We are also expecting a baby at the end of the year so I feel an urgency to know how the world will look after I become a mother. Again: crossroads.

I’m writing this because I think there might be others who think similarly to me. Rather than dwelling on what’s not working now, I would love conversation about what could come afterwards. Maybe we can fill the empty diaries with innovation in the new decade. Some sort of hybrid artistic structure that brings the relevance back in to performance, music teaching and learning. Or music teaching that FINALLY addresses future prospects for our students.