Take care of your body – it’s the only place you have to live.
By Corrina Hewat www.corrinahewat.com
(Photo above by Sean Purser)
I have written and rewritten this blog dozens of times already and I find I am writing too much information to digest in one go. There is too much I am not yet ready to share with anyone, let alone leave it sitting out there in an online blog. Out there, to me, it feels the same as it was – the cultural landscape still resonating a sense of shame at my desire to have my voice be heard in a still overtly male world. And as I write, I find each word and thought shifts my boundaries, changes my awareness, lessensmy sensitivity, as if I were a tree nourishing my ever-strengthening roots as I stand tall in my own truth.
I am a musician, singer and composer. I have been playing professionally for 25 years with a degree in Jazz and Contemporary Music on pedal and lever harp, I’ve toured internationally as a vocalist and harper and am founder member of bands Bachué, Chantan and Shine. I also co-founded and am co-MD of the gargantuan Unusual Suspects with Dave Milligan www.unusualsuspects.uk.com plus being Musical Director of many other large shows with strong women throughout the years, such as Voices of the World & Songs of Conscience with Karine Polwart, The Cape Breton Connection with Mary Jane Lamond, Scottish Men with Maggie MacInnes, State of the Union with Kathryn Tickell and Harp Heaven while also producingthe TMSA Young Trad Tour for a decade. I’ve released around 50 recordings under my own name, band names and as a session musician/singer/composer in others. www.corrinahewat.com/discography
I have learned from many great musicians in my time, and through my desire to share their expertise and keeping that dialogue open for myself and my continuing development, I tutor harp and ensemble harmony-singing internationally and am Scottish harp tutor in the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. I have led choirs, from scratch groups in festivals to 60-strong voice Sangstream to 350-strong Love Music Choir. I am founder of the ‘Harp Village’ a weekend intensive harp course in the Highlands of Scotland and am currently the programmer for the Celtic Connections Festival public workshops. I haveaccomplished the writing of 15 large-scale commissions to date with each commission reflecting a time and a place in and of my life.
Writing this blog has opened my eyes to where my determination to be heard and to help others be heard has come from. I have made my life and living sharing my voice and my music with the world, my skill set borne from my upbringing; good listening skills, learning quick-fire adaptability and improvising in the moment and a good work ethic. An essential part of this is the desire to allow others a space to be heard and in doing so allow myself to be heard as I have encountered circumstances thathave proven to take my voice away and I have practiced my own self-imposed silence in times of trauma.
In the past, I would adapt to what was around me; emotionally embodying whatever was in the room and carrying it with me so that others didn’t have to. This was honestly a help to me when I was younger, when I wanted to be an emotional support to my family and it was helpful when I started playing music. Soaking up tunes by ear, singing harmonies to songs I was learning at the moment they were being sung. I find myself adopting an accent when I’m travelling in different countries. I really don’t mean to. If there were feelings of anger or hurt, sadness, pain or confrontation in the room then I’d embody them too. No matter that it’s not my business or I have no control over the outcome, or I’m in pain or I have my own plans which I’m ignoring. Nomatter. I held it all so others didn’t have to. I learnt I had this capacity when I was young and have been trying to let it go ever since! It was useful then. It’s not useful now. And this has made for a tense life.
What do I mean by a tense life?
It is this; being unable to breathe. Chronic tension, powering on through no matter what, muscle spasms, chronic pain, joint stiffness, headaches, insides a mess, grinding teeth down, depression and frustratingly fibromyalgia, where breathing and moving were painful until eventually even clothes hurt to wear. Brushing past someone in the street, just an innocent small bumping into someone, would feel like being stabbed and you’d find yourself recoiling in pain and shock. That.
