Adam Ficek reflects on how we overlook older and 'non-able' people, within the hierarchy of diversity in music.
On Thursday 14th December, our final Peer Support Group session of 2023 was delivered. This was the concluding session of a six-week Peer Support Group for long-term Help Musicians beneficiaries. The group was facilitated by Adam Ficek and attended by 11 musicians in receipt of support from Help Musicians, who either stopped or reduced their music work. Below is a piece written by Adam, reflecting on older and ‘non-able’ musicians.
Breaking away (temporarily) from my continued topic of how musicians are impacted by their playing and occupational world, in this blog I want to look at one group of often overlooked musicians and how they struggle with their mental health.
I have recently had the great privilege of working with a group of musicians who may fall under the umbrella term of ‘retired’ or ‘ex-commercial musicians’, although I am reluctant to use that word! Even in our modern world of diversity, this community remains hidden. We place great importance around the diversification and greater acceptance surrounding gender, race, sexuality and we are now slowly expanding this into ableism, neurodiversity and socio-economic status. These ‘diversities’ and pluralistic social constructs have often seemed to take a hierarchical structure with some ‘underprivileged’ being ‘privileged’ over others, almost dividing the ethos of diversity at times!
My experience of this older generation via my peer support group work has recently prompted me to reflect on the lack of support and awareness, particularly the apparent invisibility of older musicians. I started to think about how this demographic is hidden, overlooked, placated and dismissed.
What happens when we can no longer play music through ill health or physical ailments?
What happens when we can no longer identify with the community of musicians that kept us afloat both emotionally and financially?
What happens when we cannot regulate or soothe ourselves by the warmth of our instruments moving through our bodies?
What happens when we lose the sense of identity we held for such a long period in our lives?
The recent peer support group experience of long-term Help Musicians beneficiaries opened my eyes to the wider and additional struggles that us musicians can potentially face when we age. We might still feel like musicians but what happens when we can no longer music with ourselves or others? So much of the ‘music industry’ (musicians mental health industry) focuses only on the occupational, this bias is derived from the lack of actual musicians in this expanding, speculatively lucrative area. If you have never spent hours practising an instrument, being moved somatically and emotionally by your musicking, it is very hard to conceptualise this.
Many people working in the area of musician’s mental health have only experienced a commercial lens, which generates a bias and a lack of awareness surrounding the holistic essence of what music can mean outside of the commercial world. I feel this bias contributes to the invisibility of this demographic when allocating funding and supporting musicians that no longer commercially music.
This is a huge loss, and we are letting our ageing musicians down. They still have much to give, we should not just not chase the prevalent ‘music industry mental health’ trope – musicians are more than this.