7 FEB 2018
Most of us have one regular habit or another to get us through the day, whether it’s an early morning walk, doing sudoku or watching the evening news. For anyone in the artistic world, however, those rituals can become an intrinsic part of the creative life.
Beethoven, for instance, got up at dawn to work, and couldn’t get by without his coffee. Not just any cup, however; he had to carefully measure out 60 beans each time.
W.H. Auden combined a crossword with his morning coffee, while Victor Hugo had two raw eggs with his, before sitting in an ice bath on the roof. To force himself to stay at home and avoid procrastinating, Hugo would also get his valet to hide his clothes.
Sydney Symphony Orchestra Principal Piccolo Rosamund Plummer is definitely in the coffee camp – she goes to Leichhardt’s Bar Italia every morning for a long black. “If I don’t have time for some reason, my day seems disorganised and rushed,” Plummer says.
It’s essential to her, too, to spend up to an hour playing very long notes on the flute, which she considers a form of meditation. “It’s a ritual I can’t do without if I’m going to perform well…I’m psychologically dependent on it.”
As part of his process, writer Will Self can’t do without smoking: “Pipes, cigars, special brands, accessories, the whole bollocks.” Exercise doesn’t figure in his routine, unlike Erik Satie who, every morning, would walk the 10 kilometres from his home into central Paris, and often back again in the evening. There’s even some thought that his unvaried route subconsciously contributed to his musical language.
Like Self, Truman Capote wasn’t too keen on physical exertion; he considered himself a “completely horizontal author”, and couldn’t think unless he was lying down, in bed or on the couch.
Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s Tutti Double Bass David Campbell, who rides his bike to work and is passionate about staying fit as part of his practice, partly prepares for major performances by making a recording (which he listens to dozens of times) in which he visualises every aspect of the upcoming performance, including the surroundings and what he needs to do to stay calm and focused.
“It was a big part of my preparation in getting the job with the Sydney Symphony,” he says. The method comes from Mental Management for Great Golf. “There’s not a single sportsperson who would think of performing at an elite level without doing some mental preparation as well as the physical training,” he says. “I think it’s an element every musician could benefit from.”
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Main Image: Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Credit: Keith Saunders