Simone Willis: PhD Researcher in Musicians’ Stress and Wellbeing

Whilst studying violin at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, I often experienced performance anxiety, which detracted from the quality and enjoyment of my performances. Through conversations with friends, I realised that this situation was not uncommon, and I became aware of other issues that affect conservatoire students. Students may be affected by heavy rehearsal schedules, isolation due to the need for solo practice, and maintaining a balance between studying and professional work.

My interest in this topic led me to take up an MPhil/PhD at Cardiff Metropolitan University, where I am based in the School of Sport. The working title of my project is Stress and Well-being of Professional and Conservatoire Musicians. My research focuses on professional classical musicians, who currently work in the profession, and music college students. I will be carrying out a survey that assesses the demands musicians face, the coping strategies they use, and the impact on well-being. Following the questionnaire, I will be conducting interviews with a small sample of musicians to gain insight into the relationships between demands, coping strategies, and well-being.

Whilst some of the demands of the profession are reflected in conservatoire training, entering the profession can present new challenges for musicians. These may include travelling long distances to gigs, maintaining technique, and managing relationships with agencies, promoters, other musicians, and clients. Orchestral musicians must adjust to a setting where they may exhibit little control over the music they perform, and have little say over artistic matters. This contrasts with conservatoire training, where the emphasis is on individual expression, and developing an artistic voice.

Many musicians cope successfully with the demands of the profession, and enjoy rewarding careers. However, some musicians may find the demands overwhelming and require further help. There are some simple strategies that can help musicians cope, such as talking to friends and family, engaging in activities outside music, and taking time to wind-down after performances. Musicians can also access specialist help from organisations such as the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine (BAPAM) and Help Musicians UK.

My research project will assess the impact of stressors and coping strategies on well-being. Whilst well-being is a topic that is frequently discussed, it is difficult to define and measure. Some researchers suggest that well-being consists of emotions, and life satisfaction (hedonic well-being), whilst others suggest that well-being is more complex, and is made up of opportunities for personal development, relationships with others, purpose in life, autonomy, environmental mastery, and self-acceptance (eudaimonic well-being). My research project will use the second definition to develop a full picture of musicians’ well-being. The research project will lead to recommendations for musicians, conservatoires, and orchestras on ways to support and maintain musicians’ well-being.

Alongside my research project I teach for South Gloucestershire Music Hub, work as a freelance violinist, and am a Trustee for Orchestras Live.

Please get in touch if you would more information about my research, or would like to be involved.