I was taken to the doctor when I was in the last few years of school. He had to teach me how to breathe again, as at that point I spoke so fast I couldn’t be understood and breathing was speedy and functional, nothing more. Until one day I just stopped talking altogether. You were lucky if I grunted yes or no back to you, nothing else. It was the ultimate protest. Just when my mum and dad had physically split and we’d moved to another house. I regret now to never having apologised for that time. I made my mum and my sister’s life hell. And bullies were making my life hell. I held it all in, storing the shame and sadness and anger in areas of my body that were easy to hide, thinking that hiding it all was akin to eliminating it. Let me tell you now that doesn’t work. Hiding it just removes it from your immediate attention, nothing more.
I chose to grow up always in a state of anxiety, frequently in the fight, flight or freeze mode, worried that I was the problem, as it couldn’t possibly be anyone else. A few individuals bullied me through my teens and early twenties (vulnerable kids are always the easiest targets). And the #metoo movement brought up another well-buried experience from my college days, which when remembered knocked me for six, as I realise my silence has enabled an abuser to remain unchanged.
I grew to be an alcoholic music student with a secret desire to act, which was another dream I hid well. I was unhappy and judged myself, and everyone around me, harshly. I drank because I knew it and it felt comfortable. The traditional musician’s life I was embracing was surrounded by the culture of expected social drinking, over-friendly and intense, immersion in the extreme. And alcohol helped me to fit in, to hide and to disappear. I wanted to merge. But my body, gut, head, heart and soul knew different and yet I continued to ignore them and battled on, carrying the conflict with me. This impacted my technical ability on the harp, through muscle fatigue and tendonitis and, as I discovered, even grief had the power to take away my voice in the year after my mum died through my belief that it was necessary I ‘power on’ no matter what. I couldn’t get through one half of a gig without losing it. Tension in extreme circumstances can actually mute us. Finally through the NHS I met a speech therapist who taught me exercises to help my vocal cords work again while also relaxing my face, throat, neck and shoulders.
A tour to the Philippines was a defining moment in my journey. I was with the band Lammas and had all the jabs and was taking Malaria tablets in preparation. I developed severe laryngitis, which resulted in me not making a sound the whole trip. And I was the damn singer! Oh eternal shame. Once home, I couldn’t shift it – my body was shutting down and I had no control over it. I couldn’t hold my head up, nor walk or talk without utter exhaustion. I lost the ability to think clearly. And of course I tried to power on, premiering my large-scale commission ‘Making the Connection’ at the first New Voices series in Celtic Connections 1998. I would hide and cry with despair throughout that time at how debilitated I was. Depression followed, CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) was diagnosed and anti-depressants prescribed. The psychiatrist labelled me a ‘Manic Depressive’, which started a long journey of pill popping to remove all the ups and downs in my life, with more pills to counter the side effects of migraine and insomnia, with the dose being upped and upped and changed and upped until I was rattling with them, unable to stop. 5 years of extreme pills, followed by 5 years of recovering from them. After some good advice from my mum, I went to a Chinese herbalist. It took 6 solid months of boiling herbs and stuff in muslin in pots on the stove, which stunk out the whole street! But little by little as each day I emptied out more of the little white dots in the pills as the herbs balanced my being, I became more capable. Of course life still carried on outwith this, and I was straight into an Unusual Suspects tour after that 6-month journey which I know now was not the best way to maintain an even headspace. I remember very little from that time.
I made the choice to stop drinking alcohol. That decision and loss of my ‘crutch’ certainly added to my depression at the time, as it impacted on my working life, my social life and how I related to others in sessions and gigs which had all previously been ‘easy’ and which were now surprising difficult, as I had nothing to hide the physical and mental impact of the long hours, intense work and the massive energy needed to keep up the constant interaction, enthusiasm and technical ability. The decision has always been one of my better ones though, as I now, after much personal work, have a much healthier attitude to alcohol and can enjoy a drink every once in a while. And although I am a vegetarian, I knew my insides weren’t happy so I had taken my own measures to cut out certain food-types. This brought an extra layer of vulnerability to being a touring musician on the road, which became quite problematic. I remember a month-long tour through England with Kathryn Tickell where thepromoter in each village had kindly taken note of the specific dietary requirements and provided hot meals before every gig; so we had baked potatoes and veg chilli for 32 days straight. I was mortified my choices had led to everyone on that tour being affected. It took us all a fair while after the tour to be able to even look at that meal again.
