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My New Year's Pursuit

I don’t have many fond memories of school. If you imagine all the stereotypes of the archetypal “frustrated artist” and mix them with a concoction of hormones and teenage angst, you’ve got a very accurate picture of me as a young person. As I reflect on it now nearly ten years later, I’ve only just come to the realisation that my vexatious school years were not a product of my own “difference,” but from the inability of those around me to accept it.

One particular lesson comes to mind.

There comes a time around year 11 when a brief PSHE lesson points us in the direction of careers. This lesson tends to follow an equally clumsy tutorial on money and finance, or in my case the “happy bank” and the “sad bank.” (In my opinion, that particular lesson was at least five years overdue!) We were directed to a website and each asked to fill out a totally impersonal and hurried set of multiple choice questions which would give us our “ultimate” career. The ensuing task was to set out an action plan as to how we might achieve it.

In terms of who I am personally, I’m about as “right-brained” as you can yet. My fiancé laughs at my inability to walk in a straight line and my clumsy “finger-counting” - (perhaps derived from my session on the happy and sad bank!) but alongside this is the ability to play almost anything by ear, to memorise complex music quickly and a relentless quest to see the beauty in the simplest of things. I am a musician - an artist - a creative - and an unapologetic one at that!

Then came my career results…


Full disclaimer - I have nothing at all against homeopaths and respect the profession immensely - but you can imagine my shock at this response. You can imagine my horror even further when any kind of artistic profession was not even an OPTION on this careers site.

It quite simply…WASN’T A CAREER.

A teacher came up to me and said “Maddy” (I HATED being called Maddy) “I can see you as a homeopath. Set the plan in place.”

My response: “But I don’t want to be a homeopath”

Their response: “Well you can’t be a musician - that’s just a hobby.”

Now at 26, I’m writing this as a Doctor of Music and one of the youngest Senior Lecturers in the country. I went to university at 16 feeling totally socially out of my depth, but I knew I could do it. I had a master’s degree at 18 and enrolled on a PhD course at 20.

People might say “you’ve proved them all wrong.”

But I haven’t. Not yet.

The reason why I haven’t is because I still feel the same imposter syndrome that engulfed me when I was told that being a musician wasn’t a career.

And what worries me even more is that this isn’t simply “a sign of previous times.” We all saw THAT campaign about getting a job in cyber and we’ve all seen the continued and ruthless cuts to the arts in schools which robs children of vital tools of self-expression and understanding. As a subject, music is discipline, practice, time management, mathematics, art, religion, English, history - even Geography! It’s everything in one. Music is a universal language traversing many countries and cultures. It’s a narrative that encapsulates centuries of socio-politics and cultural conventions that bring us to the world we live in today. It builds communities by breaking down walls. It’s a primal sense within us that even language can’t access (read about the vagus nerve!) It understands us in a way that words and people can’t.

A “musician” isn’t just somebody who plays music. A musician is somebody who understands all of this and who can embody each and every role that comes with the responsibility of transmitting something so valuable. A musician is a therapist, artist, teacher - designer of sonic worlds that become real when just one person listens. A musician is someone who chooses to do what they do both in spite of industrial and political threat and because of it. Because it is WORTH SAVING.

The world is bleak right now - but ask yourself; where do you turn for respite?

More often than not, it’s Netflix, a book, a piece of music you can rock out to or that can accompany a good cry. It’s creatives. It’s artists.

Now at 26 I’m realising that the isolation I faced at school wasn’t my fault. The infrastructure didn’t support the way I thought. And I’m not writing this for any kind of pity. I’m glad I ate my lunches in the library and I’m thrilled I spent my break times in the toilet.

I’m proud of the fact that even now I feel imposter syndrome every day.


Because the arts are challenging and controversial, kind and ruthless and everything in between.

But above all - it’s a career I respect and a career worth protecting.

My New Year’s pursuit is to understand myself a bit better - but I’ve realised that sometimes the way to understand yourself is to understand not just how you see the world but how the world sees you.

Yes, I’ve found areas of self-improvement, but I’ve also concluded that it, in some cases, it isn’t me that needs to change - it’s the world around me.

And this world needs creatives.

I hope that in 2024, more people will understand that.

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