What was important to me was not repeating the normal route of going to the doctor and being prescribed pills to relieve the symptoms without going deeper into the root cause of these symptoms. Natural alternative methods seemed much more akin to how I wanted to live in the world.
I sought counselling and have continued this through various means to this day. I visited an Alexander Technique practitionerin Edinburgh, also having a massage every so often. I then found Shiatsu was fantastic for easing specific tension, as was the chiropractor. It took me a long while to admit to myself that playing the harp impacts intensely on my body. As harpers, we literally encircle the instrument when playing, and its size and weight is no joke although it’s often an easy target. Good posture and strength are essential for longevity when practising, rehearsing, travelling, gigging and teaching. Resilience in body and in mind. The old adage ‘you make it look so easy!’ is so far from the actuality. When I had a baby in 2009, it exacerbated the issues I was having with my back, which resulted in me having two back operations, in 2012 and subsequently in 2015, whichtook literally years of recovery. I was lucky enough at this time to live near a Craniosacral practitioner who also did visceral manipulation, kinesiology and muscle taping. She was a lifeline for me, which I am so thankful for. Help Musicians UK supported my treatment for a time, as I couldn’t have afforded it otherwise.
I taught my brain in different methods of thinking, as I realised I was replaying repeating patterns but not able to shift out of them. My brain was not being utilised productively, so this brought me to NLP, which helps build new neural pathways in the brain. I took up some serious study in this, and found my ability to find a different perspective is immense. CBT (working on learning different perspectives) was also a big help and I could access that through the NHS. There are aspects in both these methods I have found very useful when teaching one-to-one and larger groups.
I do Tapping and take herbs/vitamins/minerals, plus daily stretching of muscles, and intermittent Hypopressives, KCR and Dry Needling. The dentist made me a mouth guard so I don’t grind my teeth so much while sleeping which was bringing on chronic headaches in the morning! And with a good pillow, I finally learned to sleep better.
I am grateful every day for the changes over these last thirty years. I am a cheery introvert, shy and preferring the quiet to the noise but I feel no shame in that. And I will never again let myself be mute. There is room in the world for everyone, including me – my voice, my body, my energy, my music. My daughter reminds me of the heady days of youth and I revel in thememories. And I am learning to access my creativity again after years of grief making it feel like an impossible task.
I’m no longer trying to be everything to everybody. I’m content enough never to be a social media authority, living a constantly updated online life as much as an off-line life, although that appears to be a requirement these days in the ever-changing arts world. I don’t feel guilty about that, as there are many wonderful people out there who do it better than I, and I am happy to hire their skillset.
There are so many ways to find help these days and I have written down just a few things that have helped me over the last thirty years. My pain is a shadow of its former self and I have a toolbox full of interesting ways to manage if it reappears. Less judgements, more connection – communication is key. I mean communication with people, with the land and with all the wonderful life on earth. I have a beautiful partner in life, David, who makes me laugh and laughs with me. I have a child who teaches me love and self-care every day through her own natural ways. And I know dancing in the kitchen in your jammies is also very good for the soul, as is eating a hearty meal and checking in with your body every day as to how it’s feeling. And as we all learn how to care for the earth and lessen our impact on it, I ask you to stand barefoot in the grass and thank the world for its wonders. Take care of your body – it’s the only place you have to live. I wish you well.
I’ll note below the contacts, which you may find useful. This is by no means a full list, rather it is a list I know, have experience of, was recommended by and recommend to others.
A few books I have found beneficial reading to help ease chronic tension and helping build confidence back up:
And you can also access specific support from: